by Tammy Drennan
I’ve been trying to get my head around the American attitude about education (and I’m American). I sometimes think that we Americans as a whole have no idea what education is. We believe in school, not education.
We say ridiculous things like, “So-and-so started this thriving business in spite of not having a college education… John Doe, a high school drop-out, is now the CEO of Super Place Markets.” We have people in their 60s and 70s taking GEDs — people who have worked, run businesses, raised children, paid taxes, voted. That’s how insane our attitude about education has become, how insecure we’ve become at the hands of the state — so insecure that after a long and happy and successful life, we can feel there’s a missing piece because our intellectual worth was never endorsed by the government.
This is one of many reasons it’s so important to take back education from the bureaucracy and special interests that have literally stolen it from the people.
Every time I write about education and promise myself I’m going to be subdued and mild, I’m fine until I start reflecting on what I see. I start out with the intention of saying all the right things — most teachers are dedicated, most blah, blah, blah…
There are good people in every field, no matter how corrupted the field has become. Many of them are unwitting victims of the system for which they work. Some are missionaries, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be. But I am saying that it’s so very important for every parent who can to face the truth and make sure their kids really do get an education — because the rest of the world does know what education is and they are increasingly doing it.
I talked to a dad recently whose daughter goes to what is considered a premium, even exclusive public school in my area — one that out-of-district parents pay to send their kids to. He told me the school was in the top 10% academically nationwide. Since I know a lot of kids who go to the school, I thought, “No way.” So I looked up the stats. Only 12% of the schools grads are even considered college-ready.
Our local city council sings the praises of the town’s schools as if they were churning out Harvard scholars, when in fact they are barely churning out factory workers.
The heartbreaking part of all this is that these are smart kids who are being so poorly educated. I tutor very, very smart kids who are struggling with reading and math for no good reason. They have no trouble catching on when I’m working with them, so I have to wonder what’s going on in the classroom, because I can tell you from firsthand experience (25 years of it), it’s not education.
School is what’s being done to American kids, not education. Education is what people do for themselves and what good teachers and schools empower people to do for themselves. If your kids are memorizing stuff for tests, studying math without understanding what they’re doing, accumulating facts long enough to pass to the next grade — someone is schooling them.
On the other hand, if your kids are using math in their daily, non-school lives, if they’re fascinated by the world around them, if they hunger for understanding, if they seek out unassigned knowledge, they’re getting an education.
American kids are every bit as smart as Japanese and Indian and Chinese and Korean and every other kid in the world. The problem is they’re being schooled while so many others are being educated.
So what to do about it? If you can’t get your kids a full education, you can at least make sure they get enough to empower them to further it once they’re out of the system. Spend time teaching them what you know and have learned in life. Teach them. Explore the world with them. Read to them or with them or to each other. Own your lives — own your world — go places, research things, take them with you when you vote, start a class for them and invite their friends, invite interesting people over for dinner and learn from them, take them to work with you, teach them how to own their minds and their time and their lives. You can do it even if you can’t get them out of the system — you can make school a peripheral aspect of their lives and education a primary focus of their lives.
Will it be easy? Of course not. Is it easy for a poor Indian family to walk their kids miles each day to a private school they’re sacrificing every luxury and many necessities to afford? Is it easy for the African woman teaching a handful of children under a big shade tree every day? Is it easy for the Afghan woman setting up schools in refugee camps to teach English and math?
The sacrifice required of American parents to make sure their kids end up educated instead of schooled is so small we should feel embarrassed to even mention it. We should feel more embarrassed to not be doing it.
You might think many parents have no clue that their kids are not getting an education. I suggested as much at the beginning of this article. But the truth is I’ve talked with many thousands and I think almost all of them have a nagging sense of it. It’s not knowledge or understanding of the situation they need so much as the courage and will to do something about it. They really just need to work up a little righteous indignation and take ownership of their kids’ education. I know it’s not easy for many, but that’s not the point. It’s more not easy for parents in third world countries, and they’re doing it.