The Disservices of American Public School


As a college student fresh out of the public school system, I can say with confidence that the American public school system failed to prepare me. I fear my intellect is no match for my peers across the globe.

When I talk to someone my age who was educated elsewhere, I feel behind and incompetent. I'm frustrated and after thinking about education comparatively, I’ve come to the realization that I’m eating the dust of the rest of the world as a global citizen.

Before I rip into the school system, I want to clarify that in no way do I mean to dismiss the luxuries I have as an American or call myself disadvantaged; I’m merely sharing my experience, an experience that I feel has left me empty handed.

We Americans are lucky to have a legitimate education system; and most of us sit here while honorable people like Malala Yousafzai put their lives on the line to spread education to those who have none at all.

All I’m wondering is why I live in one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, yet kids in other countries that America considers “third world” can study circles around me. This is not to say that one will automatically succeed with a good education, or that one can’t succeed with a subpar education. But in a country with so many resources, why aren’t things better? Do any of my fellow Americans feel behind?

To elaborate, I find myself having a hard time keeping up with intellectual conversations. My knowledge of humanity and the universe as a whole seems limited compared to my foreign friends. Anyone could argue that it's not the fault of the education system, but my own mental capacity.

Whether or not the school system is subpar, Americans are notorious for being ignorant and close minded. It's quite embarrassing when I see myself falling into that stereotype. My schooling was the biggest facilitator of American exceptionalism in my maturing mind -- not my parents or the media. I wasn’t taught global geography or socio-cultural anthropology, subjects that would enhance my global knowledge. Instead I learned about America and things that affect America.

The National Center for Education Statistics states that in 2012-2013 the US spent $620 billion (roughly $12,296 per student) on public education. That’s a lot of money, and I think it's great that we have that much to spend. However, I look at my high school and I observe what money is spent on.

There is a Smart Board -- an interactive whiteboard that responds to touch -- in every classroom. Some classes have laptops for every student, and there are three AstroTurf athletic fields. Yet, my high school had some of the lowest test scores in the county, and I doubt more than 10 percent of the student body could locate Mongolia on a map.

When will I be encouraged to think outside the box?

The fault begins at the hands of the administration and its weak infrastructure.

Money is being spent the wrong way. Technology is great, but if we have finite funding, students can learn just fine without smart boards and iPads -- they have for hundreds of years -- as long as the person in the front of the classroom knows what they’re doing.

In the face of all this money, high tech facilities, and technology, the teachers went on strike during my senior year. Their already pitiful salaries were being cut. A lot of amazing teachers left the school looking for teaching jobs in counties that could pay them enough to support themselves.

This leads me to believe that teaching is not a respected profession in the eyes of the government -- which is strange. After all, teachers shape the minds of our future leaders, and subsequently the future of the entire human race.

During school I also had a lot of teachers who shouldn’t have been in the classroom to begin with. It's almost as if they were hired off the street just because they had a college degree. They really didn’t have any teaching skills, qualities, or passion and that was reflected in my education.

I had many classes in which the teacher just gave us printed Powerpoint presentations and told us to do worksheets. That didn't promote learning; it was busy work.

Imagine if the position of a teacher was taken more seriously. If they were paid better and hired more selectively, kids could learn infinitely better than with a random, unqualified person and unnecessary technology.

Perhaps there could be more stimulating Socratic discussions; or classes could be modeled after Plato's Academy or French salons. In its most true and organic form, education is the relaying of information and transfer of knowledge between human minds. Too many of my teachers denied me profound knowledge and instead acted as a babysitter for an hour and a half every day.

An often discussed topic is that of the fallible process of communicating concepts and learning material to students. It’s common knowledge that Americans just memorize facts, pass the test, then forget them. We skim over concepts and historical events just so we can answer a few multiple choice questions. We lack profound understanding of subjects because we are rarely exposed to in-depth learning.

Kids who learn elsewhere don’t just recite dates, names, and definitions. They learn to fully understand subjects -- they can tell you why things are the way they are, not just that they are the way they are.

Additionally, Americans lack continuity with learning. If we had more continuity with topics and full understandings thereof, we could exercise our higher level thinking and practice drawing logical conclusions on our own. We should be taught to critically think and use logic to extrapolate and discover new conclusions based on the facts and concepts we study.

Our logical skills aren’t honed -- our memorization skills are. The ability to reason at such an advanced level is what makes the human mind so superior, so why aren’t we being taught how to?

The lowering of standards is a huge problem. I’ve had countless people from other countries tell me “the stuff you guys learn in advanced high school classes is primary school material for us.” This is beyond disappointing; if they can handle the rigor, why can’t we? Why aren’t we being challenged? My school liked to push everyone into AP and honors classes to improve their enrollment statistics. If people couldn’t handle AP/honors classes, they lowered the standards of rigor so people could pass. In all of the AP classes I took throughout high school, I only had to write one single paper longer than five paragraphs.

Modern society is entirely geared toward specialization. This is detrimental to the intellectual nurturing of polymaths, potential leaders, and visionaries -- the people who end up changing the world. The emphasis on specialization is taxing on students and deprives them of their passions. We are taught to focus on one thing that we are good at, turn it into a career, and play out our small, unfulfilling role in the advancement of economical society until we die.

I feel pressured not to expand my knowledge as much as I possibly can, but to instead find a small area that I can focus on in order to make a superficial career. In my opinion, true advancement is stagnant if we continue with this mindset. When will I be encouraged to think outside the box?

We need to end systematic, industrialized education and make it humanistic and all-encompassing.