Like many of the Ashbrook Scholars, I had the opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C. this summer. It was a great experience. Not only did I learn things about myself, but I also learned about other people as well. Most importantly, I learned that the public education system is rapidly deteriorating in the quality of its teaching.
This realization came about while spending an afternoon in the Lincoln Museum, just below Ford’s Theatre. I was amusing myself before the lunch hour. While I was reading the quick facts listed next to Lincoln’s coat, a few visiting Boy Scouts passed by the display. One of the boys said to his two friends, "Who cares? He is DEAD. Just like Elvis." At first, I was appalled at this comment. Who could possibly compare a man such as President Lincoln to someone nicknamed “Elvis the Pelvis”? Nevertheless, as I continued through the museum cursing the ungrateful child, I realized that I had learned more about President Lincoln in that museum than I ever did during my twelve years in the public education system. This troubled me greatly for the remainder of the day.
Later that evening, I thought about exactly how much I knew about Lincoln before entering the museum. The only things I concretely knew were his contributions to the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments, his eloquent speeches (none of which I can recite), his presidency, his monument, and his state of origin. This is not much knowledge after twelve years of education.
I know I am not the only person who finds himself in this predicament. Before college, I was unfamiliar with many great American thinkers beyond Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith. I had never been exposed to any serious writings until my first political science classes, and even then, I was confused. Essentially, the problem is this: the public education system is not fully educating its customers, the leaders of tomorrow. Yes, I have read miscellaneous articles showing that ACT and SAT scores are rising, but just because a seventeen-year-old can excel in a standardized test does not mean that he can think for himself without spouting off the hottest gossip from Sports Illustrated.
Each year, the standards of education worsen. Ironically, some blame themselves for not harnessing the opportunity to learn, but for many, the opportunity was not even presented. Educators spend too much time disciplining and too little time educating. The 1994 Digest of Education states that thirty-three percent of public school teachers surveyed agree that disciplinary problems severely hinder their ability to teach students. This is evident in the increasing use of security cameras in hallways, school buses, security officers patrolling the buildings, and the installation of metal detectors within the doorways of each entrance. There are also many types of detention for students: in school, after school and Saturday sessions. What does this do for a student? It merely teaches them consequences for their actions, without detering them from creating future problems. Many times, the student repeats the same behaviors and returns to his seat in detention hall.
A prominent factor in the problem of discipline lies within the family structure. Most families do not instill proper discipline in their children. Thus, educators are burdened to compensate for the parents’ deficiencies. Schools cannot be expected to compensate for the parents’ failure to properly rear their children. Yet in these situations, the educators become the mentors to these children instead of educating them. With this dilemma, the education system suffers.
Another problem is the lack of continuity. Junior high and high school are often just a means for memorization and baby-sitting. Throughout the adolescent’s secondary education, basic concepts are repeatedly taught, with little information added to the curricula. There are also many "busy work" projects without a thorough examination of material. Such an atmosphere is frustrating for a child who wants to learn, further discouraging him from exploring new information and ideas.
Thirdly, the most pertinent problem is the process of vindication. Will the role model status be resolved? The social thinkers of today are reevaluating the strength of the family. For example, the purpose of the Promise Keepers movement is to re-establish the role of the father in the family. By placing greater emphasis on its function, the family may assume more of the responsibility of being the appropriate figure in disciplining the child; thus, freeing the teacher to educate and develop the future of the student. This allows the student to understand the history and reason behind role models like President Lincoln and the entertainment value of Elvis Presley.
What must be done to save the future of the students? We must start by focusing more on familial discipline and roles. Everything about us begins and ends with the family. By instilling proper discipline and education in the children, the role of the family will be maintained. Without this crucial institution to assist in saving the community, America’s people are headed for the depths of destruction. Ultimately, that is the fate of our society without the proper opportunities for education and well being for our citizens.
Erica L. Carson is a junior from Cincinnati, Ohio double-majoring in Political Science and Spanish.