As the peoples of Egypt and Tunisia clamored for democracy, we, here in the United States, went on with our lives as if we take democracy for granted. This is evidently true as plenty of us are only interested when it only concerns ourselves. We’ve become too complaisant, and sadly, our government and institutions have buttressed this bad behavior.
￼One fruit that democracy provides, that we take for granted, is the right to education. Although lately that the need for education is more emphasized as President Barack Obama stated …good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity, it is a pre-requisite1, students are performing poorly.2 Either the parents and educators are not alarmed, satisfied with the status quo, do not care or just unaware of the 2009 National Assessment Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12. The late American astronomer and astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, knew what was coming. In his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World, he wrote something quite relevant:
Something has happened between first and twelfth grade, and it’s not just puberty. I’d guess that it’s partly peer pressure not to excel (except in sports); partly that the society teaches short-term gratification; partly the impression that science or mathematics won’t buy you a sports car; partly that so little is expected of students; and partly that there are few rewards or role models of intelligent discussion of science and technology—or even for learning for its own sake. Those few who remain interested are vilified as “nerds” or “geeks” or “grinds.”
But there’s something else: I find many adults are put off when young children pose scientific questions. Why is the Moon round? the children ask. Why is grass green? What is a dream? How deep can you dig a hole? When is the world’s birthday? Why do we have toes? Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly to move on to something else: “What do you expect the Moon to be, square?” Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys the grown-ups. A few more experiences like it, and another child has been lost to science. Why adults should pretend omniscience before 6-year-olds, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that we don’t know something? Is our self-esteem so fragile?
Our government’s influence seems to be lackadaisical also. With President Obama’s statement in mind, I wonder if the bar for passing scores will be raised higher. I wonder if our law-makers are going to find a way to pass a law that will require every single person, within specified age-range, to attain post-secondary education. I thought since healthcare insurance is seen as mandatory, why wouldn’t education be.
While there are talks at the current time about weeding out of unqualified teachers in the classrooms by looking at the performance of the students, I wonder if this alone will truly help in spite counteractive programs and school systems out there.
An example of a counteractive program is an easy pass to students who are not disabled that failed or dropped out of high school via General Educational Development (GED) certificate program. An easy access to this program is harmful more than helpful in the long run. It is undeniably true that the program has helped a lot of people enter the work force. However, it is also true that GED holders tend to earn lower wages3 and less likely pursue post-secondary education, much more with four-year than with two-year.4
Similarly, unscrupulous practices are evident in school institutions – particularly in community colleges. Professors hand out or review the actual examination sheets before the the finals and the grading system is obscured by the elimination of the lowest score so that students have a better chance of receiving higher GPA. Perhaps the ultimate goal to such practices is beyond pass or fail or so that students are encouraged to stay in school and finish their curricula. Nevertheless, it is unfair to those students who study arduously day and night.
How will our government measure the improvements in the quality of our education if counteractive programs and practices are not checked?
I wonder how will our government check when both Republicans and Democrats are more focused and quick to bully and demonize each other’s party, but are too pusillanimous to speak of the plummeting quality in education. So long as our government officials and representatives maintain to be more concerned with their appeasing and rhetorical speeches, and more wary of gaffes that might be played over and over in national televisions, such as the Fox News, our educational system will remain unaddressed and continue to be ineffective.
2 U.S. Dept. of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educatonal Progress (NAEP), 2009 Science Assessment. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2009/2011451.asp: p. 1
3 Who Benefits from Obtaining GED? Murnane, Willet, and Tyler, May 1999, Forthcoming, Review of Economics and Statistics, p. 32
4 Is the GED an Effective Route to Postsecondary Education? Magnus Lofstrom and John Tyler, September 2005. pp. 14-15