“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
I always loved that song. Those first two lines are as true as any words ever spoken, or sang as it were. Our children, and what they are taught, will be our future. Are we doing the best we can to prepare them? Are we setting them up for success or failure?
According to recent studies cited in this NY Times article, pupils in the United States continue to lag behind students in several Asian and European nations. The U.S. is ranked 11th in 4th grade math and 9th in 8th grade math. We are ranked 7th in 4th grade science and 10th in 8th grade science. Sadly, only 7% of students reached the advanced level in math. This is compared to 48% in Singapore and 47% in South Korea. In the subjects of reading and literacy, Hong Kong and Russia take the top spots. The United States claims 6th place.
Need more shocking statistics? Try the fact that over 25% of students in the U.S. do not graduate high school in 4 years. (That number edges more toward 40% for Blacks and Latinos.) How about the fact that only 25% of students are proficient in civics lessons. Only 22% of U.S. students meet the “college ready” criteria in all of their core classes. And only 75% of kids (aged 17-24) can pass military entrance exams.
Here is the one that had me shaking my head…63% of aerospace and life science firms report shortages of qualified workers. Yes, 63%.
So, what is going wrong? I have a few ideas on that. No child left behind has been…leaving children behind since it was implemented. Contrary to the fact that we spend more on education than any other developed country, we do not allot said money fairly, nor is it put to its best use. Our children are in overcrowded classrooms. They are instructed by underpaid teachers. They learn (obviously, quite poorly) how to fill in a perfect bubble. There (they’re/their) used to be emphasis placed on proper grammar. We rely too heavily on spell check, and not heavily enough on critical thinking skills. Technology has eliminated the grasp of basic mathematical skills.
I plan to go into more detail, in the following weeks, concerning where we may be going wrong… and why it matters. I may not have all the answers, but I have suggestions. Don’t you? Education gets plenty of lip service while Joe Politician is a candidate, yet it is shoved into a corner after he or she has been elected. We have come to expect that. Should I worry?
And….are careers dead? I am not so sure they are. Yes, many young adults graduate college only to end up slaving away in retail. Sure, college loans can make it almost impossible to linger while waiting for the “perfect” job that utilizes the skills you paid so handsomely to attain. Yet, I find it appalling that the top industries report a lack of qualified workers. Are our students being guided into fields that suit them and their abilities? Perhaps tackling the exorbitant cost of secondary education is one solution. It is quite possible that encouraging female participation in science and math curriculums is another.
Economically speaking, it has been studied and shown that a college graduate is more upwardly mobile, especially if he starts off poor. And if one comes from a middle or upper class family, he is less likely to fall economically. 88% of Americans, with college degrees, exceed their parents family income. Is it okay that 43% of Americans, raised at the bottom, remain there as adults? Should I become complacent with the fact that only 4% of those Americans actually make it to the top? Should you?
And before you yell it to your computer screen, I am aware of the fact that college is not the only answer. There are plenty of Americans who have neither the aptitude nor the desire for higher education. I am certainly aware of the fact that many more would love to attend college, yet can not afford to do so. But the country will always need plumbers, electricians, carpenters. Doctors will always need assistants and technicians. Are our children aware of that? Or are they led to believe that an inability to earn a degree, for whatever reason, equates to a life of flipping burgers and dropping fries?
This should be an important issue to everyone, whether or not you have children.
The children are, indeed, our future. And that, my friends, scares me.