The American Educational System: Part 1: Knocking It Down from the Basement Up

Slide1For those of you who have been patient enough to follow my admittedly irregular output in this blog, you are aware that I narrow down the blame for the continuing level of stupid that America churns out, to what I refer to as our “Four Horsemen of the Bamboozle”: The Mainstream Mass Media, The American Educational System, Fundamentalist Religion and Politico-Corporate Greed (politicians beholding to corporate America due to unabashed, big-money lobbying efforts). To one extent or another these entities all contribute, sometimes purposely, sometimes by accident, to keeping as much of the American public as dumb as a squeaking floorboard as possible.

Today I will turn my fuming queries toward a “horseman” that is close to my heart: The American Educational System.

As many of you already know, I am a New York City High School Teacher. I find that most people, upon being informed of this, come down on one side of the fence or the other. I am either a dedicated educator who should be admired and/or pitied for working in such a challenging environment, or I, personally, am the sole reason that little Johnny graduated school without the ability to even stumble through what passes for news in the New York Post, figure out a paycheck, or name the current President of the United States. I’m an adult, so I can take the putdowns, the pity and even the admiration on the rare occasion it comes, but everyone should be made aware that it is going to take a lot more than sacking me and every other dedicated professional, who tries to put your kid on the right track, in order to make an educational system that really works. Nothing, but nothing, is going to be able to repair the American Educational System, other than knocking it down from the basement up.

I recently had the opportunity of attending a Professional Development Seminar put on by my school at a very pleasant, upscale conference center. The main speaker at this event was a social worker who presented an extremely interesting lecture and PowerPoint entitled: “Enhancing Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation: A Solution Focused Strategy” or in layman’s terms: “How to Get Pissed-Off Kids to Calm Themselves Down”. One of the things that this presentation addressed, which I found quite intriguing, was a section about “Developmental Issues Affecting Anxiety” The crux of this idea was put in terms of a formula: (Processing Needs) ÷ (Processing Capacity) = (the Percentage of Overload) in a student that can lead to him shutting down. Put more simply: the amount of information you are trying to stuff into a kid’s head needs to be no more than what the kid’s brain can deal with. If the student in question can’t process what you are trying to input, then his mental cup shall runneth over, leaving either a kid who is falling asleep in class or an exploding emotional mess, which you as the teacher will be expected to clean up.

The speaker then went on to explain how with patience, and a few minutes of devoted one-on-one time, a teacher could defuse the situation and reclaim the student back into the fold. At this point I took it upon myself to ask what I thought was a relevant question: How do we deal with such a manifestation when we have a classroom full of thirty kids and no backup from Administration? How do we: A) Avoid overstuffing a student’s limited cranium? B) Continue to teach the class while the emotional overflow from this kid spills out through the classroom like a didactic tsunami? He smiled and gave me a simple answer that I translated to mean, “You’re screwed.”

Indeed, we are.

Throughout our country, the norm for school funding is to throw a modicum of money at a problem that is currently deemed to be “of primary importance” by the bureaucrats, Board of Education Members and politicians that are ostensibly running the show. It is the easiest and the most visible way to deal with things. However, It’s like throwing water a teaspoon at a time on a blazing twenty-story inferno. Everybody around sees that you are attempting something, but you, as Chief Teaspoon Holder, know its not, in any way, sufficient to solve the problem.

The American Educational System is quite simply beyond the repair efforts of the best-intentioned teachers, administrators, bureaucrats and politicians. Furthermore, no piddling millions of dollars thrown at individual problems, no increasing demands placed on students grade by grade, no attempts to separate the chaff from the grain by evaluating “effective” educators through linking them to high-stakes test scores, is going to bring about the change necessary to thrust America into the 21st Century world of a competitive global economy. The sole way to accomplish this goal is to utterly destroy the whole American Educational System from the bottom up and create a new National Educational System dedicated to raising the helping a generation of students become the best, most successful and most emotionally stable human beings that they can be.

One major factor, which those who dictate the way we carry out education in our country never address is the fact that unlike the countries, considered models for “doing education right” (IE: Finland, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK, Canada and the Netherlands) the United States of America is not a single homogenous* nation.

Despite America’s long-standing rhetoric of being “one nation” and the admirable ability of the United States to come together in times of crisis, we are, and always have been affected by a provincial sectionalism supported by the Constitution. It is due to this undeniable fact that the “American” Educational System has evolved into 50 different educational organizations none of which is educating its students on par with the aforementioned homogeneous* nations. It is therefore time for a massive change in the way we educate our children.

Starting in the “basement” (kindergarten) the old structure, the outmoded and self-defeating method of education based on progression through subsequent grades should be disassembled, replaced by an entirely new system based on a ‘rolling curriculum”. This should not be done by grade level, where if a student “passes” 1st grade in June, they go on to 2nd grade in September, but rather with a rolling proficiency where as soon as a student solidly gets down a concept/skill they move immediately to the next level. No more consecutive grades!

Such a program would, of course, entail a massive increase in hiring and training/retraining; every successive level of competency in Language Skills, Mathematical Concepts, Health, Citizenship, Science, Technology and Social Interaction would require not only teachers, but well-trained paraprofessionals, child psychologists, councilors and administrators all working as a real team, within a carefully developed rolling curriculum. This system would continue until the student is ready for college or a professional training/apprenticeship program. There would be no specific age for graduation; students would be assisted even, if necessary, at a one-to-one teaching ratio in order to meet the competencies necessary to be a well-educated and functioning member of society. Not every graduating student need be well versed in trigonometry; just in the same way not everyone needs to know how to fix an automatic transmission. The view must be instilled that we all have different talents and skills that we can excel at, and there is no shame in choosing training in skilled labor or some other career that does not require a traditional, university-based education.
Remember:
“It is better to be a content sanitation worker, than an unhappy, unfulfilled nuclear physicist.”

Coming soon: Revamping the American Educational System: How Do We Pay for it?

*It should be understood that by the use of the word homogeneous here, I am not referring to ethnic or racial identity, but rather a country where sectionalism is limited or even non-existent.

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