My mother is one of the strongest women I know, and an extremely influential person in my life. Her career as a college educator has led to many passionate and informative discussions regarding the public education system in my home… and these conversations have greatly influenced my view on learning, education, and overall schooling in general. The recent appointment of Betsy DeVos (who is essentially a lobbyist with no experience in education) as United States Secretary of Education has certainly raised some questions in my education-savvy family, and my own mind, about the downward direction of our already struggling schooling system.
One aspect of my mom’s career involves traveling to other countries to observe their schools and teachers, as well as set up internships in international schools. When I was 13, I was lucky enough to travel to Finland with my mom and several of her college students in order to observe schools in Finland. For those who aren’t as knowledgeable in the field of education, the Finnish school system is one of the absolute best… in 2012 Pearson named Finland as having the number one school system in the world, based on international test scores as well as other factors, such as graduation rates. In comparison, the United States is no where close to the top of the list. During my visits to Finnish schools, I was absolutely shocked when examining the structure of their schools, and even more surprised about how drastically their strategies differed from the tactics employed in the United States.
In the western world, education is highly focused on testing, assessment, and centralized standards. Finland could not be more different. Homework is virtually nonexistent, standardized testing is never utilized, teachers are given almost total autonomy and are highly educated and respected in society (they essentially have the same status as lawyers or doctors), and students may travel down a vocational or academic path during high school. Now I completely recognize that all of these strategies are not totally practical for the US education system… Finland is very homogeneous, as opposed to our diverse society, and significantly smaller than the United States. However, it does raise an important question… how come we seem to be traveling in the complete opposite direction?
I feel as though education is something that everyone should be passionate about… how we educate our children is crucial, as they are the future of our country and its success. We teach students not to think critically and independently, which can be good for future careers and success, but rather how to take a test and “get the A”. Teachers are required to adhere to strict curriculum, often neglecting the needs and interests of our nation’s future, resulting in many educators simply “teaching to the test.” In addition, the legislators in charge of making decisions regarding education often have no experience in the field, resulting in poor decisions.
Overall, the future of education in the United States looks grim. Schools fail to teach independent and critical thinking, hinder creativity, and provide an environment where students don’t need to truly learn in order to be “successful”- success is simply defined by arbitrary testing scores and grades. For me, the change begins with the students themselves. They must recognize these issues and strive to remedy them, working to obtain true growth and knowledge despite an oppressive schooling system. Also, those working to obtain a degree in the field of education must ensure that they are fully dedicating themselves to their career, finding ways to help students grow among the adversity they face. This dismal situation must be recognized and acted upon by all in order to nurture the future leaders of tomorrow.