So, what is it with education?
The answer is quite a lot. We are rapidly falling behind the rest of the world, even though we have a large percentage of students who graduate from college. The things that are wrong with education, then, are not the lack of kids in school and the lower number of years spent in school. We have to look to other causes for the “dumbing down” of our population. And when we compare what is different in education in the U.S. from education in countries that are leaving us in the dust, the list comes down to three things – curriculum, how education is delivered, and money.
Problems with Curriculum
We have not changed the curricula in our school systems, elementary through college, since these systems were established in the 18th century. And what we did ultimately establish for public schools and colleges (public and private) was appropriate for that century. The problem is nothing has radically changed since then. We still treat high school as a place for general education; we force students to spend the first two years of their college studies in general education courses that have nothing to do with their majors. And then we wonder why they are not prepared for the jobs that are open today with their Bachelor’s degrees. So, here is the fix:
- High school is the end of general education. And, for those students not going onto college, we can skip the Shakespeare and the chemistry (unless they are planning a technical career that relates). Students need to graduate high school with an employable skill if that is their termination point. Any student who decides to go to college later and who did not take some required courses in high school can get those at a community college.
- Community colleges offer programs based upon where the careers are and projected to be. No more English comp and other general education requirements. Students need to have a two-year program that makes them fully employable in today’s job market.
- 4-Year Colleges need to dump the notion of a “classical” education. No one has time for this anymore. There is just too much to learn in one’s major if s/he is going to get a job after the time and expense of 4 years of college. If a math major has a burning desire to read Beowulf at some future time, it’s online, with complete explanations. And it certainly is not the subject of discussion around the office.
Problems With Delivery
We are still stuck in our antiquated notion that education means physically being present in a desk in a classroom with a teacher at the front regurgitating information, showing students how to do math problems, and in general controlling the entire learning environment. Students must attend, must complete those assignments by the deadlines given, and take the tests on the day that has been pre-determined. Technology has opened up amazing alternative delivery systems, but educators see them as a threat to their jobs, and the resistance is high, other than to have a few computers in the classroom for learning games and research.
We have to make a huge paradigm shift. Students really can learn anywhere – at home, on vacation, or at the local coffee shop. So long as they master content and skills and can demonstrate that mastery, why do we care where it happens?
Problems with Financing
There are two aspects to financing – one is funding for schools and school systems themselves; the other if the ridiculous cost of higher education – a cost that threatens our entire economy.
- Education is one of the tiniest aspects of both state and federal budgets. In many states, in fact, funding has been regularly cut every year for the last 7 at least, as states face budget crunches. Federal dollars spent on education are less than 1/10 of 1% of what we spend making war. Priorities must change.
- The cost of higher education to students and their families has now reached the point that many kids simply cannot go to college, no matter how capable they might be. What was once called the great equalizer – educational opportunity – is no more. Student loan debt prevents grads from participating fully in our economy, and the entire economy therefore suffers.
Funding for education must make it cost effective for every student.
If we want to remain competitive as a nation, then we have to re-build an educational system that works. This one clearly is not working. And until that happens, dear students, when you don’t want to write that essay or paper on Beowulf, just use our services.