While the national conversation about education would never be the same, stunningly few of the Commission’s recommendations actually have been enacted. Now is not the time for more educational research or reports or commissions. We have enough commonsense ideas, backed by decades of research, to significantly improve American schools. The missing ingredient isn’t even educational at all. It’s political. Too often, state and local leaders have tried to enact reforms of the kind recommended in A Nation at Risk only to be stymied by organized special interests and political inertia. Without vigorous national leadership to improve education, states and local school systems simply cannot overcome the obstacles to making the big changes necessary to significantly improve our nation’s K-12 schools (Wikipedia)
A Nation At Risk shook the educational world in its foundations and 25 years later, things are not much better as stated by the quote above. It expresses quite sensibly that the problem is not academic or financial, but political (O surprise!). I may not agree 100% with the financial part as I witness severe cuts in our school budget that hurt several programs; we need more money as I have said in this blog several times as long as that resource is cleverly applied. There is however a point to be made that our educational system needs a complete overhaul; just like a car, we need a new engine, a machine that takes our schools into the 21 century and away from the 20th.
Still Stuck in the 20th Century
We have indeed doubled our investment in adjusted dollars since 1985, whether from state coffers or the national treasure. Yet, in real terms, our modern teaching environment in public schools would not look out of place 27 years ago. Meanwhile, other countries such as China, Korea, and Singapore, have made a giant leap forward. What prevents us from doing the same and show the world that we are still the superpower in all fields, whether military, financial, commercial, entrepreneurial, manufacturing, scientific, or educational? Experts mention several factors that hinder our progress in the classroom: bureaucrats, politicians, teachers unions, and businesses with close commercial ties to the school system. I would add one factor that will earn me new enemies: the parents and society in general.
Parents? Front and Center
The parents are and must be held co-responsible for the present state of affairs. Many kids come to school not to learn but to receive their entitlement, whatever that may be. They expect to be coddled, cajoled, and rewarded just for showing up, if they feel like it. Some mothers write phony excuses because the little darling wasn’t feeling well that day. Other parents get upset at the teacher for scolding their misbehaving angel or giving him or her too much homework. Some doctors write prescriptions for students for anxiety attacks; when I was a kid, my anxiety was cured with a good spanking and teachers had authority respected by parents.
Yes, I know; many parents support us and give their children a good education with strong values; the problem is they constitute a minority in public schools. The moment a parent comes barreling into a classroom (just a figure of speech of course), anxious to pick a fight with the teacher, he or she loses all power over the kids if they give in to the ridiculous demands. I heard a teacher once ask me ‘are the parents high profile’; we were discussing the student’s poor grades and the teacher was telling me that he did not want any problems with them and that the kid would pass his class no matter what. Imagine that! An expert in education willing to let a parent dictate what to do with the students.
Pressure and Stress
Of course, not all the instructors are like that; but the case illustrates the tremendous pressure teachers are subjected to by bureaucrats, parents, school boards, and even politicians who talk about education just to get some votes. I work with excellent teachers for the most part (there is always a fly in the ointment), and as I listen to their complaints and suggestions I imagine a world in which we actually pay heed and make the changes they recommend. Wow!