Why American education is a bust

Most of you know I lived in Israel for a decade where they spent a vast amount of the national budget on the military. Despite that, they still made sure everyone who wanted an education could get one. Whatever else is wrong with the country, they value education and as a people, Jews value education.

So why does America have such pathetic education? Public education is bad everywhere in the U.S. If you want your kid to get a good education, you need to pay for private schools. The last big “educational change” was the passage of the Federal Requirements for State Assessments which grew out of 2002s “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB), a piece of legislation which I have to assume was well-intended, but which has had the expected awful outcome.

Basically, it means that students in every state have to pass tests in reading, language arts, and mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school, as well as in science at least once in grades 3 through 5, 6 through 9, and 10 through 12. State assessments must align with the breadth and depth of state academic content standards and measure student “achievement” based on challenging college and career-ready state academic achievement standards or on alternate academic achievement standards.

Except this program doesn’t accomplish that.

I’m sure that must have sounded good to the non-educators who passed the legislation. Pity they didn’t include actual teachers in designing the curriculum. The result has been that we teach students to pass tests. Everything is aimed at getting kids ready to pass these tests and no time is spent teaching kids to think independently or think. If too many kids fail the test, they lower the “pass/fail” hurdle until almost anyone can pass, even if they don’t know anything — and most of them really don’t know much.

Quote by my mother. Cynicism is not necessarily wrong

How in the world did this happen? Well, let’s take a look at what we admire in this country. Do we admire educated people? Do we make movies and write books about scientists, jurists, authors, or artists? We used to, at least occasionally, but that isn’t what Americans want to read or see.

As a people and as a nation, we don’t respect or admire education. We don’t treat educated people as an asset. Individual families vary, of course, but as a collective, this isn’t what Americans want. We our children to make money, but education for its own sake? Who cares about that anyway?

A lot of us care. We can’t control how our governments — local and federal — run the schools and most of us can’t afford private schools either. We do the best we can to make sure our kids have books to read and can have an intelligent conversation. We can’t change the system or the culture, but we do our best to make home a place where learning happens. Sometimes, it’s enough. Often, it isn’t, especially when both parents are working and children are pretty much on their own.

Why should we then be surprised when our educational system looks pathetic compared to education in other countries?

Public Enemy (1931)

Who do Americans admire? We extoll “tough guys,” whether they were pioneers (never mind that Native American were already here and did plenty of pioneering), explorers (greedy seagoing thugs looking for gold), anybody with a big gun as well as real gangsters. We love gangsters whether they are riding a horse, murdering people in a dark alley, or out in space shooting down other ships.

Let’s look at Hollywood as the place where America’s creates its dreams. What do we love? Gangster movies. Shootouts. Violence. Considering all this idolization of crime, criminals, and other tough guys, educated people never made it into the mix. We don’t make movies about scientists and intellectuals because they don’t make money. We save our admiration for people who “made it” without an education. Maybe that’s why we never properly funded education in the U.S.

At this late date, we still aren’t funding education. We build schools only if the old one is crumbling. We pay teachers as little as possible and complain if they don’t perform to our expectations. And now, just to put some more fuzz on the peach, we’re banning books in schools and reducing knowledge. We are going to have the dumbest kids on planet Earth.

Hofstra University

When states, cities, and towns decide to trim the budget, it always starts with laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, and not paying for textbooks that have a basis in reality. We ask why are people so stupid in this country? Look at our educational “system” and take your best guess.

Categories: #Books, Anecdote, Education, learning, Performance


26 replies

  1. “Schooling” has always been a mystery to me. I spent a good chunk of my early ‘education’ looking out the window. Day dreaming.
    Maybe things have changed?? I hope so.
    It never seemed to occur to anybody (in my experience) that School should be a joyful, exciting, interesting and fulfilling experience whereby it would be a joy to go to school every day.
    It should be.
    But it never was.
    Was it my job to make it otherwise?
    I never got any guidance or incentive to do so.
    Fact is nobody ever told me WHY I was going to school. Or how I should observe this experience and make something out of it.
    Real schooling begins at home they say. Too true.
    And I really do have to fault my parents for not making all those YEARS in school useful.
    For instance: should ANYBODY go to school for 18 years (or whatever) and then not have any idea what they want to be – or do – with their lives? NO! BUT this surely happened in my family.
    THAT is a crime. AND incredibly wasteful.
    When I see the talent, intelligence, abilities, skills etc. etc. (including my own) of my 4 brothers and my sister and I see what happened to us, this is unbelievably irresponsible parenting. WHAT A WASTE!!!
    But maybe that’s just my story?


