Saturday, May 5, 2012

Is America Dumbing Down Education?

Every year I get more depressed when I see how little we value reading.  I have been a teacher for the past nineteen years.  My passion has always been reading.  In first grade I sat with struggling students during our recess and helped them with their reading.  In middle school I worked with the learning disabled in their classrooms with their reading.  In high school my father moved us from Indiana to Florida.  It was quite the educational shock.  The English books I had used in seventh grade were our tenth grade books.  I had most of my credits so I took every Literature and English course I could.  Imagine my horror when we received a program my senior year called "Individualized College English".  I immediately signed up.  After all I had been taking AP courses so this must be one of those, right?
After the introductory class I learned it was a reading program I'd taken in fourth through sixth grade up north.  It was to help students learn to comprehend what they read and to pick up their speed.  It was an SRA program.  I became the teacher's assistant working with the really low level readers.

 As you can see I have always taught reading.  Both of my younger sisters entered kindergarten reading on a second grade level.  When we lived in the country and had to stay indoors due to bad weather,  we played a multitude of things.  My choice was school.  When our elementary school had burned down, and they placed the smoke damaged text books outside for the taking, I had an entire set of first through sixth grade text books.  I made my sisters and cousins help take them home.  So, we played school.  I was the teacher and taught my sisters before they entered school.

Nineteen years later I still love the idea that I may be able to change one student through teaching.  I dream of inspiring kids to become readers.  However, the longer I teach the more afraid and disillusioned I become.  We as teachers know what we should do to help our students become well rounded, educated, global citizens.  Then we have those above us who tie our hands.

I keep books of all reading levels and genres on my shelves.  I have books for my more mature readers that require parent permission due to subject matter.  These books contain issues that many of my middle schoolers face.  An example book would be Sarah Littman's book, "Want to Go Private".  We live in a technological age where kids are on Facebook talking with total strangers.  This book is the fictional story of one girl who learns through a horrifying lesson how dangerous it is to chat online.  As much as I've been criticized by some parents for having it on my shelves, I've been praised by other parents for having a book that gives them an opening to discuss topics like this with their young teens.

I am not wandering here, there is a point to all of this.  As we near the end of the school year and prepare our summer reading lists I find myself in the same frustrating situations.  We want students to continue to read over the summer so we make up a list of books and some sort of activity or project for them to bring in after school begins.  It sounds like such a lofty idea until told that it has to be simple so parents won't complain or get to frustrated and call the school.  Something as simple as keeping a reading journal with explicit instructions on how to do this, morphed into having the student write a reflective paper about the book, what they liked or didn't like and why.  It also included a collage of words or pictures from the book.

I feel most frustrated because I work in an IB school and feel that we need to up the anti for these future global students.  Why is it that America keeps letting those we are trying to help, the parents, set the rules for how we teach.  We want our students to be able to compete for future jobs on a global scale, yet we continue to dumb down our education.  We can create all kinds of test for our students. We can't continue to listen to parents say, "My child couldn't do their homework last night because they had a football game", and then turn around and complain that their child can't keep up so it must be the teacher's fault.  It is time America wakes up and says, education should be first.  I think we had it right many years ago when we didn't promote a child in a subject until they had mastered it.  Now we promote them so they won't be socially affected, hoping the next teacher will be able to catch them up.  This becomes the snowball affect.  I can't catch catch your child up AND teach them what they need to know for this year at the same time.  At some point parents have to take responsibility for their child's education.  I'm tired of hearing, "I'm a single parent and I have to work two jobs so I can't help my kids with their homework."  I was a single parent, working three part-time jobs and attending college full time and always made sure my kids did their homework.

I've taught international students.  Many of them laugh at our educational system.  In some countries students are all taught the same curriculum.  Those students who fall behind are then put on an educational track to teach them a trade, while those who want to work hard for future college are given that opportunity.  I've taught students who attended classes in an auditorium with 300 students then had to engage a tutor in the evenings so that they could get a good education.

We in America have lost sight of how important an education is.  Our students don't value it.  Many of those higher up evidently don't value it.  If they did they would not advocate dumbing it down to keep from offending parents.

It is time that we take back education, raise the bar and do what is right for our students.


  1. It is a rather interesting piece of opinion. I have little experience in teaching, apart from volunteering as a teacher for past one year, nut I disagree with the concept of failing students. Things may be different in US but at least where I am from, exams are the only way to gauge students and the whole concept of exams is not fair. I mean, it reduces everything to some 2.5 hours. Failing someone on the basis of that is not fair.

    Read that also

  2. I'm not against testing. I believe we need to have tests. We test our students to death here in the US. This last year we had 3 district writing tests plus our state test that took four days. That is in addition to what we as teachers do to assess our students. We need authentic assessment. But if we use that assessment to put kids in classes where they don't belong it is wrong. You may be a terrible test taker and be able to perform college level work. Yet, if you can't pass the test due to test anxiety or any number of reasons, such as you lost a family member the week of the test and your head wasn't into the test, then your test score dictates where you are placed. I have students this year placed in an advanced class only because they can read at a high enough level or because they are great at guessing on the test to pass it. I have students with reading disabilities that struggle with the test, yet could sit with adults and carry on a deep, critical thinking conversation because they "get it", but having issues, such as dyslexia.

    1. Since when does it ever make sense to lower our standards to improve anything?! A building without a firm foundation will never hold what is built on it. To push a child ahead so they don't have to experience any embarrasement, only serves to cheat them out of a firm educational foundation on which everything else is to be built! Being held back is not failure, failure would be to send them on without a real education and a certificate that is false!

  3. This is so true. We keep pushing kids forward but don't pay attention to the consequences. Where I once learned algebra in 9th grade we now have 6th graders taking algebra. This is not a bad thing. But, what part of the curriculum do we push through too quickly to push them ahead. Too many of them do not have the firm foundation they need.

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