I have been going to a American high school for approximately three months and I have the impression that the classes I attend are not satisfactionable. Here we evidently distinguish between better students, who go to ‘honors’ or ‘advanced’ classes and all the others who belong to the lazy folks or are unable to learn for several reasons. Those classes are alled ‘average’ classes. Now, I already arrived a point where the blame game starts. Because someone has to be responsible for the mess in the US school system that overall I do not think appropriately prepares the students for the future. It begins with the uniqueness of the American school system that divides into thousands of school districts all over the country that employs staff, taxes, exercise quasi-judicial power, and even influences housing prices (good school districts have higher housing prices, because many parents plan to live there, because a student is only allowed to go to a school in his own district, however, my cousin is going to another high school miles away from home, which poses an exception). Our system is highly speckled, because every state and every school district somehow has its own rules. Hawaii for example only has one district. New York has both independent school districts and school systems that are subordinate to cities, and so on.
I am not so much into this school system but from what I have seen it is highly unjust and helps explain the neglect of poor performing schools and school districts. But, however, more funding does not necessary translate to better results as Forbes magazine states. The New York Times reported about inefficiencies in the school system. A rich state like Wyoming receives windfall that provides students with laptops (!), while Utah’s schools face severe budget shortfall due to the economic crisis and only receive moderate relief due to the stimulus package.
Clearly the US has developed a school system that encourages laziness and discourages learning. Many teachers in the poor performing classes are not interested in student’s success and some of the teachers are unable to teach, because of their own lack of knowledge or because they can not deal with kids pedagocally. Instead of granting more help to poor performing students because of their deficiencies the school system and the teachers, who are highly demotivated, leave students behind. My good performance is not the result of teacher’s efforts but the opposite. I have to fully rely on myself to advance myself.
Another uniqueness I personally have seen in this school system is the accomplishment of standardized tests, including PSSA I had earlier this month. We dedicated a considerable portion of our periods in preparing for that test, and I believe it is a distraction. It underscores the competitiveness that is needed for the globalized world, but do we really need it? Is this the way how to properly assess student’s performance? Do we make our students brighter by conducting those standardized tests?
Americans have a sense of practicability, and would only focus on things that are urgently necessary to learn. When a student decides to become a nurse, why does he have to understand Boyle’s Law? Well, I know that many of my Austrian school mates would argue the same thing, and Austrian schools still require them to learn everything. Indeed, we do not have use for many things that are beyond our interest, but this is not the purpose of school. In American schools, however, there are certain mandatory courses including Math and English that will facilitate you college credit, but there are many options availabe for students unlike in Austrian or European schools. That helps explain but shall not justify American’s laziness. It also explains their lack of general knowledge that contradicts the democratic purpose of our nation’s forebears. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, once said to John Tyler," I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it." So where is our strength?
Obama has talked about a blueprint for change in America. To name a few goals: the new administration wants to create a zero-to-five-program that provides early childhood education, extend funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, support charter schools, recruit, prepare and reward teachers in case of good performance (my math teacher objected out of fear that the good teachers go to good schools, while the bad teachers to bad schools with students with bad circumstances), and make college more affordable through the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
Obama’s program is- as I expected it- very reasonable and ambitious, yet difficult to enforce, because the speckled school system wth the potential resistance of teachers unions and special interests make it difficult to actually implement change. But we have elected a president who intends to take the great leap. Yes, we can.
I think that Obam understands the difficulty of his task, and he convincingly justifies his struggle, saying "In this global economy, we know the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow." (inefficiencies in the school system) (Quote from Thomas Jefferson)
A very interesting book I am reading is "The Age of American Unreason" by Susan Jacoby, who specifies the issue of public education and its role it plays for the perception of American people: (see page 31-35, the education agenda) (President Obama on education)
Very remarkable is Obama’s message to students responsibility:
Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education. That means showing up for school on time, paying attention in class, seeking out extra tutoring if it’s needed, and staying out of trouble. And to any student who’s watching, I say this: don’t even think about dropping out of school. As I said a couple of weeks ago, dropping out is quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and it is not an option – not anymore. Not when our high school dropout rate has tripled in the past thirty years. Not when high school dropouts earn about half as much as college graduates. And not when Latino students are dropping out faster than just about anyone else. It is time for all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, to come together and solve this epidemic.
[End Quote] (Obama’s weekly address on 3/21/09)

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