Last Updated 13 Jan 2021

The Troubled American Education System

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In an enlightening article by writer April Shenandoah, on March 20, 2002, the reality that Americas' education system is in real trouble becomes clearly evident. The writer feels that when a child in America attends school, he is, in fact, more at risk than if he did not attempt to attend. This is because, of late, it has become obvious that most negative influences that children are faced with are being increasingly found in the public schools that they attend, and it is during the past few decades that the situation has worsened even further.

In a simple comparison between the situation in public schools today and that during the 1940's, it is indeed amazing that punishments were given for 'offences' such as, for example, running in the corridor, chewing gum, talking in the class, and at times, unfinished homework, whereas today the top offences are drunkenness, drug abuse, assault, rape, and many other similar crimes, including murder. (Shenandoah, 2002)

What has made the system even worse is that not only does the child have to cope with drugs and the immorality that is generally associated with them, but he would also be forced to study in the 'second rate' education system of today. This is evident in the fact that from the year 1963 onwards, the scores for the 'Scholastic Aptitude Tests' have been constantly dropping. This has developed into yet another problem, and this is that since the grade have been dropping, students are not able to cope with the existing syllabus, and today, newer textbooks have to be written for students at a lower grade level, so that they may cope better.

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It is the truth that today's newspapers and magazines are written for people at about a sixth grade level, and this is the standard of the average American citizen. What is even worse is the fact that many students are not at all aware of how little they are actually learning, and when they apply for University education elsewhere, it is then that they are forced to accept the fact that they have not received a good and solid education. (Shenandoah, 2002)

An extract from a speech made in the Senate on January 23, 1990, shows that the author believes that the American education system is in deep trouble. One reason for this may be that everyone, politicians, educators, and numerous others who are involved in the system seem to have forgotten one important aspect of public education: the child. No one really seems to care for the child; more concern is being shown towards racial balance, effective teaching methods, an improvement of the curriculum, and so on and so forth, but the student, the child has become lost is all this.

For example, in a school in North Carolina, importance is given to 'racial balance', wherein school children belonging to all types of races are put into the bus two hours before the start of school, and dropped off an hour before school is supposed to begin, and the children are quite worn out and tired even before school has started. (American Education in Trouble) In a similar manner, teachers are being trained into becoming more 'effective' teachers, and this would entail that they follow a set pattern of behaviors within the classroom so that they may be able to secure a better score with the administration.

What about the children? Who cares about them? They are not allowed to interrupt, or even to become involved with the lesson being taught, because this may interfere with the 'mandated' behaviors that the effective teacher is set to follow, and lower his rating. Today, most states are becoming aware of the fact that this system is doing absolutely no good for the children, and are therefore trying to eliminate it. Another is the 'merit pay' system.

This may be a credible concept and linked to the evaluation of teachers, but the problem here is that even today, the evaluation is carried out under the 'effective teacher' plan and not under the merit pay system, and therefore, this is not at all valid. The textbook system in public education in America today has, in fact, become more of an 'absurdity' than anything else. Textbooks today are not only becoming more and more expensive, but the content of the textbooks is also going down in its standard.

Today, it is a fact that more and more textbooks are being written by the so called 'experts' in the field, and the curriculum as such is dictated by either the current educational 'fad' of the time, or by the special interests that the expert may have in the entire episode. It must be remembered that almost all educational fads last for a maximum period of ten years, and it is a sad fact indeed that by the time the teacher becomes accustomed to the content and the information contained within the textbooks, they have already become obsolete, and it is time to change them yet again.

In addition, it is a fact that the textbook industry is a huge and lucrative one, and all the smaller schools and the smaller states find that they are completely at the mercy of the textbook selectors in the states, where they are the largest spenders. One example is the influence that a large state like California has had on the textbook industry.

In recent times, California had rejected all the science textbooks because it felt that the subject matter of evolution had not been given enough importance and the information was much too scanty, and today, all science textbooks are full of assertions that want to prove that the unproven theory of evolution is indeed a fact. At the same time, religion was banished from textbooks, especially during the 1980's, because of the separation of the church and the state and the controversy surrounding the issue. Teachers are also scapegoats in the education system in America, for who really cares for them?

