Thoughts on the American Public Education – Bandages on a Leviathan

The Disaster Spiral... if it were a staircase

(This picture reminds me of Zizek on Suicide, but it has nothing to do with that, it is only a disaster spiral!)

I have little knowledge on education, except what I have from experience. My thoughts here are not based on any facts nor any theory of one sort or the other, but they are nevertheless my thoughts…

An ideal high school environment would not promote competition but cooperation. Testing would be near abolished, and the teaching system for different grade levels would be consistent, coherent, insightful, and relevant throughout. Organizational and time management skills would be promoted at a less superficial level (as they now are), and homework would be kept at an ideal medium where classes distributed the workload proportionate to each other. Sports and school spirit would not be as heavily emphasized; rather general physical and mental education should be seen as inherent to the schooling system. Drug and alcohol use would be entirely nonexistent, and bullying would be kept at a minimum by choice of the students not force of the faculty. Ethics, philosophy, religion, arts, literature, and other liberal arts/humanities classes would be to some degree mandatory. This way, stress caused by competition, testing, unnecessary learning, peer pressure, and bullying would be rendered annul.

School should become a more coherent system that teaches education each year in a well thought out methodical way (like that of Russia, China, etc.), while incorporating a greater liberal arts emphasis in the fields of philosophy, ethics, and religion (like that of most U.S. universities). Competition should be downplayed, not fueled – which leads to the likes of the Unabomber. Traditional orthodox Islāmic schooling exemplifies this. Schools should follow a teaching of science as that of Russia, which devotes multiple years to different subjects in a comprehensive and thought out way. Teaching as a profession should be highly regarded, as that of Finland. Ethics, philosophy, religion, arts, literature, and other liberal arts/humanities need to be revived. Physical education needs to be emphasized while general sport playing downplayed (we should go back to U.S. physical education of the former generation). Rote memory should not be promoted after age 7-8, as critical thinking skills are much more important. While under 7-8, children tend to absorb information, and what rote memory is important should be taught then (i.e. times tables).

The United States misteaches the sciences. The system, in general albeit the anarchy, tends to give a year to various subjects in high school – biology, chemistry, physics, etc. Students that want to go above and beyond (probably the top 5-10 percent) will choose to take a second year of one or multiple of those subjects. This is foolish. There is not enough time to understand even the basics of chemistry in a year, and by 12th grade one forgets what they learned in 9th grade (as it really wasn’t ingrained in the mind). In Russia, for example, one may have 6th-9th grade Geology and 9th-11th grade Chemistry and 10th-12th grade Biology, or something of the like. This way, each subject gets its fair share.

The United States entirely ignores the liberal arts and humanities. These subjects are the very things that advance a person’s interest in social issues and politics (perhaps to the disadvantage of the government?). These subjects are necessary – and so utterly ignored. An understanding of various religions is absolutely vital to an understanding of the world.We fear it being taught as we fear the occasional story of a teacher standing on the desk preaching the coming of Christ, but it is no different from teaching a government course where the teacher avoids politics in his teaching. I am willing to risk a news scandal here and there for a whole world of understanding. Ethics and philosophy are the same, and build morale, logic, appreciation of knowledge, and a drive for involvement. Likewise, the arts are necessary to give students a way to express themselves and vent , likewise building culture and community. By this I refer to painting, drawing, writing, acting, etc. Literature is similar, and if you ask me, a far more practical way to teaching English (rather than tests and timed writing, although essays are fine).

The over-emphasis on sports is a sheer distraction to what is more important and lets students who aren’t the best at particular sports fall behind. The over-emphasis drives competition and a sort of naïve school-nationalism, otherwise known as the bogus “school character”. Physical education, however, is useful, practical, and ever so important in our growing age of obesity.

 We live in a world of testing that quite literally promotes cheating and misbehavior. It tests one’s test taking skills, not one’s knowledge, nor one’s cognitive ability. And even then, by our own, measure, in the comparison to the rest of the world, we fail. That is a true indication of failure and embarrassment. We live in a system where competition is so fueled that right and wrong become just as blurry as successful and unsuccessful, which, by the way, is becoming increasingly and troublingly black and white (money vs. no money).

And finally on coherency. We live in a sort of educational anarchy, where various policies are implemented with as much arbitrainess as placing bandages on a Leviathan under a sectumsempra spell.We arbitrarily pluck out some class here and throw in a new class here as the times change, without thinking much about it at all. We have no foundation to our educational theory – is education to prepare for the future, to make a better person, to make the United States wealthier, to give more knowledge, to prepare for college, to teach science and computer, what? It cannot be all, as some contradict. Yet we try to put everything into one giant Goliath, and we inevitably fail.

Is there enough time to do all of this? There are only so many hours in a day to have people in school buildings. Alas, I do not know the answer…but perhaps the reason there is so little time is because there is so much emphasis on homework, extracurriculars, and sports. We need downtime and learning, leisure has been bureaucratized as never before. I wrote a bit on that before. Homework to me is absolutely vital for anything math, and perhaps for reading and projects here and there. But the overemphasis on study and crunch time is just asking for trouble.

The social conditions in school are the worst. The drugs, the alcohol, the bullying, the “fun”. I can’t blame any one issue or entity for this predicament, in fact I don’t know where to start. Perhaps it is the entire culture that needs a revolution, and that would need to start with the very education we speak of…. So perhaps we should start here, and see where it goes.

We need a revolution, and nothing less, to education. Bandages don’t fix a Leviathan. We need to sit down and rethink everything we are doing, as we spiral down a maddening path of who knows what to who knows where. And that is the most uncomfortable feeling there is- to know you are going somewhere, somewhere worse.

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