Our schools have descended into the murky waters of needless math and science, standardized testing, neglectful teaching of English, and shoddy rule-making. I write this as a declaration of some sort: Of how public schools consistently fail their students.
Students ought to be taught the foundations of prose, cursive writing, management of finances, basic economy, politics, the rudiments of the three branches of government (which a whopping seventy-percent of our country is unaware of), and the constitutional rights they have as American citizens. Instead of being taught those practical things, students’ brains are being crammed with mathematical formulas and scientific distinctions between the different models of an atom — two, of the many, things that normal people do not need to be aware of. Which brings me to the next point: Subject matter should be general.
It is to my sincere bewilderment that students are being taught things specific to one trade. Take the aforesaid teaching of the history of atoms as an example. Who applies that sort of knowledge? Scientists. And I assert, with ninety-nine-percent surety, that every student taught that will not become a scientist. Some will be truck drivers, cashiers, teachers, lawyers, and the like. So, why does a classroom full of students need to be taught material applied only in one profession, a profession that most of them will not pursue? Your guess is as good as mine.
Specialized material is not taught erroneously — at least, not completely. After all, the main objective of education, generally, is to prepare its students for whatever is to come. This includes teaching practical life skills, things they’ll need to be promoted to higher-grade levels, and what will lay the foundation for future opportunities, like going to a good college or university. Today, this doesn’t mean teaching them their rights and the functions of the government that governs them; it means teaching tests. In other words, schools now prioritize their students’ passing of a test over their preparation for things of more substantive value. And because specialized subject matter appears on these standardized tests, schools must teach it.
Doing away with specialized content or ridding of tests entirely are two plausible solutions. I tend to side with the latter because the existence of any test prompts a school to align its curriculum with it. This is not a healthy thing for a school to be doing, for it limits curricular discretion — which, while under reasonable scrutiny, can produce amazing results.
Now, I must give credit where it is due. One thing schools do tremendously well with is teaching comprehension skills. Our schools are equipping students with the ability to whack their way through the weeds of lengthy and, sometimes, dense texts. For that, I give a thumbs up. But that is just one piece of the pie, where schools often falter is the writing aspect of English.
Too much of English curricula are zeroed-in on comprehension, which is worthless if one isn’t able to convey what they comprehend. Being able to put what you know to paper and write it well is a necessity. Before one goes into an interview, the first thing the interviewer sees is their writing: When reading their cover letter and in email correspondence. Failing to teach writing sets students up for failure in the purest form: Unemployment.
Normally, students are taught a skill and then are tasked with applying it. This makes sense because applying the knowledge is the only way to solidify it. This is why we use newly learned words multiple times in our daily speech. But schools don’t do that when it comes to writing; they don’t teach the skill and make students apply it. With writing, they throw an essay at the students and expect them, by some divine power, to write. Many opt to avoid the essay, and others that don’t, have immense trouble — I have seen this too many times. Sometimes you can help them, but often they are too lazy to endure the writing process — the write, revise, and re-write cycle. So, they fold and submit mediocrity. Why? Because they were not taught how to write.
The final snag on the writing front is word minimums. Defenders of it claim that it promotes thorough and well-thought writing. It doesn’t take much to see the train of thought that might lead one to take that position: The more writing done, the more thought put into the subject of the writing. But in practice, it produces redundancies, done only to satisfy the word minimum.
Imagine a student was given a writing prompt that said: Explain, in no less than twenty-nine words, why you want to be a detective when you grow up. And this student’s written response was: I want to be a detective because I saw it on Law & Order, which is a television show on NBC, which is an acronym for National Broadcasting Company. The television station is irrelevant to the question, yet this mock student needed to add that unnecessary detail to satisfy the word minimum — and had he not, he would’ve added some other unneeded detail or made something up. When, instead, he could have left it at: I want to be a detective because I saw it on Law & Order.
One may think: Well, he could have elaborated on why the show appeals to him. But what if I told you this student only likes it because he saw it on television; that seeing it on television is his only motivation. What then?
No matter how silly the curriculum may be, teachers can’t even get to it when students that routinely cause disruption are met with minimal, or no, punishment. Most times, this is because the school operates off of spoken rules. This never works because of every person’s fatal flaw: Terrible memory.
To analogize this, in September, Principle X says: “No student can wear blue shoes.” Two months later, in November, a student comes to school wearing blue shoes. The Dean thinks nothing of it nor does any of his teachers. And he proceeds with his day wearing those blue shoes, undetected. Why is this? Because everyone in the school forgot the rule: No blue shoes. Of course, that is a less serious scenario than those actually dealt with in schools. Nevertheless, the point remains that people are forgetful and, therefore, institutions should not rely on their memories.
Instead, they should write the rules. Schools, every year, publish a handbook. But no one ever reads it and it’s never followed. This is not by happenstance; this is because people are lazy and do not like to read. To combat this, schools must enforce their handbook. Only then will people take it seriously.
The blame for the aforementioned atrocities should not be put on the backs of the fine educators that stand at the front-line of education every day. Rather, it should be put on the systems and administrative bodies that force their hands.