Education has changed so much since the birth of our nation. Our founding fathers were lawyers, doctors, teachers, farmers, and statesmen, all educated in one way or another to ensure a prosperous life for their families. At the beginning of it all, we fought for a voice. Now, our students are struggling to have their voices heard.
Education in the modern era is about the agenda of the United States to be the best country in everything we do. Unfortunately we’re missing the mark a bit when it comes to education. According to an article posted by the Pew Research Center in February 2017, “Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate that U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations” (Desilver, 2017). Perhaps the mediocrity we live in is because we stress about education so much. And when I say “stress” I mean the psychological, emotional, mental stress we place on good grades, mastering standards, standardized tests, getting into a good college and the like. Education in the United States is an amalgam. It’s a business shaking hands with politics that’s drastically trying to hold onto “First World, Super Power” status while bankrupting the next generation of learners before they even think about college as an option. We compete with countries like Finland that are succeeding at education because EVERYONE is entitled to one, and the same one at that. They focus on pedagogical research, children starting school when they’re biologically ready, and fostering student-driven education while the United States focuses on standardized testing (Korhonen, 2017). We are doing our students and teachers a disservice. Education is so much more than a ranking and banking system.
In order for things to change we need to start at the heart of the matter; children. Education needs to stop being about the agenda of the adults in the room and start being about the passion and need of the students. It shouldn’t be dictated by politicians who’ve never spent a day in the life of an educator. We’ve fluctuated for too long focusing on the wrong things. Too often the burden of attending a four-year college is thrust upon our students as they enter their junior and senior years of high school. Don’t we need people that can fill the jobs of mechanic, plumber, carpenter and the like? Those stressors I spoke about earlier are creating arenas for bullies, those that are both in school and controlling schools, to make everything into a competitive, money-making business. Education should be taking the time, effort, and care to prepare our students for the next step in their life journey. I truly believe that our educators see that.
I recently saw a post on Facebook from a childhood friend who is a history teacher in California. On a visit to Washington, D.C., she took a picture of the Southeast Portico of the Jefferson Memorial where there is an excerpt from a letter Jefferson wrote to Samuel Kercheval dated July 12, 1816. He wrote,
“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
I couldn’t help but see the political undertone with which this was written but I also noticed how much this quote can be attributed to education in the modern era. To deny the need for change in education is to get dragged out to sea in the rip current of short-sighted people who think they know what the students of our nation really need. They don’t need to take tests, pay ridiculous sums of money to further their education, or acquiesce to a political agenda. “Institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” The times have certainly changed and we have to face facts that standardized tests like the SATs and ACTs are not cutting it. Going to college isn’t for everyone and it’s okay if the United States isn’t first in the world in education. Students are in school to learn, not take exams. We need to take a look at what countries like Finland are doing, listen to the voices of our students to hear what they need, and see how we can use these ideas to make our education system better.
Allison K. Kreiss
Currently an English and Special Education Teacher at Neptune High School in Neptune, New Jersey, Allison has been teaching for 13 years and has experience teaching English to grades six through twelve in a self-contained, resource, in-class support, and general education setting. She has served as a head coach for varsity women’s volleyball and middle school softball and now coaches softball at Ocean County College. Allison graduated from Montclair State University in 2004 with a B.A. in English Education with an English K-12 certification. Continuing her education at The College of New Jersey, she graduated with a M.Ed in Special Education with a Teacher of the Handicapped K-12 certification in 2006 and a M.Ed in Educational Administration in 2010 with a certification for Supervisor and certificate of eligibility for Principal. Allison has a passion for urban education since growing up in Lakewood, New Jersey. Throughout her experiences she has strived to incorporate technology and innovative lessons into her repertoire to best serve the needs of her students and has recently co-presented a keynote address on connection and innovation at ECET2NJPA. Allison is also in her first year as a member of the steering committee for EdCampHAT. In addition to her teaching experience, Allison has immersed herself in the world of administration; working with building principals, central office administration, and department chairpersons to creatively establish curricula, lessons and professional development for the engagement of teachers and students. She aspires to join the ranks of administration soon.