Saturday, September 6, 2008

Education and the American Dream

The first section of our textbook that we're going to read is titled "Learning Power."  The introductory pages consider some of the ways that attitudes have changed about education in our nation over the centuries.  The chapter also asks the implicit question, via the readings included, "does education empower us"?  We will discuss this question over the course of our classes in the next week.  I want us to consider here on our blog another weighty topic, one relevant to millions of young people today.  Is our public education system here in America "broken"?  Some people argue that it is (and I know some of you already touched on this in your previous postings).  Can we ever expect all schools in America to equally prepare all children -- of all races, be they rich or poor, rural or urban -- equally, so that all share the same shot at the American dream?  How might this come to pass?  Or why might it be impossible?  Please weigh in, on any side of this issue!  I look forward to reading your comments.


Dunte said...

According to some surveys, whose specifics I cannot quote, American schoolteachers do a remarkable job of providing the most objective lessons to children, as compared to other significant influences. However, because teaching is still a subjective art, though one which can be analysed, dissected and critqued in objective, it can never present that absolute that every child, from every background, in every situation will complete public education in position to embrace the same opportunities.
To judge the American school system, exclusively, as "broken" is to miscalculate the influence of other persons on our lives- parents, friends, television and political celebrity ad nauseum, miscellaneous adults, the successful, the failed. While schooling is a dominant influence on the lessons a child will learn, it is an institution built upon the foundation that is their home. And though media and politic and innumerable undefined persons affect how children see their world, these interpretations are constructed as a result of the perspectives taught them in school.
There are flaws in the public educational system, certainly, but it cannot be labeled the "broken" component without considering the inefficiency of the entire machine.

Geliebtjunge said...

For the United States' school system to be objective, we'd have to replace all the teachers with computers and strictly control what information is presented, which sounds a lot like brainwashing.

nikki said...

I agree with Dunte that we can't ignore outside influences when evaluating our education system. Even if every school offered students the same exact opportunities, we would see some students succeed and others fall short. I believe this relates to the theme of cultural myths. Many times, children in upper-class environments are pressured to succeed in school in order to maintain their status in society. Children in low-income communities on the other hand, often try only to obtain normalcy and tend to drift away from individualism in order to just survive. It seems it’s harder to succeed in a low-income environment, not because of the quality of the school system per se, but because of these external influences.

jon s said...

I would agree with Dunte and Nikki in saying that the schools should not be blamed exclusively. While they do have some level of influence on how well a child is educated, it ultimately is up to the individual student and his/her family. Every child faces a choice in education. They can either own their education and excel, or they can settle for what gets them past the next test. This decision can often be tied to the student's family. Children from 'succesful' families are expected to be succesful. In their minds, then, there is more pressure to not just get by. They rise above other students not because they are smarter necessarily, they just push themselves a little harder. In the eyes of the teacher, then, this student is gifted. As a gifted student, he deserves more attention. More attention leads to better performance from the child, etc. Children who are not pushed do not raise themselves in the eyes of the teacher above average, and so does not receive special attention. This cycle tends to perpetuate the misconceptions that some kids are just destined for greatness while others are just mediocre. In the end, then, it is the student's own initiative that will greatly influence the level of education that he/she receives.

As far as education affecting a person's ability to attain the 'American Dream,' I would say that it does to some extent. Education sets the precedent for how a person will work the rest of his life. If a person is a hard worker in school he may well succed in life because he is a hard worker, not just because he succeeded in school. If a person blows education off, then it is much harder to succeed in life because you have a track record established that shows lack of initiative. Whether you are as capable as the person who graduated with flying colors is debatable, but you will not get the benefit of the doubt because, if anything, a degree says that a person stuck with something (education) for many years.

When comparing education for people from different backgrounds (rich, poor, rural, urban, etc.) it is extremely difficult to get the same level of education. Each teacher and each student will approach a class differently, so unless we make education simply brain-washing exercise, then there will be differences in the levels of education that people receive. That is not to say that we should not strive to be fair, it is just difficult to conceive a system that uniformly teaches everyone equally. If that were the goal, then we would have to take out the human elements of education, which leaves us with brain-washing.

tim said...

I find that the United States' educational system is largely counterintuitive. While it may make a certain sense to standardize education across the board--stripping gender, race, and economic background from the learning equation, this system innately pigeonholes every student into more or less the same curriculum. People are different, so shouldn't their respective curricula also reflect their unique individual properties?

Of course, the educational system is in its current form for a number of reasons. It is no doubt vastly easier and more inexpensive to create a single outlined curriculum and pummel students until they fit with it, much like ramming together misaligned puzzle pieces. Another possible reason for the current system is the socialization of youth. No country would be complete without a large mass of unskilled, obedient labor workers. For the country as a whole, it is no doubt more economical to produce a small number of dreamers that design and scheme and a large number of workers that build and craft, as opposed to churning out only doctors and engineers, with relatively few laborers. Currently, there are simply more open positions for laborers than there are for more skilled professions. Furthermore, political pressures keep the current system broken. In theory, leveling the educational "playing field" is a great platform, at least in regard to race, gender, or economic background. No one in Washington wishes to be known as discriminatory. Of course, when everyone is trying to reach the same intellectual elevation, it doesn't make sense to level the field if everyone is a different height. Students shouldn't have to change to meet a curriculum, the curriculum should change to meet the students.

It's about time the United States shook off its Prussian artifact of an educational system. While perhaps at one time beneficial, the country would do better with a system that celebrated the individual, rather than a system that destroyed individuality.

jon s said...

I think that gender discrimination is not as prevalent as it used to be, or if it is, I have not encountered it very much. That said, I personally think that men and women do have different skills and talents that do make them inherently different. Men are better suited for some jobs, women are better suited for others, and some can be performed equally well by either. I'm not sure if these differences necessarily result in discrimination if both genders recognize that there are differences and value the other as much as their own. This can easily be twisted to become discriminatory, so you have to be careful, but I think that this is the way it is meant to be. All that to say, I am interested in looking more at how the lines between the roles of men and women have been blurred in recent times and seeing if this has given us positive or negative results.