In Part 1 of this series, I spoke about American public policy in the context of economics. Specifically, I tied in the concept of altruism and showed how given the opportunity, people are more likely to take money from a complete stranger than give money to a complete stranger. In Part 2 of this series, I wrote about campaign finance and elections in America. I understand that no system is perfect, but I felt that if there were more integrity in campaign finance & elections, people may have a little more faith in the system. In Part 3, today, I will talk about education in American public policy.
Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another story about the poor statistics of education in the United States. The Chicago-Sun Times is reporting that over a third of students entering college need remedial help. And that’s an article that was published today! This past December (2010), the US slipped farther down the rankings on the ‘three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world.’ (The data can be found here.) On these rankings, the US is now considered “average” on the overall reading scale and on the science scale. They fell below average on the mathematics scale. Shanghai-China, Korea-South, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Switzerland, and Poland, all out-performed the US on all three scales.
If you’re interested in the history of education in the United States, I’ve found a couple of great resources that highlight significant events through history with regard to education in the United States (American Educational History: A Hypertext Timeline; and Timeline of US Education: A Chronology of Pioneers, Events, and Philosophers.)
I had the chance to see Waiting for Superman earlier this year and I thought it was quite an eye-opening experience. While I don’t know that I agree with everything that is put forth in the movie, I think that the fact that this movie is even possible (meaning that a documentary of this nature could be done about education in the US) shows that there are definite holes in the system. It was interesting to watch Michelle Rhee attempt to alter the structure of unions for teachers in the Washington, D.C. area. I don’t think that many would have predicted a similar (but somewhat tangential) act from Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin a year later.
I am not a primary school teacher, elementary school teacher, secondary school teacher, college-level teacher, or university-level teacher. I don’t know what it’s like to be standing at the front of the classroom day after day — students looking up at me expecting me to tell them something. I believe that it takes a special kind of person to not only be willing to do this, but to want to do this. I think teachers are a vastly underappreciated population. Sure, we have “Teacher’s Day,” but that’s far from enough, given the responsibility they are charged with — education our young. Could there be a more sacred responsibility?
A former US Secretary of Education cited statistics in an article published in association with The Heartland Institute (a libertarian public policy think tank) claiming that increasing funding for public education have not made schools better. While this may be true, I wonder if maybe the funding is going to the “wrong” places in education and if this may be a case of ‘throwing good money at bad money.’ Put more bluntly — maybe the system is faulty. I think more funding for education can be a positive thing, if used in the right way and if given to the right places.
Maybe the US education system needs a complete overhaul. I was fortunate enough to have had an experience in the Montessori school system. I was far too young to really remember much of my experience there, (I was there from before kindergarten to just before the start of the second grade). It may not be feasible at this point, but I’d really like to see what a nation could do if all of their schools were taught in the Montessori-way or the Waldorf-way. There are many different forms of alternative education across the world, but I am most familiar with Montessori and Waldorf.
I wonder what a nation of kids raised and educated through Waldorf Education would look like. Would we have less crime? Would we be happier? Would there be less educational inequality? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I’d like to think that a system of education like Waldorf’s (given to us by Rudolph Steiner), would dramatically shift a fair bit of the way we interact with each other, especially with regard to education. As I said earlier, the responsibility of teaching our youth is sacred. We should treat this task and those who do it, with the highest regard, just as those who do it, should treat our youth with the highest regard.