Is American education so awful that our form of civilization is going to cease in the next generation? Every so often we get statistics that point to this dire conclusion. I am NOT going to tell you NOT to worry. The stats are scary. Here is an article that I read today:
The problem is that with all of our efforts we are at best standing still. The problem is this: others are not! American students, on average, are falling further and further behind the world in categories like math and science. American education is failing (and that failure is causing us to fall behind more of the rest of the world). In the long run, the tests don't tell the whole story (a story that is both better and worse than the numbers.
Here are four crucial issues that parents should remember when they are considering how their children stack up against the world:
1. Not all education in America is failing, but parental choice is increasingly critical. Two facts point in this direction. First, in the article makes this clear by comparing one state to another. Massachusetts is much better than Florida. Also, it fails to recognize something that would be extremely odd were the education in other countries superior to all education in the US, viz., that there is a flood of students from China, Japan, and many Asian countries trying to come to America for an education. This brings us to the the next point.
2. There is no substitute for hard work. Early struggles can lead to strength and to thriving if parents will allow it. Too often today there are two obstacles that some American students face. The first is their parents--particularly parents who want their children to be continuously successful and not have to work hard. Sadly, the next obstacle is eventually the students themselves. After years of being protected from hard work by their parents, students can be almost immune to it. (We have a small number of international students at my school. I have been extremely impressed by their willingness work hard and to push themselves.)
3. American students still have an incredible advantage that can not be tested in these international tests, but many are failing to capitalize on it. That advantage is the English language. English is the language of world commerce. Presently, many opportunities are available to American students if they have a solid grasp on the English language. Sadly, many American students do not have a grasp on English grammar or syntax.
4. A great education is more critical now than it has been in the last 500 years. Choose wisely! Parental choice in education is critical. Wherever your kids are in school, make sure that you, as parents, are engaged and involved. Advocate for them wisely. If your school does not provide an education that gets its seniors to a point where they are competitive globally, find another school! How will you know? Look at three areas (there could be others, but start with these three): Math, Writing, and Critical Thinking. In Math, students should be reaching high and going deep. Most students should be getting a substantial amount of Calculus in high school (this is happening all over the world!). They should also have a deep conceptual understanding of mathematics. It is not enough to be able to manipulate equations they must also know what they are doing conceptually. Second, graduates must be able to communicate in English. Finally, students should be encouraged to think critically and argue effectively. (This is actually the reason why so many students in higher scoring countries are trying to get to great schools in America. In many countries, they cram in more facts, but fail to learn how to think and criticize.)
Classical education actually provides exactly (!!!) what American students need to take the fullest advantage of the strong points of American education and corrects the weaknesses in American education evidenced by these test results. It teaches students, particularly in the middle school years, to think critically. Next, classical education focuses on writing. Finally, classical schools excel in breadth and depth mathematically.
Now, for the most important questions culturally and economically: Can our culture get classical education to those students who are suffering most in the present system? Can we give the poor and excellent education that will give the best opportunity to find a job and to thrive. Doing this would be very difficult and very costly, but we can not afford to fail to do it.