No one can deny the pitiful state of America’s education system. A college degree once signaled true academic achievement and set the recipient apart. Now it has become as banal as attaining a drivers license. The average high school diploma only qualifies the holder to work at Wal-Mart. Many colleges offer remedial classes in response to the ever-growing crop of ill-prepared high school grads. Plato surely would not approve of the lowering of standards and expectations at the Academy. Reforms enacted to remedy the situation, though noble in their intent, fail to address the real problem. Bipartisan legislation such as No Child Left Behind and Head Start accomplished nothing. Pouring money into underperforming school districts makes little to no difference. Charter schools, vouchers, and merit pay for teachers can only achieve negligible-to-marginal success.
The first step in true education reform requires honesty. When a school district fails, the public, with a mob mentality, gathers their pitchforks and descends upon those they believe failed their precious children. They eviscerate teachers, administrators, and public officials. When no one remains, they blame the facilities, the curriculum, and perceived resource deficiencies. Yet, when schools fail, parents and students remain shielded from ANY criticism. Until we as a society point our fingers at the real problem, assign blame to the truly culpable — parents and the students themselves — our education system will continue to degenerate into mediocrity and eventual irrelevance. That’s right folks — if your child reads below grade level, you are at fault. If your child struggles in math and science, you are to blame. If parents neglect to equip their kids with the fundamentals necessary for reading comprehension and arithmetic, their children start behind the proverbial learning curve. Many of these children will never catch up. I agree with John Locke’s conclusion — there is no innate knowledge — but that does not give parents the right to enroll their children in kindergarten as a tabula rasa.
Many students lack the intellectual prowess, the skill acquisition ability, and the desire to succeed in school. Sadly, some students lack all three of these qualities. Those with superior intellectual ability have a decided advantage over their peers. However, not every child hits the genetic lottery. More importantly, no child needs a genius-level IQ to succeed in school. Parents must provide children with the foundation needed to aptly acquire academic skills. A child with skills will excel in any academic setting. The most indispensable attribute a student needs is a strong work ethic. To succeed, every student must have the will to learn and compete. This is where parents have been most derelict.
And we now arrive at the crux of the problem — too many parents assume teachers must inspire students. Wrong. That task belongs to parents, and at a certain age, the students themselves. Parents alone must instill the desire to learn in their children. They cannot abdicate that responsibility. Why must a teacher function as a muse? School systems do not fail students, their parents do.
After the 2010 midterms, political pundits offered areas of compromise for President Obama and his Republican opposition. Almost immediately they floated the idea of “comprehensive education reform.” Of course both sides of the political aisle can compromise for the betterment of America’s youth. As a nation we have devolved the responsibility of education reform to politicians. Give me a break. Curricula overhauls, increasing school vouchers, and more federal dollars for failing schools will all be part of No Child Left Behind: The Sequel. The other dominoes fall as follows. States pressure teachers’ unions to accept merit pay so as to receive a bigger chunk of Race to the Top money. Union heads, dragged kicking and screaming, comply to safeguard their members’ pension plans. Free-marketers cheer, wrongly assuming merit pay acts as a cure-all for national education ills. In the end, both sides obfuscate the real issue for a bipartisan legislative success. The body politic rejoices at both sides working together. America fails to address the real problem. No meaningful change occurs. The lesson: no legislation, no matter how well crafted, can overcome mediocre-to-poor parenting.
Honesty alone cannot solve the problem, but at least it points us in the right direction. Parents need to teach their children the basics. They must put the effort in to ensure their children place a premium on education. If not, America will continue its steady decline among the ranks of advanced industrialized nations. We cannot afford to not address our education system’s plight. We have the ability, but do we have the will?
JM Arcano is a recent graduate of the University Nevada-Les Vegas. He is a self-described fiscal conservative, social pragmatist, and political cynic.