Thursday, October 16, 2008

American Education Reform

I was watching the final 2008 presidental debate, and had to weigh in about the final question: education problems. Both candidates gave dubious responses. OK, let's break this down a tad. For years and years, international surveys (look up Programme for International Student Assessment) have been throwing stats at public schools about how we're ranked below this country and that dictatorship. Here is why: our schools are unfocused; theirs are more focused. Do you think public schools in India have marching bands or tennis teams? Let me elaborate.

The "three R's": reading, writing, arithmetic. These are the basic, fundamental skills that all humans need to know to exist in any society or culture. Many, many of our public schoolteachers are absolutely obsessed with throwing out the traditional curriculum and teaching kids things such as rap music, computer games, Armenian culture, fashion, politics (and the list continues). Basically putting "fun" into school. These topics are not bad, but are they necessary to exist in any society or culture? And, is school supposed to be fun for the teacher?

I remember when I moved from primary school (K-3rd) to elementary school (4th-6th), and my 3-year-younger sister was taking PE with the same teacher I did previously. She got to go swimming at the local university pool with the rest of her class. I was upset. I never did anythingthat fun in PE, other than once using a traffic cone as a megaphone. There were zero PE field trips in my day. Would you rather see your kid in a pool, or accepting a Nobel prize?

One can say that reading is the most important skill that can be taught (other than listening, of course). If you can read, you can crack open any goddamned book and learn about things like quantum mechanics, linguistics, sports, art and geometry. Basically, learning to read well is the key to everything else. So, why are schoolteachers spending time on those secondary skills, like cooking and horsemanship? Don't get me started on music (which has no place in schools, because it exists everywhere else).

To get back to the stats about other countries dominating our 300-million-strong nation of idiots, these stats do have merit. We are ignorant because we lack focus on the fundamentals. While I am not a fundamentalist, and more obsessed with football than finding pi, I know that I could not appreciate or comprehend life without the bare necessities. More time must be spent on the basics (e.g. maybe showing teachers how to make reading more fun?). When the basics are there, the secondary skills fall into place. America has at least 300 million people. Name another country with any number near that, with better schools.

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