In the 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama spoke about education in America and what Americans must do to improve it.
Obama convinced the nation that this is “our generation’s Sputnik moment.” That the time for increased focus on education and learning is now.
Math and Science must continue to be a priority. The U.S. must strive to be a global leader, to prove its status as a superpower.
He emphasized a program called Race to the Top, which aims to encourage high performances via competition. Teachers would be rewarded with merit pay, and the schools with the highest test scores would receive the most funding.
This sounds very patriotic–and who isn’t up for a challenge? Not many can resist such a tempting race. But not everyone has the same base training either.
What Obama should keep in mind, is that Race to the Top, though theoretically motivating, will not be enough to help the underdogs. Schools with the lowest test scores, those in the most need of funding, will be deprived of it. Low performing schools will be punished.
Obama is keen on the creation of more charter schools, but such a shift will take even more funding away from the public schools.
One can argue that losing funding will motivate a failing school to try harder, but it is difficult to make a comeback without the necessary resources. No one can run a record without the correct training plan–or without the money necessary to provide the means to the end. Very few feet are calloused enough to run on pine-cones without shoes.
However, despite the over-idealism of Race to the Top, Obama did hit on one point with which I could not agree more: Success in school starts in the home.
Now, every once in a while, a child is like a cactus. Even without intellectual nourishment, the child manages to thrive in a hot, dry environment. Even without a parent encouraging educational excellence and molding a love of learning, the child can still grow on a single drop of water.
Most children though, are not cacti. They need extensive amounts of water–they need a parent to foster enthusiasm toward learning.
Obama stressed that education must extend past the classroom. Past teachers.
“That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.”
Parents must be the ones to transform their children from feeble house plants to tough cacti. In order to compete in the harsh global economy such a toughness is imperative.
If every child is given a foundation, they will be able to build a much sturdier house. Without family involvement, a child is being built up on cracked mortar–and with much less of a chance of making it through the first rain without a leak.
However, in today’s society, it is not just about who can build a sturdy house–it is about who can build the sturdiest house.
Testing has become the standard way to measure success, and realistically there are few other ways to measure success.
But what is success anyway? Some attribute it to wealth, others fame, others glory.
Educational success, though often determined by tests, can be achieved in non-traditional ways: Such as a teacher finally getting through to a troubled student, really getting through. Or a mediocre student who works as hard as possible and still receives Cs. However, these ways are not conveniently crunched and statistically analyzed by the government. These ways will not secure America’s number one spot in the world super-contest.
America, to be brutally honest, is hyper-competitive. She can’t help it–she was born with it in her blood–and she will always be a little too strong willed, stubborn and stupid. She will always want to be the best–even if she is lagging ten meters behind.
America though, must not lose herself in the process. She will always have her eyes on the finish line–and not just to cross it, but to break the tape. To break the tape first.
She must never though, forgot the joy of running.
It is impossible for the American education system to ignore test scores. It is impossible to eliminate competition.
But it is possible to make sure everyone starts at the same line. And that everyone is given the proper tools to finish strong.
America obsesses over test scores, but that does not mean that creativity and ingenuity should be disregarded; the two must be blended–and become one unwinding helix.
American education will always relentlessly pursue perfection–and at times it will fall short, but if the next generation of young people are educated to the fullest extent, opponents across the world will quiver at the line.