Saturday, May 05, 2018

The State of America's Education System: How Low Can You Go?

I've always been a strong proponent of education. Education, as far as I'm concerned, is the linchpin to society. An educated populace is a productive populace; capable of doing a vast variety of work. This attracts businesses which generates taxes (both direct and indirect), as well as attracts other peripheral businesses, and so it continues. The result is often a community which offer a wide range of amenities, such as parks, museums, restaurants, as well as a strong social and structural infrastructure, from up-to-date sewer systems, electrical grids, clean water to adequate and well trained police, EMS, and firefighters. It should also include not just well paid teachers, but teachers who are as well respected and appreciated as some sports coach.

Without a strong educational foundation, nothing in society works (or at least very well). If you have a well educated population, you should have a society of individuals capable of critical thinking skills, an understanding of history, geography, political science and Civics; who have a general appreciation of world literature as well as the ability to perform basic mathematical computations, the sciences, and diagram sentences in order to write and speak properly. 

I would add that a well rounded graduate of high school should have completed an art or art appreciation, music class, or theater class. Kids that take what they want, without being intellectually challenged leave school underserved by not just the teachers, but the entire school system as well. Many are simply "flunked through" because of pressure by parents and the school system not to hold students back out of concern that it will "damage their self-esteem", not to mention how it makes the school system look to voters.

As a result, both the student and society often end up paying the price. The student-now-adult often finds that their nonchalant attitude in school now makes them virtually unemployable. Many take low paying and unrewarding jobs. Some end up in criminal gangs, which eventually leads to prison and/or the cemetery. 

 For the girls, they often end up pregnant and more often than not, on their own since their boyfriends end up being more immature and irresponsible "boys" than men. Either way, an significant portion end up on public assistance (tax supported charity in truth). The same goes with those who just want to concentrate on sports. Fewer than 1 in a 1000 every actually make it into professional sports and make the obscenely big money. That's some pretty poor odds.

Those who do succeed need more than athletic ability. They need the intellectual ability to think critically, to hold a reasonably intelligent (and intelligible) conversation. Most of all, they need to be able to properly interact with others; non-jocks like lawyers, financial advisors, team agents, owners, managers, the media, and other players. Far too often we see student-jocks coming out of high school (or even college) who aren't smart enough to do basic manual labor.

One of America's big failures in terms of education, has been "dumbing down" the academic expectations of students (this is a big problem in some communities where academic success is seen as a "betrayal" of one's race or cultural identity). 

The idea has been that create some misplace notion of "parity", as if all students are somehow intellectually equal, or that one group may fail disproportionately to another group. As a result, everyone gets punished. 

 Instead, students should be allowed to advance based on their own ability. Meanwhile, slower students should be allowed to progress at their own pace. Perhaps more advanced students could serve as teaching aides and help individual students in exchange for extra credit.

Another big problem in many school systems are those who cause discipline problems. Typically these are academic failing students, many of whom are insecure emotionally, who are determined to cover up their shortcomings by trying to keep other students from learning. I guess that somehow makes them feel better about themselves. 

In recent years, we've seen an increase in students attacking teachers. Hand-in-glove with this, we've seen an attempt by public schools to engage in a form of appeasement by allowing students to take what classes they want, lowering standards and grading requirements, providing "cooling off" rooms, etc.

Meanwhile, teachers aren't suppose to strike back or defend themselves. At best, the student might be suspended for a brief period. In a few cases, the student might be arrested, but there is usually a lot of pressure brought to bear not to press charges out of concern that it may have a negative impact on the student. 

We certainly don't want to see them forced to take responsibility for their bad behavior now would we? As for suspended students, they end up getting what they want---out of school and free to go do whatever they want, which eventually turns out bad for them and occasionally for society too. Students with a repeating pattern of this type of behavior need to be dealt with in specific manner.

Instead of suspending these students, they need to be placed in special schools designed to modify their behavior. Here the rules have to be different. Emphasis has to be on engaging the student directly, and if necessary, responding to violent outbreaks with appropriate responses.

 Bullies (and these often tend to be bullies who haven't been taken down a pig or two previously), need to be confronted. In addition, these individuals need to be assigned to these type of schools for a minimum of a month---24/7. Their personal behavior and academic performance dictates the length of their stay. 

