What’s Fundamentally Wrong With Education


Well, as with most things I have analyzed over the years, I have come to realize that all American "programs" are all flawed in that we create a system or program and expect it/them to work into infinity without revision. AND all programs are always a multi-faceted issue. Let's examine some issues that are affecting education.

  1. Educational expectations for K-8 are different from grades 9-12 and it is completely different for graduate and post graduate studies. For this article, let us just focus on K-12.
  2. We have a school system derived from something that worked back in the early 1800s.
  3. Education and money.
  4. There is an entire teacher/administration culture within the school system and the outlying systems that support that culture.
  5. The parent culture.

A quick history lesson. Free education really started in America around 1647, primarily to teach Puritan kids how to read the Bible. In 1790, Pennsylvania started free elementary public schools for poor kids, in 1817 Boston started the same program, in 1820 Boston opened free high schools, and around 1827 Massachusetts started free education for all grades. From 1820 through 1860, small family farms were replaced with big agricultural businesses and manufacturing industries. That, coupled with a huge influx of European immigrants, industry owners looked to the education system to provide them with a docile and obedient workforce. Between 1865 and 1877 many state constitutions guaranteed free public education. In 1837 standardized curricula made its debut, compulsory attendance was made law in 1852 and by 1918 these were the law in 48 states.

But, let's not forget this system was fraught with other issues like, a two-track education system for the laboring and learned factions, free public school for poor kids only (richies you get to pay to educate your kids), political angst about paying taxes to educate the poor (yes, even in 1817 that was an issue), selfish motives on the part of industry owners to educate so they could control the masses they would be employing, religious motives - to keep Catholic kids from being force-fed Protestant curriculum, replacing small business owners with big business owners (local boards to city-wide elected positions), slavery, war, Native Americans, immigrants from many nations, and even education being taught in English only (yes, that existed back in 1864 - probably even earlier!)

Okay. As a mother of 3.5 kids (yes, I lost a daughter when she was 11), I can say I am a pretty good study of the education system. I, myself, suffered through K-12 and a BS in Business Management. My husband, the same except a BS in Economics (yeah - I live with that every day!) and this year our oldest started college. Our three children attend(ed) a public charter school (have or will through 8th grade). We have recently acquired a new kiddo who is attending the public school down the street. And, I can already see the differences in educational expectations. My family thinks that charter means private school, but it does not. I really think it means total parent involvement (maybe even a little (or a lot) too much) and higher expectations. My attempts to get that same kind of involvement from the non-charter public school teachers has either gone unanswered or to a simple she is doing okay. Okay as compared to what? Will she be prepared for high-school STEM or IB programs? From what I see, no.

Every day we hear that education in Arizona is terrible. So let me just focus on Arizona. Public schools generally start at 8:00 am and at the latest are out by 3:00 pm. The school grounds are as quiet as a cemetery at 4:05 pm. In our home, the charter kids have homework every night of the week that lasts a good share of the night. The regular public school kid has none, as she finished it all in 5th hour free period. I am still blown away by the fact that she only has four academic classes - English, science, math and social studies and a free period. To fill the rest of her day, she has two performing arts classes. WTF? I can see why teachers complain they do not have enough time to teach what is required when school is out at 2:40 pm. And there is one "free" period and a lunch period? I am surprised they are learning anything! By the way, the same thing goes for high schools and the new fangled block systems. Still. Not. Enough. Time!

This timing issue goes back to our inability (as a country) to revamp a system that needs revamped. The reason schools get out so early now is because kids used to get out early so that parents could use them as a labor force during harvest time on small family farms and ranches. Ah, in my lifetime and my kids' lifetimes, I have known no one who has harvested anything. Hell, my kids would be devastated by a blister caused by hard labor! In fact, there are laws preventing children from being used as slave labor! Remember, by the 1860s big industry was replacing small family industry.

But this also bleeds into the teacher/administration system culture. Teachers enjoy getting out of school when they do. I mean, I love kids, but I could not stand to teach 35 or more spoiled little brats. Do not kid yourself, teachers are happy as hell when class ends. Plus, they get a shit load of half days, holiday days, paid sick days, paid vacation days, health benefits, retirement, etc. - they should not make too much noise. I mean, come on. I have been a salaried manager or self-employed for most of my life and neither one of those scenarios allowed for me to be done with my work day at 2:40 pm. Hell, I was usually up until midnight nightly doing things for work because there never was enough time or employees to get things done. And forget too many days off in a row or a real vacation. As a self-employed person there are rarely days off, rarely a vacation, no paid sick days or even benefits. I'm not complaining, there are benefits that I do have, but looking at what I just wrote, I realize what things I forewent to be my own boss. In retrospect, what a dumb ass!