    • I think a lot of people care, but they are rarely the people who are in charge of real kids in real classrooms. I was raised to believe that education was THE most important thing in my world. But nobody every pushed me to get better grades. I got good enough grades and it was assumed that somehow, I’d get wherever I wanted to get. Yes, it starts at home by making home a place where there are interesting things to read and talk about. Trips to museums, Conversations about “the world.” I wasn’t pushed to get better grades but I got a lot of heavy duty reading which it was assumed I would do — without pushing. And I did. I doubt I could get through even ONE of those books these days.

      I was such a bookworm, there really wasn’t any reason to push me. I pushed me and I was good at what I was good at. I got a little help for the things (math) I wasn’t good at. Over all, I did okay. Garry had a VERY similar upbringing — and of course so did Owen. Homes where people find literature, science, news interesting tend to raise kids that are also interested. Not always, but usually.


    • I don’t think school is supposed to tell you what you want to do. That’s entirely up to YOU. Some people take longer than others to figure out what they want to do with themselves. Owen was very slow and he more or less fell into what he does. My brother was the same way. I knew I wanted to be a writer from when I was very young. Garry knew what he wanted to be before he was 10. But other people were finishing college and STILL didn’t know what they wanted to be IF they grew up.

      Parents can certainly suggest what they think might work, but the worst WORST thing we can do to our kids is TELL them what they should be. Not only does it not work, it makes kids feel trapped, especially because what their parents want for them is rarely what they eventually want for themselves.

      We go to school to learn the the basic stuff we need to survive in the world. Reading. Writing. Basic arithmetic. Supposedly some history and civics and other stuff. It is not intended to tell us who we are or will be. The deeply puzzled can take a lot of exams that will make suggestions, but no one can tell you. That’s your job. Only yours. Sorry, but as both a child and a parent and grandparent, it’s true. It would be so much easier if we really COULD tell our kids what they should be AND they would listen and agree.

      Fat chance of THAT!


      • We received no encouragement or advice. None. Consequently we ALL ended up doing shit and wasting out skills and talents. That’s not acceptable.


        • I didn’t get any advice from schools either. Nor did Garry. Maybe private schools offer advice like that, but public schools in the U.S. don’t. Some teachers told me I wrote well and others that I could draw, but they weren’t urging me to be a writer or an artist. It was just teachers saying “Good job” to a kid. The only one who gave me advice was my mother — and SHE wanted me to be a teacher — a job in which I was not at all interested.


          • Of course, for me, going to 13 different schools in 3 different countries didn’t help. I guess you could call that kind of an education in itself.


            • I should think that was extremely confusing. Different styles of teaching in all those different locations. No one got to know you well enough to recognize your abilities. I was in the same school from K through 6, only one junior high and high school AND one college from start to finish. I was around long enough to form relationships. It’s hard if you’re always on the move.

              My brother AND sister went to private schools. I think my mother thought of private school as something for kids who were having problems in school and since I didn’t have any noticeable problems, I didn’t get all the fancy education. But I wished I’d had that opportunity. I could have used those advantages. But you know, I did okay anyway.


  2. Well said! I’m glad my grands will be attending private schools because public education is simply getting worse and worse. Not to mention that many of these schools are simply dangerous in various ways. I disagree with the idea that a 10 year old needs to be exposed to drug use and sexual harassment to “learn about life.” Good point also as to what we value as a society. Beauty and sports skills over brains…


    • Most public school aren’t so much a haven of sexuality and drugs as a huge haven for bullying and cruelty — and not only by other students. I was bullied. Owen was bullied. Garry was bullied. Each of us because we were different in some way from the other kids. Too smart, too sensitive, too brown. Different doesn’t fly in the public school arena. However, Owen was also bullied in private schools because a lot of teachers don’t see it as important or they think it’s a “teaching tool.” It isn’t. It’s just cruel.

      When checking out private schools, talking to attending students — without parents and teachers hovering — is a very good idea. Kids won’t talk when adults can hear them. Private schools may be better at the teaching end, but they are not necessarily better at the culture or socialization and depending on the individual school, can be worse.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bullying was a huge issue for me as well. The fact that I was a chubby nerd who was bad at sports drew the meanies like a magnet. However, the main issues for my girls and their peers in public schools were sex and drugs. And it’s worse now, here in SoCal…


        • Around here — remembering we are out in the boonies — bullying is the big one. There’s a fair bit of sex going around and there were always drugs — and there are plenty of drugs in private schools, too — sometimes even more of them because the kids have more money.

          What kids get in private school is a better education. Everything else? It depends on where you live — and how the school is managed AND the quality of the teachers as humans, not just as teachers.

