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On education: What I know for sure

How do we navigate a constantly-evolving educational landscape in America today?

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On education: What I know for sure

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Education in the United States has been at the forefront of political debate for decades.

Today, it is more prevalent—and important than ever before. When a child is brought into this world and further, born into this nation—whether it be your own or not—it is sought after and desired that the child will go on to obtain great success on all fronts. In all fields. In all pursuits.  

The foundation by which all things are made possible is that of education.

Ranging from what may be deemed to be complex items such as logistical skills, or mathematics—to areas of skill concerning language and literature—even striving to obtain the expertise to explore and master the society and world in which we all live. Yet, a disconnect lies within.

For decades, ameliorating the rule of education has longed  to rupture the system from within, and start anew. The strife for success, hitting bumps with every renewed attempt, as educators and regulators alike scramble to find the key to revolution. One that begins with a transformation in the manner of which we view the field. One that begins with great change in the very culture that besieges us on the daily.  

In today’s world, it is arguably all the more important than in years past to stand awake and attentive to the happenings within and around our everyday lives.

From political movement both local and at large; to the issues ranging from taxation to education: the effects touching both you and I on a degree most fall ignorant to. We, as a society, are quick to draw a line in the sand and cement ourselves into the very ground on which we stand once we have formed conclusions and shaped mindsets concerning current affairs and quarrel at the forefront of discussion today. Our nation is badly bruised and our foundation is shaken. It is seen day in and day out in our nation’s living rooms, restaurants, bars, subway stations, at the ballot box—and especially—in our schools.

We are failing to cover any ground that may allow us to stride onward as a united party in any incarnation. What I wish for the major concentration of this dialogue to consist of is the future of education. Moreover, accompanied with the understanding that change on scales both large and small, does not begin with major reform efforts or initiatives within the institution itself, nor does it find cessation on this premise.

If one was to examine the trends within education across the globe, the times have changed on a drastic level. In 2009, according to Pew Research Center, the United States was ranked eighteenth out of thirty-six nations worldwide in education. 

Moreover, CNN’s Heather Long indicates inequality across the nation is at a staggering high—as well as the current state of political divisiveness and polarization on the important issues facing our union today. We are stuck in a rut on all fronts due to lack of agreement and failure to compromise on the issues that demand our attention and concern presently.

Analysis confirms that education has led us further into the abyss of inequality.

In their annual publication, The Reference Shelf explores contemporary issues concerning education and calls attention to the distribution of funding throughout the institution. Funds received and circulated are derived from local tax revenues, and within lies a deepening course of disparity. The report also notes, “The effects of these disadvantages are also generational and insidious.”

Atop of a single-generation disadvantage on the front of economic allowance and school holdings, the lasting effects of this detriment has consequences that span many generations: “Parents who themselves are under-educated and underemployed are concentrated in poor districts where the schools are under-served, producing generations who are similarly under-educated and more likely to become underemployed,” This variation of inequality further intensifies the educational divide commonly referred to as the achievement gap. Something Former President Barack Obama spoke of to a group of students in Washington, D.C. regarding the United States’ recent decline in education:

. . . we started getting outpaced when it came to math and science education. And African American and Latino students, in part because of the legacy of discrimination, too often lagged behind our white classmates. . . For too many students in America, zip code still determines how far they’ll go. And that’s not acceptable.

What Obama and so many others speak of in regards to this achievement gap is a topic of discussion that has shown to be a defining flaw in our nation’s tradition of educational culture for decades—and something that must first come of the society in which we live. As Garrison Walters, the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs with the Ohio Board of Regents expresses in his dissertation surrounding educational success and surrounding culture, “The curriculum, instruction, and services we provide in schools, colleges, and universities matter a lot, but if we continue to ignore our students’ ‘surrounding culture,’ progress toward a more educated nation will continue to be disappointing.” 

The first step is not education reform, rather, a cultural reform—and it begins with us. In every action.

The way in which we live our everyday lives, through the decisions we make at the ballot box, and how we give back, this new-wave of innovation begins from the inside. You and I, striving for equality not just on an economic level, but across our cities and towns where this wave of unfairness currently exists and has progressively worsened for years. Education is not a partisan issue. It is a human issue. It touches the soul of our society.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the objective of education in a 1947 disquisition explaining, “Education must. . . train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking,” a task our federal and state governments—along with our schools and teachers have been attempting to conquer since the first modern day venture for reform by the Reagan administration in 1983.

