Any education system comprising of a host of individuals, from government officials to community leaders, will undoubtedly have some struggles to overcome. Over the years, there has been much debate concerning ways to improve our current education system, some of which is quite controversial. Many topics like school choice, diversity issues and teacher pay have been brought to the forefront in political circles. Unfortunately, most of the decisions that influence our system of education are coming from those people that have never spent time in the classroom. A person will never know the experience of a teacher or student until they have lived their experience. Over the last 15 years, my personal experience as both a student and a teacher has given me a little insight into what is missing in our current education system. The one thing that I have observed repeatedly is a huge issue concerning the lack of value for people and the overall system. There are three specific areas in education that lack value which stifle our U.S. education system instead of equipping it to thrive and compete internationally.
Educators are not valued
What does it mean to be valued? According to Dictionary.com, the term “value” is defined as the relative worth, merit or importance of something. If you really want to know what someone values in life, you will have to look and see where they spend their money. Money will show you a lot of interesting things if you will begin to observe the world in which you live. It is well known that teachers are probably some of the lowest paid professions in terms of what they are expected to perform. If you talk to most people in our society, they will readily agree that this is true yet nothing has ever been done to change this fact. One of the best ways to increase the quality of our education system is to increase teacher salary. Increasing teacher pay will most likely help to make the system much more competitive and enhance the self-esteem of educators who deserve to be paid in accordance with their service. After all, they are entrusted with the invaluable task of molding the thinking of a younger generation.
Students are not valued
How could we possibly not value students in a system that adheres to the notion of no child left behind and one that claims every child has a right to free public education? In my experience, there are many ways in which students are not valued although this blog is not meant to be lengthy so I will only mention a few. The model of education in our current system is basically teacher centered and not student centered. Students will never learn beyond memorization and grow on a personal level unless they wrestle with learning through discovery, and this is not the case with the mindless acts of direct instruction that teachers are trained to provide. Interestingly, another way in which students are not valued points to the type of food they are provided daily. It does not take a genius to know that processed foods are not adequate to proper physical and mental health. There are many studies showing the impact of nutrition on learning and yet you never hear about its importance otherwise school lunches would appear and taste much differently. Despite these issues, there is a much bigger issue that most of us have ignored and that is the student’s interest, talent and ability. Why is that so important to target? Ask yourself this question, would I rather do something that I love and inherently do well or something I struggle to do and have zero interest in learning?” Sounds like a no brainer, doesn’t it? Yet, we do not value the student enough to create a model of education that focuses on their desires and what they fundamentally have to offer the world. On the other hand, some students do tend to thrive in our current system simply because they are more academically inclined to do so, but what about those students who are not academically inclined? This leads me to my final point.
Curriculum is not valued
One thing I can say for sure by personal experience, is that most of the students that I taught in public school did not see the value of the curriculum that was offered to them. Here again, we must ask ourselves why? Does the curriculum focus on the interest, talent and ability of the student or does it funnel all students into a cookie cutter system with little room for growth and opportunity? We cannot expect every student to be a great Math, English or History student yet our current model of curriculum does. It expects them to be great at all subjects or else they are portrayed as a failure. It is a shame when we don’t offer a curriculum that allows for in depth learning and treats every student according to their potential. As a teacher, I often felt there was a tremendous amount of wasted time on my part and the part of my students. For example, students taking courses that did not encourage their interests and abilities with evidence of classes often being way too difficult or not difficult enough for students. As a result, teachers spend much of their time trying to manage discipline in a classroom. This can be so exhausting when both students and teachers are not encouraged toward the development of their highest potential. Students who struggle academically fall behind in this type of system and we all witness it every day by the increased number of high school dropouts. Furthermore, contrary to widespread belief, being a high school dropout does not mean that a student will never amount to anything. Likewise, a student who attends college does not necessarily indicate that they will be more financially successful than their counterparts. I can attest to this because I am a college educated individual and I know many college educated and non-college educated people alike.
It is always easy to point out the issues in our current education system but what we need are real solutions. To make these changes, it will require statistical information from research, influential leaders and a substantial amount of money. One very practical thing that we can do is to discover ways to pay a higher teacher salary that is competitive across the nation. Another way we can make a difference is by creating a curriculum that is geared more toward promoting self-awareness as it pertains to student interest and ability. This would create more student motivation, something that is severely lacking in today’s classrooms. Furthermore, incorporating subjects like performing arts (dance, music, theater, etc.) and the visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) have been shown to make a positive impact on students’ self-esteem.
To conclude, I would emphasize that the chief problem in secondary education is a model that treats every student the same academically. As stated previously, most students do not thrive in this manner and therefore we are left with a huge lack of student motivation. May I offer a suggestion? Separate tracks for high schoolers; one track that encourages academics and higher education and the other track that encourages students vocationally and works to quickly prepare them for the workforce. I know that these proposals are easier said than done but we must begin somewhere, otherwise nothing will ever change except the number of unhappy students and educators.