Though it might give me more official credibility, I don’t really have a desire to go back to school myself to get a higher degree in education. I prefer to spend my time with students in a classroom setting. I am much happier there.
However, my varied experience in the classroom has highlighted so many ways our education system could grow and improve. We all know the system is flawed. One of the biggest flaws, and nearly every teacher would probably agree, is that we keep trying to fix the problem from the top down. This is not necessarily a bad thing; we are a big, extremely diverse country and someone has to be in charge and make the big decisions if we are to have a unified educational system.
However, it’s only in the trenches, behind those classroom doors, being solely in charge of the day-to-day learning experiences of 25+ pupils, all of whom have different personalities, preferences, and backgrounds, where the rubber meets the road. If you haven’t experienced the road, you simply don’t know how to repair the rubber. You don’t even know where the rubber needs to be repaired. And different states and districts have different potholes.
Thus, this trend of top-down education management, with mandates handed down by politicians and administrators whose only experience in the classroom may only have been their own K-12 days, is, in a word, silly.
Education in the United States is plagued by myriad systemic challenges that need to be remedied alongside education, but not necessarily by education, in order to ensure a proper educational experience for our students.
Hunger and poverty interfere with classroom learning on a very basic physical level. Abuse at home and bullying online interfere with classroom learning on a deep emotional level. Some students have a language barrier or a cultural barrier where education is valued differently than we white, middle-class people value it. Migrant students come and go seasonally; homeless students come and go day by day. When these needs aren’t being addressed, students simply do not have the internal resources to apply themselves to learning. We cannot put pressure on teachers, schools, and districts to make students learn without giving them tools to solve these foundational issues first.
We live in a vast country. From sea to shining sea encompasses a lot of needs, from the rural to the urban, the wealthy to the impoverished, from the Hispanic to the Russian. A public school in the Bronx and Torrey Pines High School in San Diego are going to need vastly different resources and approaches to learning than West Salem High School in Salem, Oregon or Truman High School in Independence, Missouri or a primarily Aleutian school in Alaska.
While the Common Core concept is great in the sense that students throughout the United States should be–ahem–united in what they are learning, we simply cannot be united in how students learn. The high stakes testing concept is terribly broken because students are not controlled test subjects. Socioeconomic status, culture, and language all affect how a student learns. This cannot and will not be the same across the board. It’s what makes humans unique from robots.
We also have teacher needs to consider. It absolutely does not surprise me that many districts and states are facing a teaching shortage. Aside from a deep vocational or spiritual calling, why in the world would anyone enter a profession (yes–teachers are professionals–exactly like lawyers, accountants, and engineers) with minimal pay that barely supports a family, the potential for a false sexual harassment accusation that will ruin your life, parents who constantly misunderstand your role and undermine your authority, and a Boss who orders you to perform tasks that do not have any real relevance to and actually interfere with your students’ (the whole reason you likely entered the profession anyway) success?
All this to say that education in the United States is a multi-faceted, deeply layered, complex issue that has no quick, one-size-fits-all, solution. The point of this blog is merely to brainstorm solutions and adjustments that will probably only apply to certain parts of education overall. And the point of this blog is to remind everyone–parents, politicians, and education leaders–that there simply is no quick fix.
Do we want the United States to simply be ahead of the world in knowledge and information? Or do we want our citizens to be kind, creative, and informed thinkers, who have the wisdom know when to engage in the battle, when to question authority, and how to choose strong leadership?