The recent issue of Foreign Affairs magazine (Volume 92 Number 3 , May/June 2013) carries an article titled, Why American Education Fails and how lessons from abroad could improve it by Jal Mehta. I was irresistibly drawn to this for reasons that should be obvious, if you regularly visit this blog.
Here is my letter to the editor of Foreign Affairs, which I am sure will never make it into a printed version.
Dear Foreign Affairs,
I love your magazine and turn to it eagerly for the world of ideas and for the intelligent, nuanced discourse found there.
I read Jal Mehta’s article on the epic fail of American public education with great interest. I thought that Professor Mehta identified many of the problems accurately. But I found it disturbing that in 4,000 words (yes, I counted them) the word parent was not used once. Not. Once. How does anyone pontificate on education AND fail to mention parents? Have we severed the American child from a parent-based world so thoroughly that parents are not even worthy of a casual reference in connection with the value of a kid’s education? Big omission.
On the plus side - I loved the criticism of No Child Left Behind. Billions down the drain AND American kids fell further behind. A smart business person would fire every barbarian whose fingerprints could be found on that vile legislation. I am still waiting for some kind of repercussions ….or maybe a refund on my tax increase?
I do think that more could have been said about the inevitable deja-vu that Common Core Standards Initiative represents. Ten years from now and billions of dollars later, the governments will have MORE control, the CCSI will be an epic fail, taxes will go up, and America will slip behind far enough that it will no longer be taken seriously on the global education stage.
Professor Mehta compares America to Finland, Canada, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. Of course, we pale in comparison to these nations. Most American kids would be hard pressed to find these nations on a map, much less out-read, out-math, out-science or outsmart them in any way shape or form. BUT, these nations all have the manageability that homogeneity delivers. All the kids are very similar – ethnically and socioeconomically similar. These nations simply do not have the same burdens that American schools have. Also, I think it is intellectually misleading to suggest that America emulate homogenous nations with a strong welfare state, especially when America’s insolvency is already a pox on its people. And what about the fact that the NEA , the largest, most powerful union in the country, has a creepy, anti-freedom agenda, and consistently acts out of self-interest and against the beleaguered population of students and parents it should be helping. Why isn’t this in the first paragraph?
The article skips from one illusion to another because like so many in academia, this author does not once contemplate a redo on the FAMILY level. It seems that all answers to the education problems that plague us must come from the Wizard of Oz in DC. Why is the squalid state of American politics being relied upon for anything at all ?
Finally, how can any well-educated researcher in this field make this statement WITHOUT suggesting that the US Department of Education take a hike? “Not only does the field (US education) lack knowledge; it lacks the resources and infrastructure needed to produce it.” What the heck are we paying for?
To his credit, Professor Mehta does allude to schools and teachers turning to commercial and nonprofit institutions for help. But, seriously, here he is swatting at a lion seal with a handkerchief. He would get much more attention and support if he just stated the obvious, just spoke the plain truth. The Department of Education has utterly failed. It should stop robbing US children of an education, admit that it is nothing more than a costly train wreck, stop taxing the life out of American families, and hand education over to private industry. Then American families would be free to find a true education. Believe me we would then begin to find our greatness once more. We would become the self-sufficient innovators of yesteryear.
Know this - The problems in public education in America are Big Government, One Size Fits All, Big Taxes, Big Union. So, axiomatically, the solutions cannot be Bigger Government, Bigger Taxes, Bigger Union. Professor Mehta is right in that we need a redo. American public education has spoiled. But, we simply cannot put the sour milk in a bigger, more expensive fridge and hope that tomorrow it is going to smell better.