Have you joined the email list yet? Click the button below to get more personalized updates!
Overview: Welcome back, education enthusiasts! As a continuation of last week’s Facebook Live, I am delving deeper into my critique of the U.S. education system. So, this week, I am addressing the pros and cons of our education system that I have gathered from research and personal experience. Let’s get started!
Note: For a different angle on the U.S. education system, check out the video I pinned at the top of this post. This short animated film follows the story of a father and son and their experiences in an American workplace and school.
"What is the purpose of education?
1. To get good grades?
2. To get into the best universities?
3. To get the best jobs?
Actually, it's none of these. The purpose of an education is to inspire action to better the world and lead us to personal fulfillment. Yet you wouldn't know it from looking at our [the U.S.'s] education system today" (2018).
This outline from the article "How American Schools Set Students Up to Fail" from Matthew Biggins expresses the expectation v. reality idea behind the U.S. education system.
I could talk about our education system all day if I could, and if I’m being honest. . .it would mostly be a rant. Throughout just one year of college, I have learned so much about the way our system is run and has been run, but more importantly, I have learned about what is working and what is not.
And I’m just going to say it. The U.S. education system needs A LOT of work.
It is still run on the value of competition that was founded in the 1950s when America was competing with Russia in the Space Race. It puts test scores over children. It does not value teachers or school staff. It is not valued by the federal government. I could go on and on.
However, there are some obvious benefits of our education system, which I will get into in a moment. When addressing a problem, we must always consider what we are doing correctly as a base for how we can improve.
So, I’m going to talk about it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I hope this post will spark enlightening conversations and push for change. I hope you may connect some of these points to your own experiences with education.
Education is one of the most vital, fundamental experiences in life, and it impacts all of us. We must all be educated on education to make necessary change.
Let’s start on a positive note.
I am happy to say that the U.S. education system is doing some things right. We are one of the world leaders in special education and in some aspects of our curriculum.
In terms of special education, the U.S. has passed legislation that mandates equal opportunity for students of all abilities to attend a free, public education. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, it is unlawful to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990, students with disabilities were guaranteed the right to a free, public education that would provide them with free services and resources that were tailored to their individual needs.
Another essential component of special education that the U.S. has mandated is the concept of the “least restrictive environment,” or LRE. Under LRE, students with disabilities must be placed in their “appropriate” placement and are encouraged to have at least a portion of their school day be spent in a general education classroom (if that placement is supportive of their needs). This legislation passed after the 1982 ruling of Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School v. Rowley is a huge milestone for the special education field. LRE promotes inclusivity and has proved to be beneficial for everyone involved.
The U.S. has also made some promising strides in its education curriculum. As described by a Huffpost article, “the curriculum at most American schools is more inclusive than that found internationally. We even include societal issues like alcohol and drug abuse prevention, stress reduction and relaxation, and physical fitness programs.” Although I don’t agree with some points from this article, this section is true. Curriculum in the U.S., while not perfect, has been making strides to being more inclusive.
However, even in those areas, we can see some flaws.
Flaws in Special Education
In the world of special education, the principles of LRE and inclusion have not been implemented to the fullest extent. Although children with disabilities receive high-quality education and receive necessary services, they are often not included in the general population because of America’s toxic competitiveness and “Race to the Top” mentality.
I can speak from experience. Throughout my schooling, I was never placed in a classroom that supported children of all abilities. As far as I can remember, I never saw a fellow student being supported by a co-teacher or paraprofessional. Special education was a separate part of the school. It felt like children in the special education classrooms didn’t exist because I never saw them in my classroom, or they were always separated from everyone else.
However, I cannot speak for those children who received special education services. Perhaps their needs were best supported by receiving special services for most of the day in a so-called “special self-contained class.”
Flaws in Curriculum
In terms of curriculum, the U.S.’s system still needs a lot of work. Most curriculum models emulate only academic goals that further reflect the “Race to the Top” mentality. Students who don’t meet curriculum guidelines may feel more pressure to catch up and may fall behind if they don’t receive the right support.
The fine arts and creativity should be weighted more heavily in modern curriculum models. Although reading, math, and science subjects and guidelines are important to reach, art and creativity are often avenues to success in those areas for some children. So, it is important for all children’s learning pathways to be supported.
Image source: https://www.redbubble.com/people/dundermifflin96/works/23853041-leslie-knope-oh-this-is-bad
There are many things wrong with the U.S. education system.
However, these “wrong” ideas and principles can be broken down into two general categories: bad and ugly. The “bad” refers to principles that have a negative impact and need to be addressed. The “ugly” refers to principles that go against what education is all about and need our immediate attention.
Here are a few of the “bad” principles in the U.S. education system:
1. Teachers in the U.S. are treated unfairly
To learn more about this principle, watch my Facebook Livestream video, “Let’s Talk About it: Myths About Teachers” or watch this video comparing teaching in the U.S. to the rest of the world:
2. Our current education system trains us to value status over impact
The slogan shouldn’t be, “America runs on Dunkin’,” it should be “America runs on competition.”
The goal of the U.S. education system is to pump out Albert Einstein-s, Bill Gates-s, and Steve Job-s. America pushes students to compete with one another instead of working together.
