The Downward Spiral of the American Education System

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Adolescent Education and Social Studies from St. John’s University in Queens, New York in May 2011 and was excited to find a full-time teaching position for the upcoming school year. After endless interviews, I received the phone call I had been waiting patiently to hear. I was offered a full-time teaching position for a public high school in Brooklyn, New York. I was full of excitement and enthusiasm as well as nervousness at the realization that I was about to be in charge of my own classroom and hundreds of adolescents. I was ready to take on the challenges that would ensue as I tried to make a difference in children’s lives and prepare them for their futures. I had always felt that some sacrifice on behalf of the teacher was necessary to ensure student success; however, I was completely unprepared for the realities of being a full-time teacher and the extent of sacrifices I would have to make for students, particularly in an inner-city school.

After the first few days of school, I was in complete shock and baffled by the education system in which I was teaching. I did not quite understand the circumstances in which I found myself. I had thirty-four students in each class composed of gifted students, on-level students, below-level students who were unclassified, students with disabilities of varying types and degrees, and English language learners who had multiple first languages and whose English abilities ranged from extreme beginner to advanced. I was trying to teach students who literally had no interest in learning and whose absenteeism was abysmal. Student behaviors portrayed a complete lack of respect for authority figures as well as peers, and undermined all efforts by the teacher to educate students who truly desired to learn. Parental involvement was almost nonexistent. I was supposed to prepare students for college and career readiness, but the majority of students had basic elementary level literacy skills. Additionally, hardly any students had been exposed to computers or any form of educational technology. Lastly, my administration and colleagues offered no support or guidance in how to teach this vastly diverse set of students. I came home everyday and cried due to the frustration and intense level of stress I was under.

I looked back upon my own education and acknowledged that I had been sheltered in some way from the realities of the world. Perhaps while growing up there were students who I attended school with that were not interested in learning; that had high rates of absenteeism; that did not complete their homework; that did not study for exams; that had behavioral issues and interrupted the learning experience for their peers; and that had no parental support at home, but I was never exposed to these types of students. I was on the advanced track in school. I took honors classes as well Advanced Placement and college-credit courses. I virtually spent my entire education with the same forty students who were similar to me, and perhaps, were all from the middle class, where resources were in abundance and parental support was the norm. We were chastised for our bad behaviors and bad marks in school and were taught to perform well in order to secure a successful future for ourselves. None of what I had known and experienced throughout my own education was apparent in the system in which I currently taught. I was bewildered and confounded.

Here I am, three years into teaching, and I contemplate leaving the profession. The American education system values conformity over individuality and self-expression. As Sir Ken Robinson stated in his talk Changing Education Paradigms, the American education system has become a factory system where we dole out students who are unable to think for themselves, but could state facts verbatim. Each student is expected to master the same reading, writing, and mathematical skills, but not to find passion in other subjects, which are now neglected in schools, such as the arts and trades. The curriculum encompasses a “one-size-fits-all” model, but each child is unique and should be taught to strengthen and foster their individual talents. Few of my students in Brooklyn fit this “one-size-fits-all” model that the American education system has created.

Diane Ravitch further supports the holistic education of children in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, where she stated, “We must make sure that our schools have a strong, coherent, explicit curriculum that is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, with plenty of opportunity for children to engage in activities that make learning lively” (p. 13). The No Child Left Behind (2001) movement has taken the liveliness out of learning in favor of standardized testing that further alienates students who do not do well on these types of exams as well as teachers who are held fully accountable for students’ results. In my opinion, the Common Core Curriculum Standards do not accurately represent the student body of America today. The standardized tests and the new national curriculum merely reflect the goals and abilities of the elite, who have access to resources and parental support. These exams do not reflect the melting-pot culture of America, but merely the culture of our forefathers and colonial America. The American education system needs to reflect the changing times and experiences of current learners, like those who make up my inner-city public school in Brooklyn. How will America help all children excel in education, and not just the elite or native-born citizens? Reforms to education are needed, but not the type of reforms that critique and punish teachers who devote their lives to mentoring students and preparing them to become successful citizens. In its current state, the American education system is a downward spiral with no turnaround in sight, and it is our children who continually suffer the mistakes of bureaucrats who have never experienced the teaching side to education, yet tell educators how to teach.

Sources:

Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCbdS4hSa0s

Ravitch, D. (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books.

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