Day 23 Question 23:
What is your take/opinion on the American education system at this current time?
The American education system-what a big mess it has become. I won’t candy coat it. This country is failing our children every single day. I have worked in two different non-profit organizations that have worked very closely with the schools in my county. Hell, both locations for these jobs were in the school district building. I had a lot of exposure to the dynamics of the school system. I realize I can only talk about this school district first hand but trust me, what I may share is only minor in comparison to what is going on in other school systems all around the nation. People ask me all of the time why I do not have children. There are several reasons (obviously the main reason being that I have not met the right person to have children with) but one of them, to be completely honest, is that I want my kids to have the best education opportunities possible and the chances for that are dwindling every week of every month of every year. I believe teaching is one of the hardest yet most rewarding and important jobs that people can have. I truly believe it takes a very special person to be a teacher and it is a job that takes an immense of amount of dedication and determination. Teachers, if they are good teachers, are some of the most selfless people in the world. The problem is…we have too many people in the system that are supposed to mold young children that are only there to collect a pay check. Teachers are not the only people to blame though. There are tons of reasons why our education system is failing at such a rapid pace. Do I believe that part of the problem is the lack of money? I do, yes. BUT I also believe this is being used as an excuse.
I have watched the documentary Waiting for Superman twice now and it has absolutely blown my mind both times. I think everyone should watch it in order to learn and see what is going on in this country. I don’t understand how our country got into the mess that it is in. Why do we not all value the importance of education in the same way? We were all children once. We may have had wonderful teachers that we admired. We may have been the kids that felt like the system failed us. Either way, why wouldn’t we all strive to make it the best it can be now. In the words of Whitney Houston, “the children are our future.” If we have school systems where more than 50% of the kids do not graduate (most have dropped by the 10th grade) what kind of future is that? We think criminal activity is bad now…if things continue like this, this country is going to be in complete chaos. Just to give an example, a high school in Pennsylvania opened in the late 1980’s. Approximately 60,000 kids have been enrolled in this school. Approximately 40,000 of these kids did not graduate. Does anyone else not see this as being a problem?
So, you ask, where does the problem lie and how can it be fixed? I hate to say this but I do not know if the problem can be fixed because to be honest we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. We have the government that controls funding to the states then each state decides how they choose to disperse the money then each county decides where and how they want to spend the money. There are far too many hands in the pot. There are too many ego’s looking for recognition. Too many people are forgetting that IT IS ABOUT THE CHILDREN! Ego’s need to be put aside. If you do something amazing that paves the wave for change there is a good chance you could receive recognition but this should not be the goal. Teaching a child and helping them grow up to be model human beings should be the only goal. Yes, I do believe teachers are some of the most underpaid workers in this country. It saddens me deeply because I compare teachers to Superhero’s. These are the people that take the lives of young children in their hands every single day and are expected to mold them into bright, successful adults. They are supposed to teach them math, science, English, health, nutrition, etc. They teach them all of the educational (and some physical) life skills for survival. The thing is, parents need to be children’s number 1 teachers and so many times they are not. Children are like sponges. If you perform an action (say clapping your hands or blowing kisses) in front of a young child, you will see in many instances a child mimic that behavior. One of my previous jobs was as a Parent Educator. Yes, I realize I do not have children but that does not mean I should not have a voice. There are plenty of parents out there that have no business being parents. I have been surrounded by children for a good portion of my life and I have studied a great deal about early childhood development. It really is not rocket science. We are failing our children because we are no longer taking the time out. Again, yes, I realize how busy and hectic like can be but just talking to your child (whether they are 2 months old or 2 years old) can make a world of difference. They hear a vast amount of words which build their language and vocabulary skills and they learn very early on that they are important. So many times I have witnessed young adults (and even adults) waste their potential because no one was taking the time out to tell them how valuable they are or how they can do anything they want if they work hard.
Let me give you an example of two. About two years ago I worked for a nonprofit organization that focused on positive youth development. I taught Teen Outreach Program classes that focused on subjects such as career and education building skills, peer pressure, self-esteem and self worth, STD education and Pregnancy Prevention. There was one class that I taught that had young girls and women (a couple of males too) that ranged anywhere from 15-30ish. Oh yes so I don’t forget, all of these people had young children under the age of 5 (some had up to 4 children or more). This class was made up of all students studying and working toward obtaining their GED’s. They were all high school dropouts. I would come in a couple of times a week and talk to them about an array of subjects but my main goal was to remind them of the capabilities that they had. I focused on their strengths. I knew no one had been doing this…or at least had not been doing it enough. I had 2 girls in the class that were sisters. They were 27 and 29. One dropped out of high school in 9th grade and the other in 11th. Neither of them could read or write. It took me a little while to realize this. I used to have them do in-class assignments such as write 10 of the best things about yourself. I even had them write their own obituaries. I did this so they were able to see how they view themselves. Anyhow, I am getting off point, these girls would sit there and barely be able to scribble out their own names. I knew how badly they wanted to do it but were unable to. All I kept thinking was, how on earth did they make it to 9th and 11th grade without knowing how to read or write??? I was shocked. I knew they had just been pushed along their entire lives. No one wanted to put in the work so they pushed them forward so someone else would deal with the problem. The thing is NO ONE was dealing with the problem. They also had no business being in a GED class. These classes costs the state and the feds thousands of dollars per student each year. I adored the woman that ran this program but it was very obvious to me that she was allowing them in the program to get them off the streets. Her heart was in the right place because she had a protective nature but when it truly came down to it she was not doing anyone favors because money was being blatantly wasted. These girls needed to be in a beginning speech and reading class. They needed heavy tutoring. They were in their late 20’s with children and neither of them were performing academically past a 1st or 2nd grade level. One of them had a child that was 3 years old that was able to read better than her mother. It was very sad because I knew all of the red tape and what hard economic times we are in. So, I did what I could do to make their situation better. I did have a job requiring me to spend a lot of hours in various places so therefore I was unable to tutor these girls but in the time I spent with them, I made sure to focus on strengths. It was very obvious to me that both of these girls were very shy and had absolutely no self confidence. They came from absolutely nothing and even mentally they functioned quite significantly below their age. I, also knew that when I first started working with the class that they felt uncomfortable with me. They didn’t have to say it but I knew they were intimidated because I was college educated and was working a full-time job. I have heard many times in past work environments, students say they thought that I felt I was better than them. They learned very quickly that this was not even close to the truth. I always opened up to my students and shared my stories (not every little personal details but things I knew would make a difference). I let them know about my anxiety and worrisome nature and my struggle with my body and self-image. I showed them I was a real person just like them and age, race and status quo were not important to me. Over time I watched these girls start opening up in class. I watched them go from saying one to 2 words in the first few classes to voluntarily raising their hands and sharing their thoughts and opinions. I let them know that their opinions and thoughts mattered just as much as anyone else’s. I am not trying to come off like I, myself, am some superhero but I do understand how it works. People want to feel valuable in life and want to feel important. Sometimes people are screaming on the inside because they want to be given a chance. Children (and even some adults) are not able to control their circumstances so I believe that school is one place that they should have their voices heard.
