"The intellectual foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people ... If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." That is a quote from A Nation at Risk, by the U.S. Department of Education in 1984. When America’s own government is clearly stating that there is a problem with education, the need for major changes, restructuring, and repair cannot be denied.
Our educational institutes neglect to prepare students such as myself to be individuals who question the motives, consequences, and implications of both the individual and the society’s actions, but it does prepare students to function in a society that is most importantly an economy which values passive obedient citizens. The purpose and manner of educating students in America needs to be reexamined so that it better provides students with a base for the real world. It should encourage students to ask critical questions as well as analyze and understand the world around them helping to better personal judgments.
Although schools attempt to prepare students for the society that they live in, the most important message from American schools seems to be “submit to society.” School expects and teaches us to be quiet, obedient, and submissive citizens. There is a large emphasis in early grades on cooperation. Group work projects, which normally consist of one person working harder than they should and everyone else slacking off, claim to teach how to work as a team. The only thing teamwork teaches is everyone can slack off and one person will do all of the work to avoid making themselves look bad. I was required to take a course in middle school called “Increase The Peace” which was all about conflict resolution. We learned how to compromise and resolve disagreements peacefully. In the beginning of our teenage years, some students are still expected to use “I feel” statements such as “I feel sad when people hit me. I would appreciate it if people did not hurt me.” Although that is a necessary skill at times, we were never taught how to defend ourselves or how to react to people that are not “perfect citizens.” Dealing with emotions is never taught, how to deal with hard situations or big problems was never talked about. Over time the need for such things has been continually growing. Schools send the message that it is neither acceptable nor remotely normal to feel depressed or angry by refusing to deal with such problems. We were in the midst of war, and the typical American family consists of divorce, stepparents, and there are increasingly more latchkey kids and abuse. Dealing with these issues should be a top priority.
Even though teachers tell students that Americans have freedoms to religion, assembly, petition, press, and speech, any attempt to stand up against something is quickly thrown down. September 14, 2001 was declared by George W. Bush as a national day of prayer and remembrance. There was supposed to be a nation-wide moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of 9/11. My school called it a “moment of prayer” several times and required all students to be quiet. The school proceeded to play a song repeating the phrase “hallelujah” loud enough that even those who tried to quietly pray later complained they could not concentrate. Two people in my speech class as well as myself were appalled by the amount of pressure put on us to conform to the religious aspects. We quietly told our teacher that although we wanted to remember the victims, and would have sat quietly and remembered them, we were upset by the repetition of “moment of prayer” and the religious song accompanying it. That was a hard decision because we didn’t want to be disrespectful to the people that lost their lives, but we were being disrespected. Those people died because we are America, a nation with freedoms. The same freedoms people have died for were being compromised. My teacher told us to go to the office if we were going to leave class so we walked up to the office where we were rudely told to sit and wait for the song to be over. We quietly sat, listening to the music play even louder, and some of the people in the office talking about how disrespectful we were being. After the song finished, we explained to them that we were offended by the manner in which religion was forced on us and wanted to discuss it with the principal. We were told that our principal did not want to talk right now and that we could write her a letter if we wished. About a dozen of us started a petition that went around the school asking for an apology from the principal. She refused to discuss the matter with us or apologize for loudly playing a religious song and requiring prayer time in a public supposedly secular school. No one in charge of educating us was interested in showing us how to handle such a thing or what we were supposed to do about something we did not like and were offended by.
Not only does the curriculum not meet real world expectations, the curriculum itself is not agreed on or followed as well as it should be. The curriculum seems to limit things more than give teachers information about what to teach. My freshman year I took Integrated algebra geometry one, followed by IAG 2 my sophomore year. This class was designed to give people from my school a chance to get ahead with math. Students in the class continually wondered where the geometry aspect was. We learned a lot about algebra but spent no more than a week learning about geometry. During my sophomore year, the board of education announced that the class did not meet curriculum. The logical assumption was that we would have to take geometry classes to make up for that. Rather than doing what we assumed, they had us take Algebra II our junior year. For the SAT’s and my current math class I am in, I in no way have the required geometry background because I was never taught it. According to the Baltimore Sun published April 22, 2003, Baltimore County public schools abruptly stopped a low level math course mid year because it did not meet curriculum. In elementary school we weren’t taught phonics. Reading was taught by pure memorization. When people from an elementary school in my county came across a new word, we had no way of dealing with it. Classes that didn’t meet curriculum taught me how to deal with being bored, how to waste time, how to quickly accomplish work given for no point that had already been repeatedly taught, and how to bull shit my way through things. My peers have all taken classes that did not teach them anything that could be applied to the real world. Finances, budgeting, and applying for jobs were rarely if ever taught to us. Although knowledge builds upon past knowledge, there is no reason to require people to take classes that will not teach them anything. How can students be expected to function in society when they aren’t even taught what has been deemed important?
Since school is supposed to prepare students for the future, it should be a safe place. Students in many schools have to worry about being harmed passing by a fight in the hallway. School shootings, such as the ones in Colorado or Utah create a feeling of unease at schools. Although precautions are taken in an attempt to prevent another horrendous situation, they can still happen. Schools need to thoroughly consider what to do if such an event happens and how to inform the students. My school’s plan made everyone feel less secure. In the case of someone attacking the school, all doors will be closed and locked and we would remain in our classrooms quietly waiting. After an area of the school has been cleared out we were supposed to walk through the woods then stand at the top of a hill surrounded by trees. There was a well-founded fear that someone could be hiding in the trees. Few classrooms have windows, hindering easy escapes. There have been numerous threats which aren’t always taken seriously. A girl gave a speech which talking about school shootings, blaming it on the students peers and saying that if people aren’t nicer than her she would do the same thing, citing some specific examples. She was given a one day suspension during which she could still participate in extracurricular activities.
The education system needs to be restructured so that it teaches students lifelong skills and knowledge. Students should not go to school wondering if they will be able to go home safely. Students should not be subjected to classes that teach them nothing about the real world, especially when crucial classes are not being taught. As time evolves, students become the leaders of the world. People need to stop and ask what they want their leader to know. Do we want a passive uninformed person leading us through the world?