Thursday, December 4, 2008

The State of Education

First let me give a shout out to Doug, who is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm with the 18th Military Police Brigade. He read a unit history that I had posted on the web and informed me that I had been remiss by not mentioning that units from the 18th MP Brigade had participated in the Gulf War. I appreciate the email, and a correction has been made. And I will say that there is not enough information on the subject on the web. So let’s see some writing from you vets who were there. People want to hear your story.

Warning: The following post is a rant that doesn’t have much to do with history.

My friend Paul Kurzawa posted on his blog over at History Delivered about a test put out by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute with questions on civics, history, and economics. Here are links to the press release explaining the abysmal results and the test itself. Basically the average score of a random sampling of Americans who were given the test was 49%, or an “F.” However, the average score for a person with an undergraduate college degree was 74.4%. See where I’m headed here?

While I agree with Paul that we are pathetic citizens when it comes to knowledge about our own history and government, our bigger problem is the overall decline of education in this country. Currently, almost 30% of our students drop out of high school across the nation. According to an article in USA Today, only 29% of Americans have a bachelor degree. The article goes on to tell us that of the 70% of students who graduate high school, 65% of them go on to college. But if that many students enroll in college why do only 3 in 10 of us have a degree? It is because somewhere along the way, from kindergarten to college graduation, seven of us gave up on formal education. In addition to that, they’ve given up on life-long learning.

Here’s my take on it: Public school started pushing ALL kids to go to college, even if they don’t know what they want to do for a career. So the kids who can go to college go without any clue of what they want to do with their lives. They then burn out on classes that they have no interest in and drop out. Meanwhile, the kids who aren’t able to go to college, for whatever reason, have received the implicit message loud and clear. They are worthless in this society for not going on to college. So they give up and drop out of high school. The kids who stick it out and graduate have no love of, or skills for, learning on their own.

My father went to “Technical High School” where he learned trade skills like welding and cabinetry. But he also was taught math through trigonometry and a love of poetry so strong that he carried a book of Robert Service poems to Korea. I graduated from college, but most of what I’ve learned about history was from outside of the classroom. Mostly through visiting museums, watching documentaries, and that’s right, reading books! And who taught me to read? Right again! My dad. He told me that reading was the most important skill you can have because anything you want to know about is in a book somewhere. Are parents today doing that for their kids?

Of course I’m ranting and of course I’m grossly generalizing. But how do we fix the declining state of education in this country? Let’s work on the weakest link. How about teaching every student in public school to a standard level of skill and competence? For the last several decades it seems like we’ve been putting all of our resources into teaching the most talented and advantaged while leaving the others to struggle. Why do we do this in public education? I’d like to see a public high school education mean something again. Let’s have that basic education be able to stand alone. Let’s get off of the “college is everything” kick for awhile. Because I really don’t worry too much about the upper middle class kid whose parents are involved and can afford to pay for college. I worry about the kids who don’t have those advantages. So should you. Because they both get one equal vote.

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