We’ve seen many changes over the decades. That isn’t such a shocker in itself. Change happens. Often it’s for the better. Sometimes . . . not so much. In America, the last decade has seen some rather sad and alarming declines, however.
It’s not my, or my kid’s, fault!
There has been a drastic change in accountability. I know this makes me sound old, but: I remember a time when if a child got in trouble at school, he was going to get it at home, too. If a child’s grades were low, it wasn’t automatically the teacher’s fault. College professors didn’t get calls from their 22-year-old daughter’s parent who was upset about a grade their little darling received. When little Johnny’s soccer team played, score was kept, and the winner got a trophy. Instead of “everyone’s a winner,” the important part was to always do your best. Winning wasn’t everything, but it was also something.
You know, competition can feed innovation and can motivate greater achievement.
Increasingly, we’re seeing where parents are more and more abdicating their duties to the school while at the same time expecting the school to intrude less on what they see as their parental rights. Little Susie should be able to be a complete hellion in her class and disrupt the educational process for everyone else. Don’t agree? We can go to court and have that one resolved easily. Tip: Susie’s mom will likely win.
When I was Scout leader, I caught a group of kids smoking a marijuana joint. The tent didn’t have the rain cover over it, and so I was able to stand there and watch the cherry on their doobie as they inhaled deeply. The smell could not be mistaken for anything else. In spite of the fact that I had witnessed it with my own two eyes, one of the parents insisted her son didn’t do it “because he said he didn’t.” This is the same mother who ignored when other parents brought concerns to her. I wonder if it was all still untrue when at age 16 he was in drug rehab and an unwed father.
Several schools in the US have instituted a no hugging policy. So touch is a bad thing. Yet, we expect people to learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. I guess that happens through osmosis. Most of us can remember a time when we were in pain, emotionally or physically, and found enormous comfort and strength in a well-meaning hug. By all means, let’s deprive our kids of that, though.
Recently a deaf child was told he has to change his name sign because it violates the school’s no weapons policy. A name sign is the symbol used for someone’s name in sign language. It’s supposed to be something easy and memorable. His name is Hunter, so a sign resembling a gun makes sense. But even gun shapes are not allowed. In fact, children have been suspended for bringing 1-inch GI Joe figurine guns to school. Because, obviously, a 1-inch toy gun is easily mistaken for a real pistol.
A girl was suspended and police were called for “drug dealing” when she innocently offered a friend with a headache an aspirin during school.
A 6-year-old boy tapped a girl on her butt and was suspended for sexual harassment.
Rather than teach our children to think, it’s much better to just avoid ALL things we don’t like or that concern us. We wouldn’t want anyone to have to learn to implement common sense or to learn how to resolve issues. That would just be stupid.
In an effort to increase test scores, we’ve seen time for the arts and play drastically reduced. Now some schools are even banning recess. They just don’t have enough time in the day to focus on all those standardized tests.
Education in the US has been reduced to teaching children how to pass a test rather than teaching them critical thinking skills. How is it affecting kids? We’re seeing creativity, the foundation for innovation and one of America’s strongest traits, slowly die. Is it at least working?
Nope! Out of 34 countries participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, the US ranked 14th in reading, 17th in math, and 25th in science. China, South Korea, and Finland were the top 3.
Paying Lip Service
Our leaders constantly state how important education is. Very few countries spend more money per capita than the US on education. So how is it we rank so far behind? Well, money ain’t everything. If you spend it on the wrong thing and in the wrong places, you can triple what you spend and still come out deficient.
Finland spends considerably less (30%) per capita than the US, yet it has a much higher outcome. Here are some of the big differences:
- Reforms are encouraged. Staff are constantly looking at new ways to get creative with education. Because of that collaboration among teachers is increased.
- Children get a 15-minute break between lessons, even in the dead of winter. Play is considered a valuable part of learning.
- Special needs students are mainstreamed absolutely as much as possible, and those classrooms receive additional in-class support to minimize the impact on other students. Schools with more challenges receive more money to meet those challenges.
- Teachers are required to be have advanced degrees and are treated with respect and paid as professionals.
- They don’t focus on passing tests (there are no required standardized tests until the final year of high school). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education.” The belief is that more focus should be spent on helping children learn to think and how to use knowledge in their daily life, rather than teaching them to mark the correct answer on an exam.
- The people responsible for managing schools, curriculum, etc., are ALL professional educators.
- At the high school level, students can attend vocational schools to learn trades, and 43% of Finnish students choose this option. Finland enjoys an almost 100% high school graduation rate.
- Homework is minimal.
Unfortunately, the law known as No Child Left Behind managed to do quite the opposite. We’re teaching kids to memorize and be complacent rather than encouraging them to be free thinkers who challenge views and seek out answers for themselves.
There has been a massive dumbing down of the media as well. We hear more information about the latest celebrity and their fashion and/or stupid choices than we do about matters of import around the world. I have increasingly found Twitter to be a better source of timely information than the mainstream media in the States. In 2010, when Egypt experienced the beginnings of its latest revolution, I had been following the events occurring in Tahrir Square for at least four hour before CNN issued its “breaking news.”
I have discovered more about what’s going on in my native country through foreign media sources than the US-based outlets. Stations that were dedicated to one political leaning over another weren’t considered news sources when I was younger. Now, Fox has become the mouthpiece for the Republican view, and MSNBC and CNN are clearly more concerned with the liberal viewpoint than “fair and balanced” news.
Don’t tell me what to think! Give me the facts and let me form my own opinions. Which brings me to the next point.
We don’t think for ourselves
The US media gives us the version they think their viewers are most interested in hearing. What will sell the most? It’s all about sensationalism. ”I beg to differ with so-and-so” is now “So-and-so gets blasted by Talking Head.”
When an Irish politician told a Tea Party radio personality to stop being “a wanker whipping up fear” THAT was getting blasted.
Instead of journalists being concerned with facts and truth, we now have groups of people dedicated to fact checking after the story gets released.
More and more people seem to be letting the political commentators on TV and radio do their thinking for them. If their favorite personality says something, they will proudly pass it along not even bothering to explore its veracity. When their pastor tells them they shouldn’t let their children read Harry Potter because it’s evil, by golly they won’t!
People may get riled that the TSA may be groping them the next time they are prepared to leave on an airplane, but people won’t do much beyond bitching. Same-sex marriage battles and the latest celebrity to go into rehab, or their latest romantic/sexual escapade, get more press coverage than the attempts of past and current administrations to defecate on the Constitution.
In the past week I’ve seen more coverage about the publishing of photos of the Duchess of Cambridge’s breasts than about Obama’s egregious attempts to rape the Constitution yet again with the NDAA. (And to make it worse, he doesn’t feel that judges should be making decisions on issues like this. Back to school for you, Mr. Obama!)
It’s hard not to feel some apathy.
We’re inundated with images about how we aren’t safe. Every political season is a maelstrom of ads and robot phone calls from candidates trying to discredit their opposition, exaggerating statements, and downright falsifying data to try to win the vote. It seems like with every presidential election, our choices are getting worse and worse. How else should people feel?
A wise Cuban woman once said something to me about her government. I feel it applies to all forms of government really. ”Socialism works through manipulating the minds of the people.”
When we’re apathetic. When all we do is sit and bitch, or even worse maintain our silence, we play right into that manipulation.
Now more than ever is the time for people to stand up and say, “I’m not taking this shit anymore!” and actually do something about it. (And under the NDAA and PATRIOT Act, I could be arrested for even saying that!)
Where will you begin?