Why Students Have A Responsibility Rather Than A Right To Education
The US is behind in learning, and the system isn’t helping. As a result, students face a tough new world where education is more important than ever before. Gone are the days when a high school diploma or even a four-year degree could take care of you for the rest of your life. You can no longer count on the cushy job that keeps you employed for 40 years and grants benefits and a pension plan. Companies are having just as much trouble getting by as individuals, and they won’t think twice about downsizing if it improves their bottom lines.
Aside from that, technology has enabled businesses to do more with less. Finding the most lucrative markets for investing your talents and then standing out from the rest of the pack will be essential elements moving forward. And don’t expect any help from the field of education. School districts and departments of education are on the wrong track, and if you’re currently a student, they’re not likely to right the ship during your educational career. This reality amounts to even more pressure on you. With that said, here are five reasons why US students have the responsibility rather than the right to education.
1. Teachers are not empowered.
Discipline in the classroom no longer has much effect on students. Of course, the districts that get the best results are somehow able to instill discipline, but for the most part, it’s a crapshoot. And while that may seem like a good thing to students, who lack any interest in school, it’s slowly but surely killing the competitive advantage that America possessed for many years.
When a teacher has to deal with students texting during class, shooting mobile phone videos outside of their knowledge, inane outbursts from problem students, and combative parents who’d rather be their child’s friend than disciplinarian at home, there is little they can do to remain effectual.
On top of that, teachers have to go through mountains of paperwork just to fail a student when said student may be failing for no other reason than he’s not turning in work. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to track down parents of failing students for conferences and action plans, and those parents often don’t wish to be found. And instead of getting support from their administrations or departments of education, they’re subjected to accountability measures as is currently the case with the troubled Chicago Public Schools system and its annual teacher report card plan. Unfortunately, teachers are the only ones with any real accountability at all, and that doesn’t make for a very welcoming work environment.
2. The system isn’t designed for attracting the best teaching talent.
Most teachers are doing the best they can under the circumstances. Some true standouts with a natural talent for it are able to even function under the current format. However, more often than not, teachers are earning their licenses without really having a feel for the classroom and all the things they have to deal with in addition to teaching their subject matter. Couple that with poor pay and benefits, and you can see why the true talents wash out and enter the private sector where they can actually make money and lead enjoyable lives. The measuring stick for getting results is often not truly measurable either. When a teacher has to “teach to the test” and bring a class of students they may have had for only one year up to speed, they are not judged based on where the individual student was coming in to their class.
This reality results in a teacher being responsible for a student’s test performance, even when that student was simply passed along for a number of years without making any real improvements. Case in point, it’s not uncommon for a tenth grade teacher to be responsible for ensuring a student is able to pass standardized testing when said student is only on a fifth grade reading level. How is a teacher supposed to make up for five years of educational neglect in a mere two semesters? They can’t.
3. You are now competing with the rest of the world and losing ground at a greater rate of speed than education can keep up.
According to a 2012 report from Pearson, the US ranked 17th out of 40 developed countries for overall quality of education. Another report that same year showed that students in Latvia, Chile, and Brazil were making gains at three times the rate of the US, while students in Portugal, Germany, Hong Kong, Poland, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Columbia, and Lithuania, were improving at twice the rate. So not only is this country average, but it’s rapidly losing ground. This alarming reality represents a systemic problem with the way education is administered and the cultural support of learning in general. In other words, students aren’t getting what they need at school, home, or within the halls of Congress.
And of those three entities, Education.com notes, parents have the greatest influence on their children’s self-esteem and school success. So why does it seem they’re the least demanding, and why do politicians enable parents to slough off their responsibilities? Answer: there are more voting parents than teachers, and holding on to power instead of enacting actual change has become the disturbing trend in US politics.
None of these things are within your control. But your attitude when you enter the classroom is. Knowing the harsh reality and gaining a sense of foresight from it may be the only thing that can change things for the better. You’ve got to want the change yourself.
4. Not only are you competing against the rest of the world, but you’re also competing against a more seasoned domestic job market.
