This post started out as part of this past Sunday's Thoughts On A Sunday, but I realized it deserved a spot all its own. It was related to a post I linked from David Starr and the problems with STEM education in our schools. While I did add my own two cents to David's observations, this kind of wrote itself as I was venting about what I saw as a problem with the school system here in my home town, a problem that exists all across America.
One of the things we hear constantly from the education lobby is that we need more teachers and lower student-to-teacher ratios. Both claims are wrong.
What we need are better teachers. If we have better teachers we don't need minuscule student-to-teacher ratios. At the moment our education system is set up to foster mediocrity, specifically in the quality of our teachers. What do we expect? We get mediocre schools with mediocre results and kids with mediocre educations. For the most part our schools are union shops and unions tend to suppress exceptionalism and force mediocrity. (Take it from one who used to belong to a union. It was something that always galled me – the institutional mediocrity.) I have seen this mediocrity in the school system in my home town. That's scary.
A lot of people claim our town has a great school system, and it is compared to a lot of the surrounding towns. That isn't saying much because it is still nowhere near what it should be considering how much money we spend on our school system every year – just under $17,000, about $4,000 more than the state average and between $2,000 and $7,000 more than the top 10 school systems in the state. It is towards the upper end of the mediocrity scale, meaning it isn't nearly as mediocre as other schools, but it's nothing to which we should aspire. For the money we spend we should have one of the best school systems in the state, but we don't. When our schools cut back on or drop some of the staples – courses that were at one time important, like Shop and Home Economics to name two – and replace them with subjects that have little to do with preparing students for real life, then the schools are in trouble. When I was in school these classes started in middle school...excuse me, junior high school, and it was mandatory. Of course I grew up before sexual equality became the norm and all the boys took Shop and all the girls took Home Ec.
Today all kids should take both because they teach them skills they will use throughout their entire lives regardless of what they end up doing for a living. I cannot count how many times I've come across young adults who couldn't swing a hammer, use a screwdriver, replace a light socket on a lamp, change a flat tire, or prepare a meal that didn't come from out of the freezer and into the microwave. They have no idea how the simplest things we use every day work and they have to call someone else to fix things for them. Those in our society may have access to knowledge our ancestors would find amazing, but as a whole our citizens don't know how to do things our grandparents and even our parents took for granted, and I'm not talking about arcane skills like shoeing horses or blacksmithing. But I digress...
Not all that long ago there was an effort made to move our school system towards what is called the International Baccalaureate program, an education program first proposed to UNESCO in 1948. While its goal was to offer an interesting perspective to education and an internationally approved curriculum, it has devolved into more of a feelgood program that seems bent more on fostering an educational environment that promotes socialist ideals rather than courses of study that are supposed to prepare our kids to fend for themselves in the real world. The more I learned the less I liked the idea and a lot of parents felt the same way. For the time being the IB is dead in our town. But that doesn't mean there aren't those within the school system that will keep trying to push it upon our kids.
I could go on and on about the problems with the school system in my town and schools across America, but I think you get the idea. It's time to take our schools back from the unions and the education lobby, to tell the Department of Education to go take a hike, and to start teaching our children what they need to know in order to make their way in the real world.