One Factor Behind America’s Poor K-12 Education System

During my high school years, I had the acquaintance of a fellow student – a person who still holds a strong presence in my memory. This person was one of the most ambitious, most determined individuals in the school; today she goes to one of America’s top universities. She may very well be the next president of the United States – and this is a serious statement.

One day this student asked me an interesting question: “What do you see me doing when I’m fifty years old?”

I teased, “I see you as a high school English teacher.”

She laughed, “I would kill myself if that happened.”

This simple sequence provides a powerful illustration on why America’s K-12 education system is so bad. The best and the brightest view teaching K-12 as a demeaning profession. Go to a class in Harvard, for instance, and ask what the students there want to do after they graduate. There will be lots of future investment bankers, lawyers, and politicians. There will probably very few K-12 teachers, if any at all.

In the countries with the world’s best education systems, places like Finland and Singapore, the conversation above makes no sense. Ambitious, talented people – like the classmate mentioned above – actually want to be teachers in Finland and Singapore. In America this isn’t the case.

This is a big reason why America’s public education system is so weak. A strong education system has good teachers. Logically, a country in which talented people want to be teachers will have good teachers. A country in which talented people belittle the K-12 teaching profession – say, a country like the United States – will probably not have good teachers.

The college system provides another example of this. In America being a professor is quite a desireable job; a lot of very intelligent people dream of teaching college students. Not coincidentially, America’s university system is the best in the world.

The great conundrum, then, is making the K-12 teaching profession desireable to people like the classmate mentioned above. In other words, one needs to change the culture. That is a very hard thing to do. Short of boosting teacher salaries to lawyer-like levels – something which will cost at least several hundred billion dollars, and which nobody is thinking about even in their wildest dreams – there is no easy solution in sight.

There is, of course, more to the problem of American public education than this. Education involves not just teachers, but students as well (indeed, students are actually more important than teachers). Even the best teachers cannot make gold out of students who just do not care for school. And, if one is honest, there probably is also something to the claim that American students are generally less motivated than students in, say, South Korea.

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8 Responses to One Factor Behind America’s Poor K-12 Education System

  1. Victoria says:

    I strongly believe that in order to have an intelligent, motivated child, regardless of God-given ability, you have to be involved in shaping them during their years as a toddler. Children by nature are inquisitive. Whether you quash that natural curiosity or provide your child with an environment that will allow him or her to flourish is your choice. When your son or daughter asks you a question, it is important to stop what you’re doing and answer it to the best of your ability. If you ignore them or give them a short answer, chances are they’ll ask less and less or stop asking altogether. My father talked to me about these things like I was an adult and always involved me in things going on in my family. They kept no secrets from me. While it gave me some difficulties, it ended up making me more mature and better equipped for life. I know that all of you want to shelter your child and keep them in bubble wrap, but that’s just going to reinforce the way they’re taught in school. You need to have the tough conversations and answer the pressing questions to set your child up for the best life. You also need to provide them with enriching experiences and teach them about the world at a young age so they’re worldly and well-rounded individuals as they enter their young-adult lives. The last thing you need to do for your child is make learning fun. Make it hands-on and interactive! If you pile on long art classes and piano lessons, their life outside of school is going to become a drag and more of the same old daily grind. Find new ways to make learning about the world and developing life-skills fun. That is the way to grab your child’s attention so they really learn something.

    Your involvement in your child’s development is probably the biggest piece of the puzzle. Don’t just drop off your child at school or daycare and expect them to come home as little Einsteins. Even he needed his mother’s full support to achieve his goals.

    • inoljt says:

      Sounds like a good strategy.

    • Earl says:

      I agree with Victoria to the fullest extent. She must think along the same lines as my daughters do in raising their children. The problem lies in the fact that so many parents are not qualified to be parents anyway that you look at it. On top of that you have a nation that now considers women totally equal to men in every way, and many of those women are primarily concerned about making as much money as their husbands. In doing so, the children are neglected in more ways than one. They grow up knowing little more than what they see on TV (their babysitter), and all of this is reflected in how they act toward school. Except for my grandchildren, I have met very few 4 to 10-year olds who can even communicate with strangers because their growth has been stunted by their parents’ lack of ability to teach them from birth onward.

      I’m an 80-year-old and my lack of education has haunted me all my life, but I did make up for some of that by leaving my home state for nearly 50 years of which 11 were in the Far East. Everyone doesn’t get a second chance at life to make up for the mistakes that were made early in life. Neither of my parents were qualified to be parents, but times were different then and I don’t like to dwell too much on the past. We live in an era now where the early years will be of utmost importance. But even if every individual did everything right, you still have the mess that the whole world is in to contend with. It will be a terribly difficult challenge up ahead for young people even if they get their acts together when they are young.

  2. slim4s says:

    It doesn’t seem possible, but I agree with everyone!

    Our system is upside-down when the best & brightest students look down on teachers. Most of the students would respect the teachers if their parents did.

    The public school funding system is a joke. It has produced poor facilities and forced administrators to hire college graduates willing to take a low salary, low esteem job.

    And finally, I need to agree with inoljt. It’s up to the students to get an education. It is easier for them if they have access to nice facilities well stocked with the latest & greatest supplies, tools, technology, and quality teachers. It becomes even easier if they are lucky enough to be born to parents who value education and pass that trait on to their offspring.

    I think any student (or parent) wanting to get a good education and prepare for college, trade school, or the workforce can get that education in any school in the country. It requires effort on the part of the student and the parent(s). Learning is not a passive activity!

    The difference between graduating from high school and getting an education is all between the ears!

  3. Candida Pugh says:

    Public schools are doing, in fact, precisely what they were designed to do: Train workers to be compliant and give them just enough skills to follow orders. Following orders is a major part of the American scholastic agenda. Talented people don’t want to be teachers because they see, first of all, that the government does not fund education well enough to create a true learning environment–with not enough materials, chairs, or books, let alone enough time for an individual teacher to address all the problems in her bulging classroom. Secondly, American institutions as a whole are bound up in bureaucracy, staffed by products of an education system that stresses memorization over critical thinking, drudgery over creativity, and silence over enthusiasm. For those who hire, the system is working perfectly. For those who do or don’t get hired, it’s a one-way ticket to a life of watching TV.

    • Markus says:

      I agree that we need to improve our schools, but the most compelling change in the area of student performance has to come from within the family and their own value systems. If the families don’t have those values, then that’s where we need to “break the mold”. In general, children of families who place education as a top priority do well in math (and other subjects), regardless of the school they go to or quality of instruction. We, as a society need to get back to the basics. Parents need to stop raising their kids on video games and make education a priority; schools are only a part of that education. We supplement the schooling of our children with additional books and materials after we come home from work. There are no video games and the TV only gets turned on as a reward to watch movies together once or twice a month. On weekdays after school they are in piano classes and swim team. On weekends, art class. We don’t take much time for ourselves, but then again, our children’s education is in our OWN hands, so that’s what making it a priority looks like in our household

      • inoljt says:

        I think parents play an important role, even more important than that of teachers.

        But ultimately, ultimately, it’s up to the students themselves and their willingness to learn.

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