The Internet has turned the job market global. It used to be that when a job came open, you only had to compete with people from your city, county, state, or region. Now you’re dealing with applicants in other parts of the US and the world-at-large. For instance, cyber-networking opportunities mean that if an individual needs a website built, he can find someone able to do the job five miles from his home or 5,000 miles from his home at no extra cost. A US site builder is competing against the world on skill set and pricing.
On top of that, a stubbornly high unemployment rate over the last six years has many seasoned pros eating through the funds they were saving for retirement. That means you’re also competing domestically against (potentially) more experienced individuals. You may be able to slack off through high school and pick an easy major in college, but eventually, you’re going to face a world that doesn’t have room for you. These realities are what the fractured education system, the hopeless politicians that support it, and (possibly) your parents, have caused. And that’s what makes this final point regarding how you must take charge of your education all the more important:
5. One of the greatest things you can learn is how to learn, and no one is teaching that.
Perhaps the most crippling educational reform that Washington ever inflicted on public education was No Child Left Behind, or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Talk about the road to hell being paved with good intentions! While the desire for student proficiency is a good thing, the idea that you could set a timetable on bringing all students — even those with moderate to severe disabilities — to the same set of standards was absurd. When you have a single test that is supposed to gauge the viability of each student, you force teachers to “teach to the test” and that forces students to learn in a rigidly limited number of ways. NCLB, which won bi-partisan support (so it was everyone’s fault), choked out the diversity of students and killed teacher fire, enthusiasm, and creativity. In Washington’s desire to hammer knowledge into US children’s heads, they rid the system of its most valuable lesson: teaching students how to learn.
Fortunately, learning how to learn is something that you can do on your own. While you would be better served if every classroom teacher were free to teach this valuable lesson, you don’t need anyone but yourself to learn it. Literary great Ray Bradbury once said, “I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves — you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”
While writing may not be your profession of choice, that’s not what Bradbury was getting at. He was saying that a passion for learning can lead you to do great things all on your own, no matter who’s failing you at school, at home, or in government. But to light that spark that leads to self-education, the most valuable kind of all, you need to recognize a few things.
A. Not every lesson can be learned from within.
The desire to learn can, and should, come from you. But knowledge is imparted by teachers, reading, practical application, or in Bradbury’s case, a library full of books. The only thing truly preventing you from taking advantage of that knowledge, is you. As fractured as the US system is, the resources that you need are there for the taking. You’ve just got to reach out and take advantage of them.
B. Hopeless sounding stats do not mean your future has been written.
If you’ve made it this far, then you know it doesn’t sound good for America’s education system. Now we want you to do something for us. Ignore it. Ignore it because what “is” does not define what “will be.” Only you can do that, and the future you write for yourself can be one that is much more promising as long as you’ve got the willingness and the drive to learn.
C. The world can work in your favor as much as it can work against you.
Think about everything we’ve just reviewed. America is losing ground in the education race. You’re competing against a global marketplace. People are staying in the workforce longer because retirement is no longer a viable option in many cases. While each of these things present challenges, they also present opportunity. If America’s losing ground in the education race because of a faulty system, do-nothing politicians, or parents who aren’t cracking the whip enough, you’ve still got your own willingness to have a better life than the one you were born in to. If you’re competing against a global marketplace, so is the rest of the world. While jobs in your hometown may be harder to come by, that doesn’t mean jobs in the next city or state or country are taken. Make the global marketplace work to your advantage. If people are staying in the workforce longer, then use what you do know and understand. Generational gaps are not myth. You know things your parents’ generation doesn’t know the same way they knew things that were lost on their parents. You may not have their skills, but you are growing up in the world of tomorrow. They are trying to learn as they go. That’s advantage enough right there.
Are these scary times?
They certainly can be. But they are not impossible times, and no one can make you give up but you. There are certainly things working in your favor just like there are things working against you. That’s life. It’s always been that way. While generations past may not have had to deal with your same dramas, they had to face an uncertain world with only the skills they had (or could learn) and their own desire to succeed. You have those same things, and you are in a better position to understand the challenges ahead because they are your reality. It may not be easy. No one ever said it would be. But the sooner you realize you have the responsibility rather than the right to education, the better off you will be.
[Top image via Kelli Marshall]
[2009 Study Image via Timiacono.com]