I feel the intense urge this morning to speak out against the atrocity that is our public education system. We live in a country where mediocrity is considered above average and "good enough" is accepted, why else do you think we had a C-student, yahoo in office for the past eight years? What brings me to these somewhat nihilistic conclusions you say?
I was walking from a movie screening this past weekend (no it wasn't Twilight) talking to my sister about my reaction to what I just saw. Somehow or another, Shakespeare came up. I asked, "You do know who Shakespeare is right?" And she replied plainly, "Um, some guy who's famous for writing something."
WHAT! Seriously? The only thing my 13-year old sister knows about the most famous literary/playwright in the world is that he wrote some stuff? Now, my little sister's no genius but she is certainly very intelligent and academically advanced for her age. The problem is, she's not being taught these things in school. There are assessments, I think, either each quarter or at least each semester and the one requirement for teachers, get your students to pass the test. Thus the students can learn only what is included in the test. Shakespeare didn't make the cut this year? Oh well, who needs a literary foundation anyway?
Foreign language programs are being reduced, Latin isn't taught, or even so much as hinted at anymore in some places. In other schools, there's only one foreign language offered and it may or may not be a requirement to take it.
The biggest problem with this "teach the test" system is the severe impact it's going to have on these students when it's time to go to college. If they have only ever learned to do "Brief Constructed Responses (BCRs)" how are they going to write that ten page paper on the Socratic method? Will they even have heard of Socrates before college? Will they know how to structure a paper, or what parallelism is; how about introductions and conclusions? College professors don't care about what you know and don't know or what you were taught and what you weren't; they will teach their curriculum to the standard of whatever university they inhabit and it matters little that all you know how to do is fill in bubbles on a piece of paper.
And what about literary works? I'm sorry, but as much as I love the Harry Potter books they are LEISURE READS! Why anyone would think it appropriate to put them on the same reading list as Dickens, Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Fitzgerald is beyond me. There is so much importance in covering the classics, not only to see how far we've come, but to expand the potential of where we can go. Students' ambitions are no longer nurtured in our society, they are levied. Now there are some teachers who are going rogue from this system and I take my hat off to them. Their students will be better off than most. For the rest who have no choice but to conform to the system, their students are on the path to "The Monkey House" and yes that was a Vonnegut reference.
And while I'm on the subject of eccentrically prophetic Kurt Vonnegut, doesn't this education system sound a little like Harrison Bergeron? We are a nation fueled by competitiveness and yet we stifle the intellectual possibilities of our young students. If you're a parent or a cousin or a big sister/brother, or just a friend of a friend with someone in grade school, drop what you're doing, take their hand, drag them to the library (that place where the books are collecting dust) and introduce them to a world beyond the video game and the TV. Prepare them for the world of higher education by giving them an actual one now.
I want to personally thank every teacher I had for teaching me not only how to learn but equipping me with the knowledge to survive in an ever-changing society; because today, in light of a poor attempt to move forward, we have done the exact opposite and left every child behind.