Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Are U.S. Schools Mediocre? Ask the Kids | Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. | Living Resources Center

Why Are U.S. Schools Mediocre? Ask the Kids | Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. | Living Resources Center

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This is not news: America does pretty badly when it goes up against other countries academically.

This is true even if we take it one state at a time—no single
state, no matter how wealthy or small, matches the top scoring
countries. And yet, the U.S. spends more per student than many other
countries in the world.

Reporter Amanda Ripley wanted to figure out why U.S. education outcomes are so mediocre.

Ripley reasoned that kids spend more time in school than anyone.
They’ve got strong opinions about school. They have opinions on what is

She talked to the only students who could have firsthand
knowledge of the differences between schools in top-performing countries
and those in the U.S.: American kids who were exchange students in
those countries.

She surveyed hundreds of exchange students and found three major points that they all agreed on.

The students all said that in their host countries:

School is harder. There’s less homework
but the material is more rigorous. People take education more
seriously, from selecting the content to selecting the teachers.

Sports are just a hobby. In the U.S., sports are a huge distraction from the business of school, but that’s not the case in other countries.

Kids believe there’s something in it for them.
The students in other countries deeply believe that what they are doing
in school affects how interesting their lives were going to be. Even if
they don’t like a class, they see their education as a stepping stone
to their future.

This all strikes me as entirely plausible.

Whenever I ask school-aged children or teens about their opinions of
school (almost always public school), the answers are like this: “The
teachers teach to the tests;” or, “It’s all about the annual tests, and
keeping those scores up for the school.” A few students have even told
me, “My teacher says we have to do well on this test, to make the school
look good and make sure we get more funding next year from the federal

People can be incredibly naive. The unquestioned assumption is that
public schools are not merely a moral and political right; they are also
the only and best way to educate children.


I don’t think anyone has much of an answer. To question the efficacy
and necessity of public schools is probably more shocking, and more
radical, than questioning the position of the sun or moon in the sky, or
the roundness of the earth.

If people could answer this question coherently, they probably would
say something like: “Public schools are only concerned with education.
Private or for-profit schools must worry about making a profit, pleasing
customers, and the like. That’s not education.”

Of course, if this is true, then why are public schools much more
mediocre than most private schools? Why must public schools teach to the
tests, for the sake of funding, if public schools are not about money —
and only about education?

Why is private money automatically and always bad and wrong, while government money — ultimately taken from private hands — is automatically and always good and right?

And if all these assumptions are true, then how do you explain the
state of public schools? They should be 100 times better than the
typical private school. Yet the elected officials and leaders who argue
most strenuously for public schools are the very ones (virtually without
exception) who send their children to private schools, from President
Obama on down.

The issue is even deeper than public vs. private. The reason public
schools go unquestioned is because of the widespread ignorance and
naiveté that exists about education — which, in turn, results from
widespread ignorance about the nature of the human mind itself.

In today’s world, the human mind is either denigrated or taken for
granted. Yet the reasoning, thinking, functioning human mind is the only
thing that makes anything possible — particularly the great innovations
or discoveries in science and business that most of us take for

Reason makes everything worthwhile and distinctively human and
civilized possible. Reason is our tool and means of survival. It’s the
most sacred thing about human beings — along with physical health, if
not more so, because without the tool of reason, advances and
discoveries in medical science (or clean water, or electricity, or
anything else) could not be made.

We tend to assume that if we throw enough money at education, then
that will make minds brighter and smarter. Yet we continue to elect
leaders who condemn money as the root of all evil. Why so much trust and
faith in money as the sole solution to a problem when most of us claim
to hate money?

Interestingly enough, more money is not helping education one bit.
More money is thrown at public schools every year. Things stay mediocre,
and in some spots, it gets even worse. What gets the blame? Not
spending enough money. There’s no end in sight to the spending on

The same mistaken mentality can be applied to private schools.
Well-off parents might assume that by spending tens of thousands of
dollars a year on education rather than only hundreds or thousands, or
even nothing, they’re necessarily doing better. “I’ve spent all this
money, so my conscience is clear.” But it’s not necessarily so. If
parents have no involvement with their child’s education, they’re
trusting that teachers and schools are doing the job solely because they
spend a lot of money.

When I say parents need “involvement” with their kids’ education, I
don’t mean things like screaming at their elected leaders to throw more
money at the problem; or cajoling or threatening teachers and coaches to
do things aimed at making their child look better. I mean actually
being involved with their childrens’ minds and brains, not just with
book learning but in all the affairs of daily life. I mean coaching and
teaching and challenging their children to learn how to reason, think,
read, speculate, investigate and hypothesize. “Why do you think that?
What do you think will happen if you do such-and-such? What made you
reach that conclusion, and why? Are there other facts that contradict
this conclusion or attitude?” Or how about reading a book and then
discussing it afterwards? How about requiring alternatives to the
computer games, and putting time aside for discussions about other

Thinking should be a part of a child’s everyday life. To ensure this,
thinking ought to be a part of every family’s life. Leaving it all to
schools is a big mistake, especially given the low quality of most

Mediocre or even bad schools cannot excuse away the benefit or need
of parents to be engaged with their children’s minds in this way.
Trillions of dollars in tax funds thrown at the monolithic and
bureaucratic U.S. Department of Education won’t replace this need, nor
manufacture its alternative. Government-run schools are less equipped to
do this than just about any other entity. Nor will tens of thousands of
dollars thrown at expensive private schools — even good ones — wipe out
a parent’s basic responsibility to engage with the mind (intellect,
feelings, ideas) of his or her child on a regular basis.

This is the reason why so many American students are not getting the
idea that education is important: Because their parents do not treat it
as important. They treat it as a requirement, or a fact of life, maybe.
“You’ve got to go to school. Everyone goes to school. Shut up and do
it.” But why? What does education matter? Why should it be more
important than the Internet, or video games, or sports events? If
children got this answer from their parents, the mediocre schools would
not be so damaging. From what I’ve seen, I wonder if some parents don’t
think that education or thinking is actually less important than the
Internet, sports or recreation themselves.

And let’s be real: public school teachers work for the government,
more than for the students. In the end, even the most dedicated of
teachers — the kind devoted to the enlightenment of the human mind as a
career passion — must get his or her paycheck signed by the government.
The federal government, more than ever, mandates that politically
favorable ideas must trump science. (Environmentalist dogma, politically
correct dogma, pro-Muslim dogma — we all know the drill.) Much is made
of how government tramples on religion, and that’s certainly true —
because trampling is what government does. It’s what you want
government to do, when up against a terrorist, a rapist, a murderer or a
fraud. But government also tramples on the rational enlightenment of
young minds, the parts of the mind which need reason, logic, and facts
for intellectual nourishment and ultimately self-esteem and confidence.

Are you surprised that most kids don’t think there’s something in
education for them? I’m not. Because the overriding attitude in our
culture, from what I observe, involves a failure to recognize the
paramount importance of reason and thought in all the affairs of daily
life, to say nothing of advancements in science and technology.

If you want schools to do better, get the government the hell out of
schooling. But that’s only a start. Next, put the task of reason and
intelligence into education itself — with the central and overriding
goal of education being a well-trained mind.

The central purpose of education, other than imparting knowledge and
facts, is to teach a young person how and why to think. Treat that goal
as if it’s of the life-or-death importance that it really is — and young
children will, almost without exception, respond in kind. And they’ll
internalize that attitude into adulthood, too.

We’ll never get education right until we get the human mind right.

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