With the new school year just around the corner, it seems a relevant time to take a big step back – away from the new school supplies and carpool scheduling – to reassess the adequacy of America’s modern educational system.
The suggestion alone should hint at the conclusions we draw: the American educational system has failed. Today in America, teaching no longer serves a practical purpose. Most curricula teach kids what to think, when they need to be taught how to think.
Instead, by and large we shuffle kids through schools, K through 12, just to hand them a piece of a paper (if they graduate) and send them on their way. The goal should instead be to hand them a living.
Today we push our kids towards college, as if it was some sort of panacea – go to college, and you can be a __________. They forget to tell kids how long and hard they will have to work, even AFTER schooling, if they want to get ahead. Kids are left thinking that if they can only graduate, they can walk straight into a corner office with stock-options.
Even a cursory look at a breakdown of the American job market will reveal that most kids probably don’t need college; they need a trade.
And yet – even given their misguided goal of pushing kids into post-secondary education – just how many schools keep track of their kids after they leave (either by graduating OR by dropping out)? We would submit that of those schools below the college level – not many; and even those that do typically rely on surveys, which is a notoriously inaccurate method of gathering data.
What’s ironic is that so much of today’s educational system has focused on motivating kids using success stories. Even successful executives today typically start much lower on the food chain. Their hard work is what helps them run their companies so well – because how they know operations at every level, in every department.
The bottom line here is that, if America is to resume its rightful place as the world’s preeminent economic superpower, our educational system needs to be seriously reformed. We need a new way of thinking, not more of the same; the same thinking that broke the system (or, more accurately, failed to keep the system current) isn’t going to fix it now.
Today we live in an age unlike any other – even though that isn’t exactly a unique statement. The education system of 50 years ago won’t work today, just as the educational system of 150 years ago wouldn’t have worked 50 years ago.
[That isn’t to say that there aren’t parts that would almost certainly help, given the attitudes of modern youth – e.g. corporal punishment.]
Kids today are being trained for different jobs than they were in the 1950s, and our educational system should reflect that. The processes for building typewriters and laptops are totally different, so it stands to reason that training people to build each should vary drastically. So too should the tools being employed.
Modern technology is absolutely incredible; more so than any other time in recorded history. Today we can watch traffic on live feeds from half a world away, survive comfortably in regions previously uninhabited by man, and cross oceans in a matter of hours.
But for all its uses, technology in education is a tightrope – we need to leverage it without deferring to it. Computers may be able to predict the weather or parallel-park cars automatically, but they aren’t going to teach our kids. They can help the learning process, but they can’t be the learning process.
Which brings us full-circle: in order for the American economy to regain its former glory, we absolutely need to use technology in education – every bit that we’ve got. But first we need to make sure that we’re teaching kids to perform the right functions, with the right mindset, and in the right ways – earn a living rather than a diploma, know that there will still be hard work ahead, but let them solve problems by teaching them how to think rather than what.