I have felt this pressure my whole life. Not from my teachers, but from my surroundings. Throughout middle school and high school, I adapted the mindset that if I received anything below an A, I had failed. I’m not saying that I believe that for anyone else, but that’s just how much pressure I had put on and still continue to put on myself.
In my high school, people would feel “dumb” if they didn’t take an AP (Advanced Placement) test, and a 4.0 GPA was expected of you. As a senior, I pushed myself to take AP Calculus, and I was proud of myself until I bumped into someone who had taken it as a freshman.*
*Again, I am so proud of all my friends who took challenging courses and love them for being as intelligent as they are. My point here is that this level of performance was viewed almost as the “norm” instead of “exceptional.”*
For me and probably many other Americans, it has been pushed upon us that overachieving is the “norm,” and being comfortable is not recommended. If anything, you are encouraged to push yourself to the very edge; not have a social life; and only focus on studying for AP, ACT, SAT, and a million other exams.
To quote Matthew Biggins (2018) from his article, “How American Schools Set Students Up to Fail,” “Instead of viewing success as an actual improvement to the world, the education system teaches us that success is achieving a certain status relative to our peers” (para. 2). Education is not a competition. Education is teamwork towards progress.
In my house, there is a sign that sits on a ledge in the kitchen that reads, “There is no such thing as mistakes -- only lessons.” This is the attitude that U.S. schools must adopt. The purpose of education is to learn, not to compete. We must feel that our ideas are welcomed and that our failures are just a stepping stone towards success.
3. The U.S. education system cripples us financially
College is not the image you see on a pamphlet (for many reasons). The students you see on the cover are laughing, relaxed, and, usually, studying. However, this is not the normal attitude I have observed on my college campus.
Going to college is like balancing a five-weighted scale. On each weight, you can find the following (and there are probably many more things I am forgetting): courses, student loans, jobs, a social life, and extracurricular activities. It is very rare to meet someone who has all of their weights equal, especially when they are worrying about student debt.
According to the Pew Research Center, “the medium borrower with a bachelor’s degree owes $25,000 in debt” (Biggins, 2018, para. 14). This is unacceptable.
Students go to college to earn a higher degree to pursue their dream career or to be successful in life. And, many job openings now require a college degree. So, why does this dream and requirement come with a $25,000 price tag?
The ability to go to college should not be a privilege or something people can or cannot afford. It must be a right.
After covering some examples of “bad” principles in our education system, let’s now address some of the “ugly” ones. Again, these are principles that go against the purpose of education, which is “to inspire action to better the world and lead us to personal fulfillment” (Biggins, 2008).
1. Our education system places too much value on the wrong things
I find it funny that the majority of the world’s richest and most “successful” people are musicians, actors/actresses, comedians, directors, and art creators since these career choices are not valued in the U.S. educational system. If anything, the “fine arts” seem to be encouraged for only people who have “it” or who perform at Carnegie Hall.
In reality, creativity is an essential component of education. It allows students to express their ideas freely and to express themselves in a comfortable way. No one learns the same. We all have our strategies for picking up vocabulary or for applying our knowledge. This leads to the concept of “multiple intelligences,” which I will discuss in later posts.*
*However, if you want to find out more about multiple intelligences ahead of time, click here.*
When our schools place more value on how many words a student can memorize, it sucks the creativity and life out of them. It reduces students down to a number, and destroys their individuality. Especially in early life and early childhood, creativity must be encouraged in the classroom, and new ideas must be welcomed. A school is a place where a child grows both in heart and mind. In order to be successful and to achieve healthy development, a child’s education must support both.
2. Racial and Ethnic disparities
It is not new that economic disparities still exist between whites and people of color (POC). Even in the 21st century, systematic racism is still present and the effects of centuries of discrimination have still put millions of POC behind whites in receiving all kinds of opportunities.
Sadly, these economic disparities result in the lack of higher-education opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities.
To put it in perspective, the “Median household income for students from African American households is $19,504, and $27,510 for Latinx households, compared to $46,881 for student[s] from white households. In other words, African Americans have 42 cents and Latinx students have 59 cents for every dollar available to a white student,” according to research from Young Invincibles (p. 15, para. 2). In essence, African American and Latinx families are required to spend a larger percentage of their income on a college education.
As I said earlier, education is a human right. Although the U.S. provides free, public education for grades K-12, most jobs require a college degree. So, by not affording a higher education, colleges and universities are contributing to the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities for families of color who earn less than the white majority.
. . .
The education system in the U.S. needs fixing. It does not support students’ individuality or creativity; it sets unrealistic, unfair expectations requirements for teachers; and promotes competition instead of teamwork.
We must fight for a better education that supports all students, teachers, and families and their ideas. We must fight for change.
Leave me a comment!
If you like this post, have any questions, or have ideas on how I can improve my blog, leave me a comment below! Your input is always appreciated. As always, thank you for your support!
Next Week's Post: Let's Talk about it: Applying for the blocks (Facebook Livestream)
Join me for another "episode" of "Let's Talk About it!", a series where I talk about important educational and social issues through Facebook Livestream. On Monday, September 28th at 1 pm, I will be explaining "the block" program that is required of education majors.
Join the livestream by visiting "Journal of a Future Teacher's" Facebook Page!
Last week'S Post: Let's Talk About it: Myths About Teachers
Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.