Can our Public Schools Survive

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I am repeating the education information that I posted yesterday.  It is actually more relevant to this discussion than to the discussion of higher education.  We can see the result of our education debacle.  Here is a link to the ranking of countries in test scores in reading, math, and science.

As you can see, the United States ranks on the bottom in reading, 27 out of 33 in math and 22 out of 33 in science.  Take a look at some of the countries that our out performing the United States.  Some of them our countries that we have considered far behind us in development.  This is the result of our inability to teach our children and to give them a real chance for higher education.

What happened?  Why have we fallen so far behind?  Is it the schools?  Has our public education system failed us?  Is there something wrong with the professionalism of our teachers?  Is it class size?  Are there too many kids in one class?  .I don’t think it is the schools or the teachers.  I also don’t think class size should be a major factor.  I went to school during the height of the baby-boom.  I never was in a class that had less than 25 to 30 kids and many had more.

This is something that I hadn’t thought of until recently.  Some of the change is not because our schools got worse, it’s because other country’s schools got better.  I grew up in the 50s and the 60s.  During that time Europe and Asia were recovering from World War II.  Those countries had all they could do to feed their people.  Africa and the Middle East were just developing, in terms we could use for comparison.  We actually had no competition when it came to educational statistics.  Now that economies are stable, well kind of stable, around the world; countries have established solid school systems and we have real competition.

The changing world is also causing problems when it comes to teaching our children.  One issue is simply that there is so much more for our kids to learn.  There are entire new subjects that didn’t exist when I was in school.  They still have the same twelve years, thirteen counting kindergarten, but they have so much more to learn.  Of course subjects have also been dropped since I was a kid.  The most unnerving to me is geography.  How can people understand what’s going on in the world if they don’t know where anything is?  Our brave men and women are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan.  I bet if you line up ten people that two of them couldn’t point to Afghanistan on a map.  If people understood that Iran sits between Iraq and Afghanistan they might know that, even without their nuclear program, they are a major player it what’s happening over there.

Okay, our kids have a lot more to learn in the same amount of time.  Is that the only problem?  Unfortunately no.  This is something that might sound a little odd but I believe the expansion of our freedom over the last fifty years has changed the mandate of the schools.  They must now see to it that all kids have a fair shot at a good education.  Kids now have rights.  We had the right to take the orders the teacher gave us.

The system was designed to give the average kid an adequate education.  Any child that didn’t fall into the average category fell by the wayside.  In those days it wasn’t the school’s problem to figure out why a kid wouldn’t learn, that was the parent’s problem.  Many kids failed grades simply because the needed a pair of glasses or a hearing aid and didn’t know it.  Things like hyper-activity and bi-polar tendencies were not considered at all. 

I have gone to Grandparents Day at our grandchildren’s school.  I see kids getting up going to their locker anytime they want and looking around in class.  The teacher now has to take into account each child’s developmental problem before addressing them.  A teacher can no longer tell a student to sit down and shut up without justifying their actions. I’m not advocating a return of corporal punishment, but our teachers need help.  I actually got the paddle several times in school and it didn’t hurt me any but that is still not a good course of action.  What the teachers need to is know that the parents have their back.  The parents must trust the teachers and their decisions.  The students must know that they won’t get anywhere trying to pit their parents against their teacher. 

Teachers have been stripped of their ability to control an unruly student.  They cannot use physical force.  They cannot even use strong language.  That can’t force a child to sit down and learn or even throw them out of the class for very long.  Unlike private schools, the public school has a mandate to teach all of the children.  A private school can maintain its scholastic levels by simply throwing out kids that threaten to lower the school’s ratings; public school can’t do that.  There has to be discipline in the classroom and the teacher must have some way to keep order.  When I was in school any disrespect of a teacher brought swift and serious punishment.  I don’t see why that should have changed.  Maybe a way to get the parents involved would be to fine the parents if the child continually disrupts the class.

Children should read be required to read all through school, but they should also be introduced to other media for their information.  I have gotten so much out of the Ken Burns series of documentaries.  Their format really tells a story while relating more detailed information than I had ever received.  The ones I have seen our history documentaries on the Civil War, Prohibition, and World War II.  They would be an excellent source for reports on those subjects.  The Ted Talks series is great for science and technology but a lot of them are over my head so you may not be suitable for all students.  What’s good about a student using documentaries instead of an article found on the Internet is that they just can’t cut and paste from a documentary.  They have to watch, listen, and understand what it is telling them and then write about it in their own words.  It is easier for them to absorb the information, and it gives them in depth information on a subject.

I feel I haven’t scratched the surface of this problem.  I just think that our public school system is like a cart that was designed to haul a load of stone up a hill.  Now that same cart has had its load tripled and it require to haul the load up Mt. Everest.  We need some new ideas.


Pete is a retired software developer, a writer, and a martial arts instructor. He lives in Maryland with his wife Cathy and they are enjoying their retirement. Pete is the author of four novels, "The Teacher", 500 Years from Home", and "The Long Journey Home" are available at; and "Pioneers" in available at the Kindle Book Store.

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Posted in Education, Public Schools, Social Issues

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