Education: Our broken school system

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The public school system is broken and unlike what some leaders would like you to think, it is not entirely the fault of teacher unions. Like most anything else run by our government, our public schools system has grown far beyond its original purpose and has now reached the point where it is collapsing under the weight of itself.

When men like Thomas Jefferson first began to push for public education, it was out of their desire to see its benefits be made available to the common person and not something set aside for just the wealthy elite. However, it was never meant to become a one size fits all system that allows parents to drop the ball on raising their children while promising to make every child eligible for college upon graduating from high school. In too many cases, our public schools have allowed parents to shirk their parenting responsibilities while placing them on our teachers.

Casimir Pulaski High School, Milwaukee, WI
Casimir Pulaski High School, Milwaukee, WI

Ah, but many of our educational and political leaders are quick to remind us many of our school aged kids have parents who are far too young or down right unfit to raise their children so it is up to our schools to do the job. Let me tell you, as a retired teacher, this is a pile of B.S. If our founding fathers were around today, they would be the first to tell us, these parents have no business being parents in the first place and would then set about devising a plan to cease this practice, not encourage it.

We have made it far too easy for the unfit to become parents while removing the responsibility of parenting thanks to our leaders reliance on our schools to do the task. I have yet to meet the teacher who says they went into teaching because they wanted to feed, clothe, and raise other people’s children because these people lack the skill set to do their job. We teach because we want to open the minds of our youth while reinforcing society’s values of hard work and good education equals success in life. Instead, we are now part of the growing village left to raise children of far too many village idiots. These idiots are not just the impoverished. There are plenty of well-educated and well-employed adults failing at their job as a parent and who expect our schools to bail them out.

It is not the responsibility of our schools to provide breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack to children whose parents are unable to afford to or who are too busy advancing their careers to take the time to do so. When schools are used in this manner, they cease to be viewed as educational centers and start being viewed as childcare centers. It would be much better for all parties to have the state deliver breakfast and a sack lunch to the kids homes and keep the act of feeding the less fortunate separate from educating our youth.

Another reason our public school system is broken has to do with our continual insistence on placing academic expectations on our youth that our leaders never had to experience. Would you rather have a first grader who masters being polite, patient, and kind or one who can write a coherent paragraph? Our leaders prefer the writer because you can measure writing on a standardized test, and let’s face it, testing has become big business.

But how often are adults asked to take a standardized test? How many lose their job due to their lack of manners, patience, or kindness? Employers can train well mannered adults to do most any of the jobs we need done but have no desire to hire an intelligent jerk. Our schools should be returning to a more practical education while we still have a society worth educating.

While we are at it, what good is a public education if we no longer make college affordable to our high school graduates? College tuition increases three to four times the rate of inflation and still our universities cut back on their faculty and the programs they offer. tudents end up paying more and receive less while colleges turn to more foreign students to fill their slots because they will pay two or three times the rate of an in state resident in fees.

This leaves most of our decent high school graduates with little more than their local community college with the only assurance being if they complete their AA degree, they will have placement in a nearby state college guaranteed. To some, this sounds great, but what if you are a young man or woman who desires to go to college somewhere beyond your back yard?

Then there is the incessant stressing of a college degree that is pushed on children by parents, educators, and society as a whole. We look down on those students who may prefer a good trade school or perhaps bypassing post high school education all together. We push our children to take on college debt that will stay with them for decades and then fail to provide enough adequate jobs based on their level of education. And we wonder why so many men and women in their 20’s and 30’s have lost faith in our government.

So who is benefiting from our system of education if it is not our children? Again, testing has become a huge industry in itself. With the expansion of school programs into areas that now involve parenting, we have seen a tremendous growth in the number of school administrators to the point where many high schools now employ two principals along with a multitude of assistant principals, district directors, and staff coaches whose job it is to train teachers in the constantly changing wheel we reinvent to teach our kids.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Another major benefactor of our declining education system is our prison system. The statistics just don’t lie. The number of Americans incarcerated has grown to the point where we can no longer keep up with the number of “criminals” we have. When you get beyond the racial disparity of those incarcerated, one common factor we find is a lack of education. Most people who end up in prison can not read at a functional level, failed to complete their public education requirements, and come from homes where parents also had a very low level of education.

Our public schools inch closer every year to providing three squares and a cot for our kids, which is not unlike what we provide those in prison. And if you think our youth do not pick up on this similarity, you have never spent much time in our public schools.

A well-educated society is vital to our nation’s future. We can no longer afford to expect our schools to do the job of raising our children. They may provide a convenience for both the unfit parent and our government’s desire to save every child, but are they really yielding the type of results we can all feel proud of?

We need to pause and rethink what kind of society we want at a time when our public schools are asked to reinforce too many behaviors that end up destroying the education, and all too often the futures, of too many children. We need to reconsider what skills we really want an 18-year old to possess before we send them off into the real world unprepared for the cold reality they face.

 (All photos by Tim Forkes)