So what we have, is a system whereby the teachers, administration, parents, and students have an expectation that the school day will be done by 3:00 pm. Working parents have to figure out what to do with their kids until they themselves get off work at 5:00 or 6:00 pm, have to figure out how to rearrange lunch hours, etc. so they can pick them up if need be, and after school programs have needed to be created to accommodate such issues. And employers "get" to work with employees on it. I think this schedule really only works for teachers and their children!

Homework. The age old problem. Too much, not enough, rarely just right. Again, I see inequality among systems. If teachers do not have enough time to teach, why are the kids coming home with no homework? If the charter schools (and other comparable programs) are providing above-average education, why then do these kids have a lot of homework? One might ask if there is anything wrong with homework? I know I have heard the argument that kids need a break, but I'm asking, a break from what to do what? Kids do not go out and play in the yard, or do yard work, go bike riding or even clean their rooms. They are on their cells phones, computers, and tablets on every type of unfiltered and uncontrolled social media outlet they can get on. Yes, I agree that around dinner time the homework should be done and they should be able to watch a t.v. show or two before bed. But, really, assuming dinner is done and cleaned up by 7:00 pm, they still have two hours to play around on social media, which is creating a whole other set of family challenges. Quite frankly, the kid without homework, in my own family dynamic, is a social media nightmare which takes constant energy from me to manage. Homework is WAY easier!

The parent culture. It appears to me that parents fall into one of four categories: ball breakers, the equalizers, helicopter parents, and excuse makers. And teachers get to teach kids coming from each of those types of homes, and every one of them thinks their kid is "special". The ball breakers are not usually a problem in the public school systems because they pay to put their kids into rigorous private programs and they ride their kids' asses continually to achieve. The equalizers want excellence but also look for balance in other aspects of their kids' lives, the helicopter parents are ding dongs who waited too long to have children or stay-at-home parents who think their kids need their help with everything except breathing (oh come on - we all know at least one), and then there are the excuse makers. The last one confuses me the most. They have the most to gain from free education, a chance to have their children go onto a life better than theirs through education and opportunity, but they complain the most. "I don't have time to check on my kid's homework, how can I force my kids to do homework?, why aren't teachers doing this in class?, they are expecting too much from my kid, etc." And if you tried to change the current system, they would complain the loudest.

So, what can be done in Arizona to change education (excepting curricula, etc.) you might ask? I think a complete overhaul of the education system in general. Arizona is great at bucking rules - maybe we could put that state novelty to good use just once? While aptitude tests are seen as pigeon holing kids, really creating an unbiased test (there are companies that do it) to see where natural inclination is leading could seriously change the way children approach things and how information is delivered to them. Hell, just figuring out what study habits are the best for your child's personality would go a long way (and there are companies that do just that). The key is though, to have all these things (and more) used as TOOLS not pigeon holes. Public education needs to be approached as a series of systems that work together and be flexible. It would require a program, that would be altered along the way to delete, change or add things that do or do not work. It may include private industry or university research help. The school board of education would need to be revamped and these issues are just the tip of the iceberg.

So here is what one mom would do. I would really shake things up. First, I would change school hours. School hours would be from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Start by carving out a half-hour for lunch, and an additional half-hour for six five-minute transition periods between classes. By my calculations that still leaves 8 hours for six classes a day or one hour 20 minute long classes. That is an additional 20 to 35 minutes of class time verses typical classes today. With 20 extra minutes, teachers should be able to cover more material; the material they cannot teach because they do not have enough time. Then, give no homework, except as needed when a child has challenges with a concept (i.e., like flash cards to learn to add, subtract and multiply, etc.). I know there are still some teachers who spend time weekly outside the classroom doing things like grading homework from the night before. This would eliminate a significant amount of the out-of-classroom work that some teachers still do. Then parents could pick up their kids, get home, get dinner and still give the kids the couple hours everyone thinks they need to unwind.

Sure things would need to be changed. Teachers would have to stay later. So would the kids. But there would be greater continuity. Parents would not have to split up their work days to shuffle kids around as much. After school programs would need to be revamped. So would after school sports and activities. But these are doable changes that I think would foster better education and learning conditions, assuming the teachers are teaching what they should and curriculum is where it should be. As far as kids needing breaks to focus, I call bullshit on it. I've got example after example of students in elementary, high school and college (both ADD and not) that can stay glued to electronics for 11 hours straight. Besides, their day would not be a solid eight-hour day. They would still have their lunch break and transition times between classes. Emulating workplace rules (if required by law), they could have 15 minute breaks in the am and pm - though this would change the extra time acquired and added to class schedules mentioned above.

Maybe what we all need to do is stop making excuses as to why we are not fostering an environment of intellectual growth and excellence and create the solution so we can see our kids and students achieve educational greatness.

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or ursula@CompassReset.com. Facebook Google+

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