An initiative entitled A Nation at Risk that intended to address the evolving landscape in education by investing as, “required for success in the ‘information age’ we are entering.” Yet, a flaw—and with time still moving onward—a failure. A failure that consisted of the issues I have mentioned here today. One that ignored our students’ surrounding culture. As Garrison Walters notes in regard to A Nation at Risk: “. . . we’ve assumed that the problem was in the schools. . . instead of ‘How can we fix the schools and colleges?’ we should have asked, ‘How can we strengthen the intellectual capacity of the population?” 

And thus, we moved onward. A gap in performance still present—and still growing. In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted under Former President George W. Bush.

Image result for no child left behind

The legislation stated in part that “. . . states are required to test students in reading and math in grades 3–8 and once in high school. All students are expected to meet or exceed state standards in reading and math by 2014.” Aside from standardized testing, the law reached to explore improvements in “economically disadvantaged areas.” In what was deemed a flagship federal program, Title I was introduced: “Too often, these students do not receive the educational foundation they need to achieve their full potential in school or in life,” An action directed at lowering the cost of school lunches for poverty-stricken students. In a step away from past attempts for improvement, the No Child Left Behind Act acknowledged the gap observed in our nation’s schooling institutions, nevertheless, it still fell short in tackling the matter of cultural reform on a comprehensive level.

In 2017, under intense scrutiny, billionaire charter school advocate Betsy DeVos took the oath of office as the eleventh Secretary of Education under the Trump administration. In October of 2017, DeVos outlined her department’s vision for American education in 2017.

Image result for betsy devos

A large priority aimed at: “Increasing the proportion of students with access to educational choice.”

Additionally, DeVos’s administration is setting a focus on “Improving collaboration between education providers and employers to ensure student learning objectives are aligned with the skills or knowledge required for employment in an in-demand industry sector or occupation,”

The gap remains even still as critics of DeVos, such as The Huffington Post indicates: “DeVos stands with scoundrels, not students.”

This current step-back in the department’s perspective of a step forward in education accompanied with the ignorance of culture and differences facing our schools and their children. Furthermore, the fickleness that halts us from instilling the change that may allow us to progress along both in education—and as a nation.

So, where do we go? What do we do now?—Who do we call?

“The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”

The words of the great author and poet, James Baldwin. Still alive and with us today—maybe even more so than they were then. Now we frantically scour, embodied with uncertainty, in hunt that seems to lack end. On the journey for a more perfect system to educate our children. With all governing attempts—all efforts to burst the bubble lagging around us, even in this very moment.

The vision for excellence, still placed before us—and as I mentioned earlier—it is up to us—to grasp it and run farther than those who have attempted before.

One day I may have children and I want nothing more than for them than a magnificent education. Because with education, all things are possible. I want them to grow up in a world—in a nation—that will allow for their dreams to be realized. A nation that will seek to assist them in transforming themselves into whatever their greatest hopes, aspirations, and longings shape out to be. Additionally, the support of an educational system that will build and carry them to success. One that selects the best teachers and holds them accountable for instructing curricula that embodies creative content by challenging students through logistical and problem solving abilities. Curriculum that fits each individual child to seek out their interests and lead them to success.

As Sir Ken Robinson noted in his 2006 TED Talk, “Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. . . . At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts,” speaking to the transformation of the world seen today in education, Robinson shares an instance of dreamed pursuit and one of education’s fatal flaws:

“. . . you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things that you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. . . . Benign advice—now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in revolution. . . . the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued”

Advancing forward, once we have attained a culture that highly values education and provides opportunistic levels for all children, regardless of what zip code in which they may live or where their interests lie, to allow them to become successful learners—we must then turn inward. To reevaluate what we teach, along with the methodology in which we use to instruct that material. To adapt learning and instruction to what Robinson characterizes as the three truths to intelligence: “One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually. . . we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic…”

Robinson then illustrates the art of creativity, and the distinct nature of intelligence. The item he describes as the third truth, “. . . creativity—which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value. . . comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”

If we wish to progress on any level, we must keep these elements in mind. An administration both in Washington and in our schools that grants these measures to take effect is also imperative. We must empower our children. To foster and enable their innovative yearnings so that they may bring about change of their own.  

What I know for sure is that we can.

And with the correct approach—fueled by the correct intention, we will forever change education in the United States as we know it.

The world looks to us as a nation that leads change. It is now time for us to move forward. To showcase our renewed blueprint for educational approaches and culture to the world. A transformation of consciousness surrounding the institution of education will allow for us to give new hope to the dream of a more perfect union and place the new great steps of change for many, if not all, to follow. Ones that may change the world.

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On education: What I know for sure