The education system in the United States has devolved. Rather than a stepped system of progressively difficult intellectual challenges that temper a mind into a force of reason, our schools have become clone farms producing unthinking labor pawns.
Elementary education seeks to make sure our children learn and develop the basic skills needed to function in society. It is important for kids to practice the social interactions they’ll need throughout life and to master the fundamentals of reading, rhetoric, and reckoning upon which they are graded. It is at this very first level that our system makes its first error.
By a gradual creep of standardized tests, teacher evaluations, and school performance ratings installed to fairly disburse the thin funding our public schools receive, we built a mechanism that blames educators when students fail. Doing so creates a system in which teacher and school are best served passing the student, even if it’s not in the best interest of the student. Teachers teach their students answers, not knowledge, because the school knows that its funding is connected to the answers, not to the knowledge. The people that could fix this problem - involved parents - do not, because they are content with the good grades and steady progress that their child is showing within the system.
Complacency remains throughout primary education. Teachers do not promote reason or encourage thought. They toss softball questions at the students who have been trained to gently bat the appropriate response in return. This creates an illusion of discussion, but rarely is it allowed to become a debate. To debate would be an invitation to question the black-and-white, true-or-false, question-and-answer system that the teacher depends upon. If debate occurs, thought develops, opinions form, reasoning is activated, and suddenly questions don’t have one answer, they have many. Solutions are geometric rather than linear. Geometric solutions don’t fit on standardized tests. System failure.
But these are the ails of the primary education system. By college, those students meant to stay at the bottom are filtered out, and only those with serious academic interests are able to advance and become productive contributors to our economy, right? Not quite.
Our broken primary education system infects the universities in two ways. First, it delivers students that are neither rigorously conditioned nor inclined towards higher learning. Second, the same driving force that puts students through primary education regardless of their ability to reason is working at the college level as well. That force is funding.
Modern universities are not the hallowed halls of learning that we imagine them to be. They are middle men. A student makes a commitment to pay for four or more years of “education,” getting money, usually, from years of parents’ savings or borrowing on a very long-term loan. In exchange for that high price, the school sells the student the promise of a career with a higher wage than would be had without the college’s product. The college has a greater interest in passing students than failing them, regardless of that student’s ability, because passing students keep paying. They also have an interest in passing those students with high grades, because it provides the illusion of a quality education, which people will line up to buy.
There was a time that the rubber-stamp degrees and grade inflation would have been impossible because the workforce would have found those graduates to be sub-par. But sub-par is the new par, and employers prefer to simply set a standard for entry and then shape qualified applicants to their specifications. What is that standard for entry? A degree. It doesn’t matter what kind or from where, just have one. It doesn’t matter because the companies don’t really care how well a student is educated, only that they will commit and conform. They want a person who has done what they were told, without asking why, for years on end, until a goal was achieved.
When a student in the United States graduates, that student has learned little of value unless that student was inclined to seek knowledge on his or her own accord. Teachers, administrators, members of boards of education, some parents, and many students (particularly college students) will take issue with that statement. Who am I to level such criticism against the curricula or hard-working faculty of our country’s learning institutions? I haven’t been a student, officially, in over 15 years. I quit community college. What gives me the right?
I’m just a guy who thinks about things. I’ve also found that when I compare myself to college graduates that I’ve met, I tend to be more well-read, have a greater vocabulary, and possess a broader understanding of a wider variety of subjects. I’ve laid eyes upon chronic spelling and grammatical errors written by degreed individuals. I’ve listened as college graduates demonstrate limited comprehension of the basics of geography, history, science, and U.S. law. I’m not bringing these things up to prove how smart I think I am. I’m bringing them up because a degree is supposed to mean that the person holding the degree possesses all of that knowledge and possesses additional specialized information. It means no such thing anymore, and thus diminishes the degree. All degrees.
Modern education has become meaningless in every way except as a golden ticket. Though an extended education may be worthwhile for highly specialized fields, most workers would be best served through apprenticeship and self-study. The men who designed the pyramids or the Roman Colosseum did not hold structural engineering degrees. Why should someone today need one to build a fast food restaurant?