We all agree education is important; that our kids deserve the best learning; that our teachers should be the best at their job — then we have this tendency to walk away and let our government take the reigns. They roll out one “education program” after another — effectively experimenting on our children every few years — while spending loads of money.
Then we all get angry, argue and complain when we find out our children aren’t measuring up to other nations or aren’t prepared for life.
Amanda Ripley takes on this “twenty-first mystery” of why, in a country that spends untold millions on education, still falls short. In her essential book, The Smartest Kids in the World (and how they got that way), she dives deep into American education as she follows three students as they attend schools overseas. What is one major difference Ripley finds?
Teaching is treated as a top-tier profession. Teachers are educated and expected to perform accordingly.
It isn’t that there aren’t many dedicated teachers that take every aspect of their profession seriously and rise above expectations. However, the system that educates teachers has gross deficiencies. Ripley writes:
In America…we did not expect our teachers to be the best and brightest of their generation…Incredibly, at some U.S. colleges, students had to meet higher academic standards to play football than to become teachers.
At most U.S. colleges, education was known as one of the easiest majors. Education departments usually welcomed almost anyone who claimed to like children.
Some argued that a teacher that struggled in school was actually a better teacher, because that teacher could relate to students who were failing. It was perverse logic. Would a doctor who had botched several surgeries be an ideal medical-school professor?
…ten out of ten new Finnish teachers had graduated in the top third of their high school class; only two out of ten American teachers had done so.
In Finland, all education schools were selective. Getting into a teacher-training program there was as prestigious as getting into medical school in the United States.
And there it is: If we value education as much as we claim, shouldn’t the standard for teachers be the highest possible? Or should we keep letting politicians and unions decide for us?
The other part of the equation is the parents. Those that take personal responsibility for their children’s education — regardless of the family’s educational and financial background — typically have children that are well-educated. Yes, we should hold our schools accountable (we are paying for them, whether they are public or private). We should also hold ourselves accountable. Ripley continues:
Parents did not tend to show up at schools demanding their kids be assigned more challenging reading or that their kindergartners learn math while they still loved numbers. They did show up to complain about bad grades, however. And they came in droves…to watch their children play sports.
Of course, Ripley isn’t saying all parents are like this, but the bottom line is simple:
We are responsible for our children, and by extension, the schools they learn in. Not the government, the administrators, the activists or the unions.
We are responsible.