America’s public education system requires an extreme overhaul. The damage done by No Child Left Behind has been extensive, and is obvious to me even from the outside. My observations have been confirmed by several friends who are actually in the profession of teaching. The quality of public education, however, leaves me baffled. History is taught selectively, English is taught only for technical purposes and thus without a true love for the language, and math and the sciences reign supreme.
As I’m looking at doctoral programs and preparing to take the GRE, I’m abruptly struck by just how little math I actually remember. I’m also struck by the inaccuracy of every teacher through my early college years who claimed that I would use these skills every day of my life. I’m scratching my head as to why, with technology available to take care of things like balancing our checkbooks and calculating tips and splitting tax on receipts (the only things I use math for as a someone who is not a scientist or engineer), that such enormous emphasis is placed on numbers.
Yet, our students are required to become proficient in mathematics that at least half of them won’t have any constructive use for after college, and the sciences…well, all must fall before the altar of science, as it has become the new religion.
What leaves me bemused here is the gradual shift, based on a desperation to be competitive in the industrial world, to worship the “how” while ignoring the “why.” I’m not saying that math and the sciences aren’t important, they certainly are. They are important because they explain how things work, and give us a greater insight into the functions of our own bodies, our own psyches, our environment. They provide avenues for creativity by which new ways to master our environment are invented.
They stop, however, at the “how.”
As to the “why,” that is answered by the disciplines that are relegated to the background and barely given any educational attention because they don’t make money or produce industrialized goods. “Why” is for the realms of spirituality, the arts, and philosophy. These are the disciplines we at best tolerate as necessary for those unscientifically gifted, and at worst (in the case of spirituality) condemn as living in an unquantifiable fairy-land. More frequently we give those dedicated few who choose to seriously pursue these disciplines a nod of appreciation, and look forward to consuming the entertainment value of their work and study, while the rest of the world goes about the “important” work of furthering our industrialized progress.
In worshipping the “how” in this way, we’ve all but forgotten the “why.” We’ve replaced our search and innate desire to find the “why” with the material goods and so-called progress that our industrialized ventures yield, and believe them to be the “why,” failing to see that this industrialized obsession is exactly that which has cost us our ability to perceive the value of humanity.
Still, progress must be made, and so the “how” continues to be emphasized in educational reform legislation. The banner flying above the political slogans for educational reform invariably includes technology, math, and science, so that our students will grow to adulthood with the ability to solve complex calculus and apply it to engineering problems successfully, while being illiterate to Faulkner or Steinbeck or Salinger, and being unable to recognize the purpose of valuing poetry instead of technical manuals. As such, history will become suddenly malleable, able to be re-written with each new textbook revision because those who are well-read enough to know the difference will be such a small minority of a voice.
The past will be whatever they say it was, and we’ll be reduced to robots that are valued only for what we produce, not for who we are.
Oh, wait. We’re already there.