Declining American Education

Now that there are no quickly escalating international or domestic crises to report, the media has come around once again to discuss our declining education system.  But this is commonplace in the show business of entertainment news, is it not? So as a recent ‘finished product’ of the American education system, I feel as though I have a valid right and proper experience within the system to discuss such a topic.

A report was issued yesterday documenting our nation’s educational decline based on a global survey of test scores in various subject material – Reading, Math, Science, etc.  If you’ve even so much glanced at a television screen within the past few years, you know this is nothing new. I admit, I have not looked into or specifically researched how these scores were gathered and compounded into statistical data or what kind of testing this report is actually based on (probably standardized), but in any case I do not believe that matters because either way you slice the pie, I believe the problem is the same.

In reaction to this report, US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is quoted as saying in this NBC article, “We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators”. As a public high school and liberal arts college graduate, I have to say I only agree with the first point, “We must invest in early education”. Yes we must, but in a different way than implied here. Not to literally invest with dollars, but mentally invest with a cultivated, genuine, authentic interest in learning, reinforced by a foundation of positive pop culture – A foundation which our nation desperately lacks. The rest of the Duncan’s quote is representative of a flawed thinking that plagues most American adults approximately aged 40+.

With all due respect, individuals who tend to hold nostalgic views towards how the US educational system ‘used to be’ when compared to other countries need to drop their sentimentalism and focus on the now.  In this case, the past does not hold the answers for you.  The solutions you seek cannot be solved by pouring more money into a program that is already receiving more funding than the countries who have come out ahead of us this report, namely China and Japan (Morning Joe. Msnbc. New York. 3 Dec. 2013. Television).  You want to know what is really wrong with American education?  Lack of interest. Kids don’t care anymore! They haven’t for a while now. It’s that simple. Not only have I bore witness to this sobering fact but I have also personally experienced it within myself during my years being a part of this broken system.

I don’t mean to sound like teenage killjoy but it’s 2013 and we have to start thinking progressively in order to save the human race from its rapidly approaching downward spiral towards self-annihilation. Let’s talk about parents for a minute because that’s once facet of where the education conversation tends to end up. Okay, parents.  Facebook-using, iPhone-addicted, Candy Crush-playing, Words With Friends-attached parents.  Not saying parents don’t deserve a break every once in awhile. Sure it’s nice to unwind with a little social networking/game playing BS at the end of the day. Who doesn’t? But think about what your kids are learning from this behavior. These technological distractions that are totally within the realm of social acceptance are now the new drug of today. If parents are not neglecting their children with it, they are giving it to their children to calm them down and shut them up.  Hello, Huxley. Hello, Brave New World and behold our Soma of today! If we grew up as a society regularly drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, snorting cocaine, or injecting morphine from childhood how would our test scores be then? Think I’m overreacting? How long have you been on the computer or your phone before reading this? How long will you continue to be on until you turn away from it, because we don’t even shut things off anymore.  Technology can be used as a very positive thing, don’t get me wrong. But it is how and how frequently we are using it that is in my opinion, frightening.

Our youngest generation is submerged in a whirlwind of technology, entertainment, and instant gratification. They’re drowning and they don’t even know it. We are too and until we accept the fact that we are drowning, we cannot help those who already are. This problem is as much personal and individual as it is national. Because what Secretary Arne Duncan suggests: “raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators”, it won’t do us any good. Raise academic standards? So that everyone fails even harder? Make college affordable? So more kids can get in to escape their parents an drink copious amounts of alcohol and still get their degree? Recruit and retain top-notch educators? Well, if the kids don’t want to learn in the first place how the hell is that going to help you?

My generation is apathetic, self-centered, and self-destructive.  We drool for hours watching Jersey ShoreReal Housewives, and Tosh.0 which offer no ideals, no philosophic inquiries, suggest no introspection, evoke no emotion rather than spend any time watching things like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, any episode from any Star Trek series, or even 5 minutes of current events on the news. We fuck around on Buzzfeed for hours, Instagram our food, Facebook our daily schedules, and tweet celebrities we know will never tweet us back. We listen to Top40 radio as we aimlessly drive around in our parents’ cars wasting gas. We’re living on our own though we can’t afford it and we drink to excess every Friday and Saturday. We’re running from something but couldn’t tell you even in our highly inebriated state what the hell we’re actually running from. Well, fucking around on Buzzfeed won’t cure cancer, Instagramming food won’t make you more self-aware, Facebooking your daily routine won’t write that paper for you, and tweeting your celebrities begging for a follow just wasted 5 seconds of your life and at least an hour’s worth of self-inflicted sadness that you’ll never be able to figure what it’s from.

We need to scrap the dated national school system we’re in and start focusing on improving everything around us because as long as our education placement ranking declines and crumbles, so will the world around us. We need to find something to care about.  Because what happens once your iPhone battery dies and there’s a power outage? Then there’s nothing but you and yourself and maybe your books if you haven’t forgotten how to read. We are human beings. We are the most advanced species on our planet.  How can we let it come to this? How can we let it come to steady decline when we have already gotten so far? Tap into the history of founding fathers. Tap into the history of the Roman Empire, the Egyptians. Read about Indian philosophy and thought. Come to realize that all the wars ever fought were for nothing and that every book ever written and every discovery made throughout the course of time was paramount to the development of the human race. And now the torch is within our grasp.  We must carry it forward, not extinguish it out of ignorance and carelessness.

Now that world has all been discovered and we have no place left to go but the stars we need to unite, put aside our differences, and embrace our mind for what it’s worth.  Learn something worth learning, teach something worth teaching. Your iPhone does not hold the answers for you. It is the embodiment of marketing, fulfilling a need you didn’t know you had because it does not exist. It is a want and it is unnecessary. Education is necessary. How else are we to move ourselves forward if we’re surrounded by apathy and degradation? Yesterday, a high school freshman on Facebook posted a status that read, “dear board of education, so are we”. And my inward reply, “How sad,”. But here my outward reply is, “So what can we do to fix that?”

Let’s do something meaningful. Let’s accomplish great things. Otherwise, why not kill ourselves now? Why wait?