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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • April 6, 2015 in Columnists

    My ‘humble’ suggestion to fix the entire U.S. education system

    Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
    Carl Sagan

    I’ve been a mom for almost 40 years and I was a student for a long time before that, plus my father was the anthropology professor son of anthropology professors, so I know a thing or two about education and the U.S. system. I’ve got to tell you, it’s enormously embarrassing that our children are struggling the way they are. It’s also no surprise that children from countries with far less money to spend on education are doing way, way better than ours.

    There’s no excuse for this, but there are plenty of reasons.

    Here are my probably-not-so-humble suggestions for fixing the situation:

    • Stop funding schools locally. All school funding goes into one national fund and gets dispersed evenly. No more inferior schools. No more superior schools. No more schools struggling just to get books when others have state-of-the-art equipment and the best teachers anywhere. If rich districts want better schools, perhaps they’ll work harder to improve the entire system.
    • Study other countries whose systems are superior to ours and take the best of what they do. Finland comes to mind for the amazing results they get allowing children to literally wallow in their thirst for knowledge. They also understand the profound connection children have with nature and that kids honestly can’t sit still for that long and stay sane. I would add a dollop of Japan without the extreme stress. Kids do actually need to understand there is some need for discipline and that not all tasks are going to be entertaining. Some boring stuff just needs to be done because it really is that important.
    • We need to acknowledge also that different kiddos need different ways of learning. Some are studiers. Some are kinetic. Some need concrete demonstration. Some need theory. Create different classrooms for different learning styles and honor kids’ needs. While kids need to understand (I say once more) that some things just need to get done, like them or not, why not play to their strengths rather than belabor their weaknesses?
    • All schools need to include a foreign language from kindergarten on. The entire world holds us in contempt because we are monolingual – many Europeans speak as many as nine languages or more. We’re the only ones who proudly speak only one, and often, badly. Not only does it hamper our status as citizens of the world, it sends a clear statement that we’re cultural centrists who think we’re better than everybody else. In addition, the brains of kids who learn a language young have acquired the skill of learning languages – I learned Dutch at four and a half, and while I’ve lost that due to having nobody with whom to speak it, I now speak six others, three of them well. It’s also been my experience that you cannot understand a culture without speaking at least some of its language and we need all the intercultural understanding we can get.
    • We need to include ethics and character in the curriculum. Some religious people will protest that this belongs in the home, but I’ve found you can’t count on that, plus the basics of both are independent of religion. Doing right because it’s right, being kind, being honest, taking care of the earth, being good to each other – these aren’t religious based. Mind you, teaching kids to think for themselves might be a bit challenging for parents of some more restrictive faiths, but their illusion that their kids won’t already do that is nothing more than an illusion anyway. I taught my children to question everything, because if they have a question about something, it’s probably important to take a look at it– and isn’t that what this world needs anyway?
    • We need to stop teaching to tests. Teaching to tests is not teaching – it’s an abomination. It’s like programming little robots to mop floors and to mop floors only when they have the capacity to solve the mysteries of the universe. It’s an insult to children and it leaves them only partly educated.
    • We also need to stop ham-stringing good teachers. I know a truly unfortunate number of excellent teachers who quit out of sheer frustration. They either have to teach to achieve test scores, or they’re governed by a school administration that runs things like a gulag. We need to pay them a living wage, too. They work millions of unpaid hours and they spend their own money when the schools can’t or won’t. This is a loud and clear message to the best and the brightest – don’t become a teacher, because it’s a fool’s errand and you’ll wind up retiring in a tenement.
    • Abusive teachers need to be outed and ousted. There are far too many of them. We had plenty and I remember the breathless terror as I awaited news of who I would have – and be unable to escape – for a full nine months. If a teacher is abusive, there needs to be a fair system for their rehabilitation or ouster. Some are just burned out – get them help. Some are bullies and need to be removed.
    • Bullying needs to be treated like the crime it is, but we need to help the bullies rather than demonize them. It can’t be tolerated, but it’s important to remember that bullies are also children and they are deeply harmed by it, too. Statistics about the future of bullies are grim. Schools need to stop just jawing about it while protecting their statistics by sweeping incidents under their massive rugs and actually make good on their promises of zero tolerance.
    • Finally, we need to take a page from the books of Germany and other European countries and make higher education free or extremely low cost. The price of having an uneducated populace is a high one. It keeps people so ignorant that the power hungry and corrupt can easily convince them to support that which would destroy them. It also creates a desperate underclass that will take any job under any condition for any wage just to keep from starving to death. Civilizations have foundered that way.

    This much, overall, is the biggest truth – our children really are our future. They are inheriting a world in trouble and we need to prepare them as much as humanly possible. The last thing we need are a bunch of little hive minds who cannot think for themselves and have no concept of ethics. We need them at their peak – kind, smart, educated. We’re getting old and we’ll be in their hands. Don’t we want those to be the most capable hands possible?

    • I agree, But I think the money is all pooled together in the LAUSD and more money even given to low income schools with extra programming and food programs. Unfortunately since more affluent schools are not given any extras because the students supposedly have everything they need, parents band together at these schools to increase everything you mentioned. They become charter schools and because money talks they improve their own schools with their own money. I don’t fault them for that at all. With LAUSD they are too big and the real problem is teaching to tests and no child left behind etc. I understand all your other issues and totally agree but sometimes to get a better education in public school you still need to spend some of your own money. At my grandkids charter school they charge each family $900 to try and have the music, sports, art programs and computers. There are many who don’t pay and then those who have more pay more and everyone benefits. Also, there are ways to help schools raise money even when it is not coming from the parents’ pockets. Schools get corporate sponsors and I really think the quality of the teachers is the answer too. Plus I still am old school and I think the parents should be held accountable to be involved. Even if you work full time (as I did when my kids went to school), I still volunteered for so many things that didn’t hinder my full time job. There are no easy answers and until USA values education we are on the losing end.

      • Maya North

      • April 6, 2015 at 4:24 pm
      • Reply

      The problem with the whole “spend some of your own money” business is that this throws many families into crisis. When my stepdaughter was in high school — my daughter opted out and pretty much straight to college due to vicious bullying the administration did nothing about — there were enormous fees for this, that and the other thing and the kid couldn’t participate in all sorts or ordinary school activities unless they were paid and immediately. Fortunately, I was no longer in the position I had been because it wasn’t just me — otherwise it would have been a real emergency. When I was a dead-poor mom, that would have been me starving — again. Also, as a single mom in yet another abusive work situation I could not afford to leave, when my daughter was in school, I was so exhausted after work that I did not have the energy to volunteer — I was drowning as it was. The final analysis is that we as a nation pay lip service to valuing education and our children, but the practical reality says otherwise.

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