Parents and selected friends can visit, but they can't leave. It can be a tough punishment, but their behavior brought it on themselves and it's better that they learn to take responsibility for their action now than down the road and end up in prison or dead (as an aside, America leads the world by far in terms of percentage of imprisoned population).

Speaking of school, I also want to stress that while there is a strong emphasis on going to college, college is not only not for everyone, it's really not necessary for most jobs (especially if high school had properly prepared the individual for life after school). Not every manager or supervisor needs a four or six year degree. Trade and vocational schools are often a much better option than college. 

First off, they prepare individuals for entry into the workplace much faster than college. They are also far cheaper so you don't rack up the massive school debt, and you often can start working in the field of your choice while still in school. They pay is generally excellent, as are the benefits. For experienced individuals, it's usually a short step to go into business for yourself.

For those who do decided to go to college, it's important to think realistically about what you want to major in. It's nice (or idealistic) to think about getting a degree in gender or racial culture studies, or in some other obscure topic, but will it give you a job when you graduate? Will taking a course in "Star Wars vs Star Trek" actually help you land a job? Is the degree you end up with enough to pay off a $100,000+ school debt? You have to think in practical terms.

College is about learning to think more critically. It's about learning to appreciate different opinions without not necessarily having to agree with or feel threatened by those opinions. It's about being able to express your ideas in a well thought out and reasoned manner. It's about using reason and logic to analysis an argument or situation. 

College is not about shouting down those you disagree with. It's not about forcing them off the stage or destroying property when you don't get your way. It's not about having a "safe space", nor is it about getting coddled or trying to make everyone happy. It about making an informed and well reasoned argument in a respectful manner using critical thinking skills. If you can't do that, then you need to consider what you need to do grow up emotionally. Perhaps you should consider a stint in the military. I guarantee you'll grow up there in a hurry.

So, with that said, how does America stack up academically compared with the rest of the world? According to the site "Ranking America", their latest study from 2015 ranks American public schools 14th overall academically in the world. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Finland, in that order, make up the top five. 

The best performing school systems in America, Vermont and Massachusetts, can't compete with students in countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, or Singapore in subjects like math and science.

Speaking of science, the school systems in Alabama and Mississippi are closer in academic performance to countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, while the school system in the District of Columbia is the academic equivalent of Bahrain. Overall, America's academic performance among its public school resemble those of third world countries. 

Countries like China, India, Pakistan, and Japan far out produce the US in graduates with medicine, engineering, robotics, and computer science degrees, especially at the masters and PhD levels. Ironically, the US spends more on education than most countries--6% of its gross domestic product---which is on par with countries like Ghana, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. Interestingly, it's also far more than countries like Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, who outperform us, spend.

Finally, in terms of teacher pay, apparently US teachers are about average in terms of pay with an average of $43,600 per year for a primary school years with 15 years of experience compared to an average of around $39,000 for other teachers in economically developed nations with the same experience. 

Thus, American school teachers are paid roughly equivalent to teachers in the UK, Australia, and Holland. As an aside, the highest paid teachers are those in countries like Luxembourg, South Korea, Switzerland, and Germany.

However, American school teachers spend a lot more time teaching compared to other teachers around the world. US teachers spend, on average, 1089 hours teaching compared to 794 hours in primary education, 709 hours in lower secondary education, and 653 hours in upper secondary education. 

Thus, it appears that while US teachers spend more time actually teaching, they aren't equally compensated for the time they spend in the classroom. Of course, I should point that it's not uncommon for teachers to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets to make up for shortfalls in schools budgets (which often ends up in the salaries of administrators, who tend to be to numerous for most school systems).

So, there you have it. This is the state of American schools, where bright students often find themselves held back in underperforming schools; where even average students find the academic process disruptive and their academic opportunities short changed. In college, students aren't properly taught critical thinking skills and instead of being taught the true meaning of liberal arts, they become narrow minded and provincial. 

 Our teachers aren't paid bad, but neither are they paid for the work they actually do. We are continuing with our downward trend academically compared to the rest of the world, which may soon render us just another second tier nation with large swath with more in common with third world nations than not; a faded world power like so many who came before us. Meanwhile, America's military budget, at the direction of the ruling Oligarchy, continues to expand at the expense of our infrastructure, and ultimately, our children. The only real question is what are we going to do about it?

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