American Education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will Stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so? --Diane Ravitch
The Plight of Education in our American Public School System—Part One

The Plight of Education in our American Public School System—Part One

While tertiary education in America still holds a strong place in the world’s ranking of education, the United States ranks number 14th on the list in primary (1-8 grade) and secondary (9-12 grade) education. It is only a matter of time before the U.S. moves further down the ranking list. While there are many reasons why 13 countries clearly outperform the United States in education this writing will serve as an introduction to one of those reasons and offer some light on the many complexities of education in America today. It should be noted that there is no “quick fix” formula or easy way to rectify the problem. In fact, the practice of seeking to adopt a “quick fix” solution has only further exacerbated the problem.

As with the U.S. national deficit in the multiple trillions of dollars will not be eradicated within any one or two term presidential administration, neither will the rising problem with education in America be solved quickly. Much of our problem in America is systemic.  As with any systemic problem someone who is brave and visionary must lead the masses into the understanding of that systemic problem and then be courageous enough to confront the system that continues to perpetuate the cycle. Therein lies the challenges. There is a dearth of leadership willing to not only educate and inform but also take the necessary actions to rectifying the problem. First most people in general do not know that the education system in America is a deliberate attempt on the part of the the major stakeholders to under-educate our children as to keep them subservient and dependent on government.

In a forthcoming article in this ongoing blog series, I will deal more in depth with exactly who these “stakeholders” are and why they have a vested interest in keeping the masses ignorant and dependent upon this futile system. At the very onset of this writing, let’s consider the countries that make the top 4 of this list: South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.  The obvious immediate commonality is that these are all East Asian countries. But does being from one of these East Asian countries automatically guarantee educational success? For example, historically many have argued falsely that secondary students from China are inherently smarter than American students and that they intuitively perform better at Math and Sciences. This age old argument is nothing more than an American Myth that has lasted far too long.

Chinese people are not intrinsically smarter than Americans or any other people group in the world for that matter. China does not rank in the top twenty for having the best education system in the world. So where did the idea come from that China outperforms American students in Math and Sciences? These concepts have long been conjecture, never verified by any solid research. The national averages that have been historically presented as the basis for their education’s strength did not include poor children from rural Chinese provinces such as Guizhou, Gansu, and Yunnan, neither did it include children with disabilities or special needs of whom are not even afforded educational opportunities at all.

From the start, their lists have always been skewed and statistically inaccurate. If the United States excluded from our reports, all children with disabilities or special needs, children living in low performing school districts, and all foreign immigrants who struggle to master the English language then we would certainly outrank far more countries than we presently do. Having been exposed to decades of false information it has become imbedded in the psyche of American children that “foreign country” equals inherently smarter and “Asian” is far smarter than the average foreigner.  While there is no comprehensive data to prove inherent intelligence based on geographical region, many American children have adopted this concept as normal and subsequently have reduced their effort, believing that they can never achieve excellence on an international scale simply because they were born in the wrong country, the U.S.A.

Why then are 4 East Asian countries legitimately topping the list of high achieving toddlers, adolescents and teens?  One of the main reasons is due to their expectations. Ingrained in the mindset and practice of these countries is an extremely high expectation that is often displayed toward “children and learning” from birth. Because of these high expectations they have established systems and curriculums for their children to participate in not very long after birth. While in America we do have programs such as Head Start, and while some research shows that Head Start program does have a quantifiable positive effect on children in first through third grades, Head Start does not have a proven track record of achievement with children fourth grade and beyond neither does Head Start guarantee a higher graduation rate in all the regions they serve.

So the problem can begin with expectation and that expectation for achievement must begin very early on, long before school begins. While teachers have an important role to perform in expecting more from their students, one cannot honestly ignore the power produced when parents expect from their own children. No teacher should expect more from a child than their parent. Parents should lead in providing the base for what is expected educationally from their children and demonstrate consistency to follow through and inspect what they expect.

This is a distinct difference between the top ranking East Asian countries and the United States. Add to their clear expectation that starts at birth, they also have clear learning outcomes for their child at each stage of development. They have clear goals and have created a strong culture of accountability and engagement, something that has sadly disappeared from the American education system all together. Finally, these countries have different reasons why they want their children “smart” or shall I say “educationally competent.” In terms of educational performance and logical reasoning, they believe, in fact, they know that if their children are proficient in key subject areas and rigorously challenged, then they will dominate the world market place, not as an oligarchy but as a national unit. There goal is to make their nation strong not one person or party strong.

This idea is infrequently discussed amongst American children and for the most part American children are sadly taught to do well in school as to grow up and get a good job. The “drive” in the Asian students has as much to do with parental expectation as it does with them “knowing” early on how they will participate in the global market when they become adults. Terms like globalization, world-market, and “the world is flat” are words and phrases that American children are not introduced to until college years, if they are fortunate enough to get into college. And, unless they pursue a path in Economics, Business, or Sociology from a global perspective, few college undergraduates may not know the meaning of those phrases long after graduation.

The point is that the top four countries on this list expect their children to learn, but not just for the sake of learning. They intend for their children to become world leaders in their perspective fields of interest.  Sadly, many students who enter their college freshman year are unclear about what course of study they are going to pursue. They don’t see how it connects to a larger, more nationalized plan. It is not uncommon for freshman students to change their degree selections twice or thrice before graduating, after which many still have no idea of how they can gain meaningful employment in the degree track they completed. Our system considers such indecision and wavering as normal particularly, since all college graduates are fully responsible to pay back their high interest students loans whether they’ve landed on the proper career path or not. Of course the trillions gained in interest from these loan are vested interest in the federal government of keeping the masses ignorant.

Parents in these East Asian countries are fully aware that vocational leadership is not something that begins in college but must be formed and shaped shortly after birth. Are East Asians inherently smarter than American children? They are not. They simply have collective expectations for achievement that are an ingrained in their culture. They also have a powerful infrastructure established to reinforce those expectations and also has an active system in place to measure the progress, to see what’s working from what is not. The American education system by and large continues to enforce practices and procedures, curriculum and standards that do not work.

In the words of a valiant supporter of education Albert Einstein: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our educational system has become insane, not because I said it. The dwindling results in school performance makes it clear. Standardized test scores should not be the final determining factor on educational achievement but rather meaningful and purposeful employment and the ability to compete in an ever changing global market. In the present American education model you may not always get what you expect. However, “If you expect nothing you surely won’t get anything.” That is the problem at hand.

Dr. Aaron Lewis

Buenos Aires, Argentina 4/15/16

List Source: “20 Best Education Systems in the World.” MBC Times. Web: file:///Users/DrAaron/Downloads/20%20Best%20Education%20Systems%20In%20The%20World%20—%20MBC%20Times.webarchive

Be sure to read the follow up article featuring the country of Finland, number 5 on the world’s top education system:  The Plight of Education in our American Public School System—Part Two: School Teachers Must Be Celebrated Not Tolerated