Posted in Education, Summer Reading, Teaching

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 13: Challenges Facing American Schools

Having just finished The Smartest Kids in the World, I am left with a sense of dissapointment.  I expected and wanted more from this novel.  While the author did explain how three very different countries educate their students, she based everything she said on standardized tests.  Kids are only as smart as their test scores say they are, she seemed to suggest in the book.  I’m not a fan of testing or a national curriculum.  Yes, standards are important, but not at the cost we’re currently paying.  While enacting the Common Core on a national level, we’re getting rid of PBL, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboartion.  That will negatively impact our students in the future when they can’t solve problems or think critically.  What we need is a major overhaul within the education system in America.  We can’t keep putting bandages on the problems and sweeping issues under the rug of humanity.  Our students are failing to develop and grow into creative problem solvers and innovative thinkers.  They are lazy and unenthused.  They are more worried about what someone said about them on social media than they are about how they are doing in school.  This is a problem.  The book never got into America’s problems and how to really fix them.  I was hoping to get more from this book that received rave reviews.  It’s really just a journalist writing about education without the human factor.  It’s bland and dry because she’s not a teacher nor does she have a background in education.  It would be like me trying to write a blog about applied physics.  I know nothing about it and would thus have to base my knowledge on research conducted.  That, however, would not make me an expert in the subject, nor would I come across as a trustworthy source.

Despite this, Amanda Ripley did make a few points that I agree with regarding the dysfunction of America’s educational system:

  1. Sports play too big a role in America, thus taking the focus off of academics and learning.  Our students are so focused on making the team that they forget to read, write, or study.  In American culture, athletes are revered as heroes.  Thus, many kids want to be like them.  So, in their pursuit of athletic prowess, academics and their education fall to the wayside.  This is a problem.  Other countries like Finland and Korea don’t face this challenge because sports are viewed differently.  Getting a great education is more important than making the team.  In order for education to be taken more seriously in our country, we need to change the way sports are marketed.  This is not an easy problem to fix and may never change.
  2. Teacher preparation and colleges in America are not effectively preparing teachers.  Many schools are full of people just looking for a pay check.  Teachers are a special breed and need to be properly trained.  But first, they have to want to be teachers.  Becoming a teacher is too easy in America.  It needs to be more challenging, and then, only those dedicated individuals will purse the career of teaching.  This will weed out those incompetent people looking for an easy job.  The old adage of those who can’t do, teach is so ingrained within our culture that teachers aren’t respected anymore.  Government officials and parents blame teachers for the problems facing our students.  While that is partly true, if teachers were shown more respect and trained accordingly, perhaps it wouldn’t be a truth.  
  3. Rigor is lacking in many American schools.  School is easy and passing grades are given out like candy.  What does an A even mean anymore?  Classes and school need to be more challenging in order to prepare our children to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and change makers.  Worksheets and textbooks aren’t necessarily the way to do this.  Rigor can take many faces, but it starts with engaging and challenging students.  We, as teachers, need to make our classes and schools more rigorous so that students don’t continue to graduate so easily and feel so entitled.  The world owes people nothing.

So, I guess, I did get a little something from this novel.  However, it mostly made me angry.  If people in power are reading this text thinking that smartness can only be measured by a test, I’m worried for our future.  While I enjoyed reading the novels 1984 and The Giver, I’m not prepared to live in a dystopian society in which everyone is prepared in the same manner.  We need to embrace differences and captalize on them in the classroom if we want to change the world, educationally speaking.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 13: Challenges Facing American Schools

  1. Do we have normed measurements other than standardized tests? How else can we compare in the situation of this book? I felt like I wanted more evidence too, but if we are comparing then don’t we need a normed standard, i.e. standardized tests?

    1. Why do we need to compare? Why can’t each country do its own thing with the end result always being to effectively educate our children? When we compare, we are acting like the adults the Little Prince refers to in the children’s story of the same name. Why must adults always quantify things? Why can’t we just be individuals? Sure, I’m all for learning from others, which is why I read and attend conferences, but I don’t find myself comparing or feel compelled to compare myself or my teaching to anyone else. There are different ways to do everything, which is what we try to teach our students. So, why can’t we just embrace the differences. Information can be information or data without being a way to say I’m better than you or you’re taller than him.

      1. Ah, I see your point. To me, I see the comparison not as how much better one is than another, but an are we where we should be measure? Where can we learn from other, and where can we teach others?

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