United States Educational System is Broken
I am passionate about our educational system—and disappointed with its failings. I just finished reading a Washington Post article called Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous.
If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and math) and deemphasize the humanities. From President Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.” America’s last bipartisan cause is this: A liberal education is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher.
The problem is they are missing the point entirely. The current educational system is broken.
Our K-12 educational system is broken.
After a near-fatal bicycle accident in 2004, I left the high tech industry to teach high school math. I taught Algebra I and II for two years.
Question: When was it decided that one should take Algebra I, Geometry, and then Algebra II—in that sequence—in high school?
What I have discovered is that very little has changed in our public school curriculum in over 100 years. YIKES!!
When I was teaching Algebra II, I discovered that I was required to teach logarithms. WHY??
When I was in high school in the early 1970s, you needed to understand logarithms to be able to use a slide rule. Click here if you have never heard of a slide rule! Other than that, logarithms were pretty useless.
So, little has changed in our K-12 educational system, but the kids have changed a lot. It is failing so many of our students (especially those who are gifted artistically).
Now, we have a proposal called Common Core. It radically updates the way we teach English and Math.
99% of those who oppose it politically do not understand the problem and have never read common core methods. It is a political hot potato.
The vast majority of students leave of our K-12 educational system ill-prepared for higher education.
They only learn what can be tested via multiple-choice test. Common Core fixes this, at least for Math!
By the way, to fix this, we need to start with pre-kindergarten!
Our Higher Educational System is Broken
Why do we go to college for four years? Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, etc. all take four years to attain. Why is that? I sure would like to know.
I spoke at the Women Communicators of Austin Speed Networking Event this last weekend. It was a thriving audience of University of Texas students who aspire to be great communicators. They were all worried about getting an education, gaining employable skills, and garnering experience from internships so that they will find a job when they graduate.
The problem is the cost! They cannot pursue a liberal arts education that teaches them to think…something that many baby boomers pursued via the higher education system.
Today, when students graduate from the higher educational system, most come out with hefty student loan balances.
So, when Fareed Zakaria writes articles like Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous, he misses the point. Most are obsessed with getting a STEM education because then you can get a job to pay off the student loans.
Our higher education system was built to create students who can think. What students need from their higher education system are the skills to get a job to pay off their student loans.
What our higher education systems should produce are students who can think, have enough skills to get a job AND not leave them hopelessly in debt.
Fixing our Educational System
Not much has changed in our educational system in over one hundred years. The needed changes will take a long time. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions:
- Why do we have summer break for three months in the K-12 educational system? We know having such a long break hampers students’ progress when they return in the fall.
- Why do colleges have summer break, when a significant portion of the student population are over 25 years of age?
- When we know not all children learn at the same rate in all subjects, why do we structure schools this way? (By the way, this drove me nuts when teaching Algebra!)
- With the availability of the Internet and video conferencing, why do we have college campuses?
- Given the diversity of our younger population, why are we not teaching both English and Spanish? Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!
I have taught adults for close to 20 years in approximately 40 different countries. I taught Algebra I and II from 2004-2006 in an inner city high school. I can tell you these other countries do not have the answer for teaching to our highly diverse population.
It will take a long time, but the current system needs to be re-evaluated from the bottom up.
Unfortunately, we have politicians in control who have not a clue of the real problem.Marc Miller
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