At the outset, they are extremely overworked, in fact, more than any other worker. They are forgotten too, just like their students, in the long run. At the same time, they are expected to care for the forgotten students, and they are also expected to teach more and more, despite the fact that they are not given more and more time in which to teach. Neither extra time nor money would be able to solve all these problems. And teachers may be asked to teach the basics of mathematics, English, science, a foreign language, and social studies instead.

They must also be asked to teach those children who are well rested and well fed, and not exhausted after long bus rides and longer waits in the cafeteria. They may be evaluated by those persons who have a valid teaching certificate in their possession, and who have been active in the classroom for at least a minimum period of one year. In addition, if they were not given any extra duties, and if the administration was willing to share in any extra duties, then the teacher would be able to fare much better in the classroom, and care for her children in a way never done before.

It is the opinion of Michael L Berger in his book entitled 'The Public Education System' that there are six important controversies that generally appear in American public education systems, and these are: the budget that has been allocated for the educational system, the various auxiliary services that are needed, the facilities and the equipment needed in schools, the basic curriculum of education, the various personnel involved in teaching, and finally, the administrative rules and regulations that have to be followed by the schools.

In the book 'Critical Social Issues in American Education: Democracy and Meaning in a Globalizing World', the authors feel that it is the various interrelationships between different educational institutions, public education in particular, that is very important in the American public education system. Public education is in general, subject to a vast number of influences, like for example, community pressure, and community concerns.

Schools also tend to interact with other schools, and therefore, leave an impact on each other; in other words, it can be said that there is a wide interaction between various aspects of the educational system, and when cultural and religious and other beliefs interact with budgetary concerns, and demographic concerns as well as politics and ideological debates come into the picture, the educational system has to keep all these considerations in mind so that it may be a good and an effective one.

It is when it does not happen that the educational system suffers a setback. (Purpel; Shapiro, 2004) It must be remembered, however, that teachers are a very important part of the public education system anywhere in the world, and especially in the United States of America, and when taken from an economic point of view, it is the so-called 'teacher unions' that are not only producers of representative services, but are also consumers of such representative services in the educational system.

From the time when unionization took place for teachers, during the 1960's, the National Educational Association' and the 'American Federation of Teachers' have been monopolizing the market in terms of representative services. This type of monopoly does indeed have its adverse effects, and these are that the costs have skyrocketed, and at the same time, the service has become vastly inferior to what it was before. (Leiberman, 2003). Finding the best possible schooling for a child in the present circumstances has indeed become an uphill task today, especially for minorities, like African- American children.

Perhaps this may be because of the large number of options available to children today, what with the educational system being bombarded by 'magnet programs', charter schools', and manifold other public school options. Parents today have to be choosier than ever before, and at times, this can very well be overwhelming. (Lord, 2005) Recently, when two important economists were asked the question about what was America's greatest challenge today, the reply was that it was the education system.

The problems can be seen as being from both outside and also from within the school and perhaps one of the most important reasons is the breakdown of the 'family unit'. As parents today find less time to spend with their children, the school is expected to compensate. In addition, the decline of values in society is a major contributing factor, and this leads to a lack of basic discipline, a lack of attention, and so on. Another important factor is the worsening health of American children, and while some are exhausted and tired, some more are hungry, and some others are diagnosed with learning disabilities of some kind.

The teaching system is also at fault, because children are forced to learn according to the teacher's convenience and not to theirs'. The lack of emphasis on spiritual development can also be taken as a major factor contributing to the lackluster American public education system, and along with various other factors, this can become a major drawback. What can be done to change the educational system? Redesigning the public education system is a daunting task, but it must be undertaken for the betterment of American children and eventually the society.

Long standing practices have to be reconsidered, high quality learning opportunities must be provided to American children even before kindergarten, and perhaps the existing method of promoting a child from one class to the next can be eliminated so that children may be allowed to learn and to progress at their own pace. More teachers must be brought in, and the quality of teaching must be improved. If at least some of these measures were to be adopted for a start, then changes can indeed be brought in to the declining public education system in the United States of America (Guillory, 2001).

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The Troubled American Education System. (2018, Jun 11). Retrieved from

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