American Education

There's a big problem in America's public schools, and it's not the teachers. This big problem may be perpetuated by some teachers, but it's more often caused by parents, students themselves, the media and most of the general population. The big problem is obvious when you look at our society objectively. The big problem is that American kids aren't being encouraged to learn.

When compared to the results in other countries, an American education is mediocre at best. Government programs such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are designed to improve the education system, but it has had mixed success, and each year more schools are unable to meet the program's testing criteria.

When looking for ways to improve the public education system, most people seem to forget that learning begins at home. Having parents involved in their kids' education is important, but that concept means much more than encouraging kids to do their homework, study or bring home good grades.

Spend any time with a toddler and you will quickly realize that "Why?" is a favorite question. Kids are born inquisitive. They want to see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything around them. They want to know how things happen and why they happen.

Unfortunately, their thirst for knowledge is more than many busy parents are prepared to handle. Inquisitive kids are often shooed away, yelled at or simply ignored. Even adults who answer the first few "whys" frequently run out of patience and tend to fall back on old standards like "because I said so."

As parents, and as people in general, we are not taught how to handle "whys," especially when they come from children. As adults, we expect to have the answers and may be annoyed when we do not. We tend to think that the response to a "why" should be a solid answer, when a better response may actually be another question.

When a child asks "why," there are many alternatives to giving the answer. Two great questions to ask in return are: "Why do you think?" or "Where can we look that up?" When you guide your child to find his own answer, or you look up the answers together, you are encouraging him to learn. You are also showing him that you value learning and finding answers to interesting questions. In short, you encourage your child to think.*

What's most frustrating about the approach of No Child Left Behind is that it has moved our schools more toward producing students who can do well on standardized tests, than toward encouraging students to learn or think for themselves. In order to meet the NCLB standards (which are tied to funding), teachers are often forced to follow a set curriculum rather than have the flexibility to engage their students with methods that they find most appropriate.

And now, as politicians struggle to cut spending and reduce the deficit, public school teachers have become the American education system's scapegoats. If students are not performing well on standardized tests, then it must be the teacher's fault.

Instead of focusing on the "shortcomings" of the teachers, perhaps we should look at the actual problems of the students--problems which are often rooted in such basic experiences as being taught to stop asking "why."

The attitude toward education in our country is beyond poor. Everywhere they look, kids see messages that say school is "lame," "boring," "stupid," "pointless," or just plain "uncool." They are told not to ask questions, because their parents are too busy, tired or unprepared to encourage their inquisitive natures. They are taught to accept "because I said so" as a legitimate answer and stop thinking outside of any given answer.

Just as images of stick-figure celebrities and air-brushed magazine covers encourage eating disorders in young girls, the general anti-school message in our society teaches kids to reject learning. Our society teaches kids to look up to actors, rock stars, rappers and athletes. While there is nothing wrong with idolizing these celebrities, how many kids can name a role model who is a scientist, mathematician, artist or writer?

Before we blame poor education on our teachers, we should take responsibility for the attitude toward learning that we instill in our kids. Teachers can only teach when students are willing to learn. While many good teachers are adept at reaching their students, the burden cannot be on them alone.

As adults, we say that we want our kids to have a good education, but do we really?

* There are many resources to help parents encourage critical thinking in their children. One great book is Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief, by Dale McGowan.


  1. Do you really want to know what is wrong with the American education system? It’s the parents, and the conditions which exist in the homes of the children. The parents have roughly 5-6 years to mold the values, curiosity, personalities, and attitudes of the children. More parents are disillusioned, have more economic difficulties to address personally, and thus do not have as much energy or time as parents in the past to deal with the issues affecting their children. People change when they are sufficiently motivated to change. With so many unmotivated parents out there, why should we expect the kids to be motivated? By the time they reach grade school, they are complicated human beings and the education professionals are faced with major challenges.

  2. American education has been described in the post here. Have a look at it