I guess there are things in life that seem like common sense to me and although they seem simple I do realize a lot of hard work is required. I believe that school systems have amazing potential to do great things but we have completely lost motivation. I have always said, “If you believe you are defeated then in fact you are defeated.” This applies to so many aspects of life. I think because different schools have had failures or teachers have had failures, they have just given up. Failure is not an easy thing to accept at all but it is an opportunity to try harder. We have all failed at things in our lives and we all have made poor decisions but these are not the things that define us. If a teacher feels like they are failing or are getting burnt out that is their opportunity to try another strategy or ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help. Remember it takes a village to raise a child.
I ask of everyone to check out the documentary Waiting for Superman. It really is an eye opener. After watching it, ask yourself…what am I going to do to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem? It is easy to get angry about these situations but nothing good ever comes out of anger. We are in an educational rut and we HAVE to get ourselves out of it if we want to see this country prosper and see our kids grow up to be successful. I have encountered more times than I have not the “victim mentality”. I understand that sometimes people’s circumstances and environments are not the best and they have been brought up in poverty and have had very little. No, I cannot relate but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have an opinion. If you have grown up in this type of environment then your goal should be to make a better life for yourself and strive for much better than you ever have. Teach your children that living under those kinds of conditions is not the norm. Focusing on bettering yourself in some way or another every single day. I truly believe that our schools would flourish way more if every school had self-esteem/character building classes and these classes need to start at a very young age. Yes, I do believe it needs to be done in the schools because in some cases it just won’t be done at home as much as it needs to be. In these classes we need to push the students as hard as possible. We need to push them to the limits so they are able to see how far they are actually able to go and what their true capabilities are. These classes should focus on career building so students can find what they are passionate about. They should focus on self-esteem and self-awareness…striving for equality. All students are equal regardless or race, social class, gender, etc. They should challenge children and they should even allow them to fall or to fail so they can also learn how to pick themselves up again. They should focus on the importance of education and show students how successful they really could be if they stay involved and active in their education. These classes should also show them the brutal truth such as the outcomes of a poor education or high school dropout. It is well known that students that dropout of school are far more likely to become teen parents, end up in prison or live a life of poverty. They need to be exposed to all of these things in some manner or another. We need to stop walking on egg shells and expose our kids to the truth. We need to get rid of the red tape and all of these rules and regulations about what we can say and not say to our kids. Kids need to hear the truth. It is sad how many parents won’t allow that because they want to “protect” their children. In the country I reside, in no school are they able to teach the children about safe sex. They are only allowed to teach Abstinence-Only. In 2010 there were 152 pregnant teens in the county and 42 of them were under the age of 17. How can parents and the school district not realize that Abstinence Only is not working????
I could go on and on when it comes to this subject because I am very passionate about it. I would love to dedicate my life to being a life coach and doing public speeches and talks about the importance of self-worth and striving for success because I believe so many people need that. I believe EVERYONE has potential in some way or another and it saddens me deeply to see our national school system slowly giving up. We can no longer pass the torch. I know life is really busy but we need to make the time, especially parents and teachers/faculty members. I, myself, myself really need to take the time as well. Even if you are just taking a couple of hours a week to volunteer at a local nonprofit that focuses on education or tutoring students in need it makes a difference. Showing a child that you care and that they are significant and important can make the biggest difference in the world. As responsible adults, we need to stop using our blinders and stop thinking about only ourselves. Other people/children need our help. That is what life is truly about. Yes, I realize we all need to make enough money for survival but real wealth comes from being part of a plan to help others. Trust me, I know this first hand. Education is vitally important. We need to get off our asses and do what we can to improve this national problem. Be an army of one….I wouldn’t be surprised if many more follow your lead. Write to your congressman/congresswoman, visit the schools to see what is truly going on, sit in on a school board meeting and ask questions, write letters to the editor, volunteer your time when you can. If enough people start doing this there is no other option but change. It takes work though…probably some of the hardest work imaginable but the rewards will outweigh the work by a landslide. To my readers, I hope you get involved in some way or another. I know I am going to. Each and every one of you has a gift, a talent or a strength that must be shared. Why keep it all to yourself??? I send you all of my love and that push to continue doing the best you possibly can. You are worth it!