          That really is the most monumental change since I was a kid. A lot of our teachers were very ordinary folks, but we respected them. We even admired them. AND we were taught to do that AT HOME.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that Australian schools also have these standardised tests and although I get what they are trying to do I agree with you that it just means that they are teaching kids to pass tests and that’s all.
    I can remember when I was at school we had teachers who would teach us what we needed to know from the text books but some would go further and initiate discussions and make us think. That was the seventies. I’ve no idea what happens now. I expect there are some good teachers but they don’t get the time or resources and I’m sure that a lot leave for better paying jobs.
    I think you hit the nail on the head with what you said about who American’s admire. I don’t watch a lot of modern movies and I think that is the reason. I can’t just can’t relate to them.


  4. I agree with you Marilyn, but the universities in America are still the best around. My daughter got a PHD from University of Washington and it is 7th in world ranking. But the universities are full of students from all over the world, mostly India, china etc. very few Americans are seen on campus, specially in scientific fields

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, university level, but sadly K-12 is how Marilyn describes, which is why so many American students don’t even qualify for the top universities. It’s sad!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, very true

        Liked by 1 person

      • Private schools provide a better education but they do NOT give youngsters a better “cultural” experience. “Rich kids” are not necessarily the models we want for our children.

        Unfortunately, those are pretty much the choices available. There used to be networks of religious schools that were modestly priced, but there aren’t many of them left. Today, those schools are just as expensive as private non-religious schools, sometimes even MORE expensive.

        The only GOOD answer is to improve public education. Pay teachers more — a salary they can live on. Make the curriculum deal with the reality kids will face. Return FACTS to education. Teach history that’s history, not what we wish had happened. Remove politics and religion — they have no place in schools — and return education to educators who have real-life experience as teachers. Give scholarships to promising youngsters and require them to work as educators for at least a few years while making the job itself better so they won’t hate it. Maybe some of them will like it and will stick around for the long haul.

        Reduce class sizes. Fund libraries in and out of schools. Provide tutoring and education for kids who have learning issues. Give scholarships to young people who WANT to be teachers. Right now, we sneer at education as what kids study if they can’t do anything else. Unsurprisingly, the way we treat teachers doesn’t attract great prospects.

        We need to put real money into education and teachers. We need to show respect for teachers and education in general and make at least 2-year colleges free. I don’t think there IS any other answer.


    • We have some great universities. It’s our public schools that are really bad — and some private schools are just as bad in a different way. Most of the American students in the better colleges come from private schools or were heavily tutored to make up the gap between what is taught and what they need to know. Also, foreign students actually pay tuition while most American students get at least part of the tuition waived, so foreign students make up the bulk of the money schools need to keep going. We’ve effectively shut our OWN students out. Stupid, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Marilyn this is an interesting read, I can’t comment on the US education system, although I read a lot of complaints about it. I have noticed that the popular genres and type of books generally written by US writers compared to UK writers is very different. UK writers focus on family sagas, dramas, social inequality and other issues (I’m thinking Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc), and books about people and their everyday lives. The US books I’ve read (historical and modern) contain a lot more violence and focus on either war or serial killers (I’m thinking DR Koontz, Stephen King, Stephen Crane, Jeff Shaara). There are some famous US books I actually can’t read because I can’t understand them (Slaughter-house Five is an example). Even UK war books are different and seem to focus more on PTSD and the ‘ills’ of war rather than the perceived glory. It is something I have given thought to in the past. Very interesting.


    • It’s cultural. Americans have not grown up. They are still playing mobsters and cops, only with real guns and real cops. It has gotten worse with each passing year and I think technology — especially a lot of video games — has a lot to do with this change.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I think the sub-culture of violent video game inures kids to understanding that in real life, bullets HURT and KILL. When I had my spine fused — 1967 — I was in the hospital for 5 months. After I was out of the real agony of the experience, I talked with my roomies. One of them was a young women — maybe a year older than me (I was 19, she was maybe 20 or 21). He boyfriend had shot her. In the leg. With a very small gun and no, it wasn’t an accident.

          She was very funny. She said “Getting shot isn’t anything like the movies or TV. IT REALLY HURTS! You aren’t getting up on your horse and riding somewhere after you’ve been shot.”

          It was the only person I had known who had physically encountered a bullet. I never forgot it. Bullets HURT. A lot. But games where you are always doing something brutal to other people or other “humanoid” creatures removes the sting of the bullet. I think a lot of kids are shocked when they realize that getting shot HURTS. It doesn’t hurt in games.

          Maybe we should wire games so when you get shot or stabbed in a game, you get shocked by the machine. That would be an interesting development!

          Liked by 1 person

          • HI Marilyn, you are I think very alike. I have had similar thoughts about a shock from the computer. Thanks for sharing that story. There is no doubt in my mind that bullets hurt and kill. We have a very violent culture here in SA too.


            • It’s that leftover British culture. They left a lot of brutality behind. And of course, you have the Boers too and your racial history is as messy as ours. But you know, everywhere the Brits went, they left this kind of race hatred in their wake. Now they act like it never happened, but it definitely HAPPENED. And keeps happening.

              Liked by 1 person

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