Stumped, Part One: What’s The Real Crisis in American Education?

The school year’s coming to a close, so it figures that many of us here at BNV have been weighing in on the state of education. And as well we should. It’s one of the only issues — in fact, possibly the only one — that tangibly affects each and every one of us in ways that we have to face up to every single day. Your education is your first impression of society and your personal experience at school becomes your template for where your place is within the world at large.

Education reform. No Child Left Behind. The achievement gap. International economic competitiveness. The fact is that a college degree alone is worthless on the job market. Loans. I don’t want to talk about the usual hot-button issues, because I’m sick of hearing about them. Not that they aren’t important and in dire need of attention, but they are only symptoms of a much greater illness. The real problem with education can’t be measured by statistics and test scores. Dry data isn’t telling us what lies beneath it.

It doesn’t explain why the smartest, most insightful and creative people I know have found school to be a thoroughly alienating experience that did nothing to nurture them or prepare them for the realities of adulthood. It doesn’t explain why the same friends who scolded me for not completing high school spent the following four years furiously venting to me in between psychiatric appointments and ulcer-induced hospital visits about how much they hated college, and have spent all the years since college languishing in “quarter-life crisis.”

The numbers aren’t telling us why the most culturally and socioeconomically complex society in the world still measures intelligence and aptitude with tools that, at several or more decades old, are based on obsolete and culturally biased social norms and were never designed to take empirical measurements in the first place. The numbers aren’t curing the myopia that convinces people that arguing about charter schools is a better use of their time than confronting one of the leading causes of inequality throughout American history.

Meanwhile, functionally illiterate legacy babies can attend the most prestigious schools in the world and ride their Skull And Bones connections to political dominance.

This is the beginning of a four-part series examining what the “crisis” in American education really is. With very little formal education and no experience dealing with any sort of bureaucracy, I am wildly under-qualified for this endeavor. But that’s the point. The only people I hear making noise about education are the over-educated, and they aren’t getting very far. I don’t see the harm in adding an outsider’s perspective to the discussion.

Stay tuned.

___________

Picture credit: Reprinted by Maria Montessori, based on the Calvin and Hobbes syndicated comic by the great Bill Watterson.