In the great poem by Prince Ea, “I Just Sued the Education System!!!” he says, “… here’s a classroom of today and here’s a classroom we used 150 years ago. Now ain’t that a shame. In literally over a century, nothing has changed. Yet you claim to prepare students for the future? But with evidence like that I must ask: do you prepare students for the future, or the past?”
If you have stepped into a public school classroom in the last… well, 100 years, then you know how dire the situation is. But let’s go a little further than that. If you have stepped into a Title I school in the last ten years, then you could quickly understand why we have thousands and thousands of teachers across the country out in the streets demanding better.
I’m going to leave teacher salary and school funds and budgets out of this and just focus on our education system itself- the structure of it. School in America today is pathetic compared to the immense breakthroughs and upgrades we have made in science and technology.
How is it possible that today, in 2018, we can hold an entire computer in our pocket, with access to all of the information ever published on the world wide web, not to mention enough space for 5,000+ pictures, and the ability to have a face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the globe? And YET our classrooms (especially the ones in low-income areas) are still using whiteboards, cramped with over thirty students in a classroom, sitting at desks that are falling apart, always without a pencil. Who even needs a pencil nowadays?
As a public school teacher myself, I can say that I have been really discouraged by the educational system and structure. It was so clearly created to keep minorities down and despite all of the innovative ideas and new, alternative types of schools opening up (in rich areas, of course), these schools just keep the pipeline-to-prison cycle going around and around. As Prince Ea discusses in his poem, we are not preparing our youth for a successful future.
Case in point, here are just a few of the top skills that employers currently look for (Careers NZ) along with explanations of how we are not helping our students build those skills.
Top 5 skills employers look for:
Communication- We demand that students raise their hands to speak, only speak when called on, and only respond to specific questions that the teacher poses. Students are seldom given the opportunity to have open conversations with peers where they have to professionally express their opinions, allow others to speak and find an appropriate time to respond, and respectfully disagree. This means that our students are basically never given a voice of their own.
Teamwork- Yes, students still occasionally work on group projects, perhaps they create a poster board or PowerPoint presentation. However, there is no room in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for discovering your own personality type, learning how to work with different personality types, learning how to brainstorm ideas together, collaborate and take advantage of each team member’s strengths. In case you’re wondering, we still do old school quizzes, end-of-chapter tests, standardized state testing, all of which students can’t peak at their classmate’s work. What we deem as “cheating” is what we later demand that they have: the ability to work well with others!
Self-management- Whether or not you choose to believe the claims that the education system was created and implemented specifically to brainwash our youth to think and behave in a way that benefited us (specifically young boys in modern-day Germany to become obedient soldiers), anyone can walk into a school today and see that everything is black and white, set in stone, strictly structured and students are highly micromanaged. Assigned seats, bells (even minute bells!), waiting in lines, etc. Students are not taught to manage their time, to make decisions about how they complete tasks, or even just how to choose what environment they work best in.
Thinking skills- Teachers, and adults in general, are constantly jumping in to solve problems for kids from birth to eighteen years old and then suddenly, they are adults and we just expect them to know how to figure things out. Whether it’s conflict resolution and how to get along with peers, how to find a solution to a math problem, how to complete two homework assignments on time, how to coordinate their schedule with classmates to finish a group project… we do all of these things for students! Or their parents call in and excuse them from solving their own problems (which shows that school is not the only culprit in this). It is okay for our kids to have problems, it is okay for our kids to be stressed, it is okay for our kids to fail. It’s how they solve those problems that matters, which is why we need to be teaching them thinking and problem-solving skills early on.
Resilience- Speaking of failing, where in the CCSS curriculum does it cover how to bounce back from failing? Where in the CCSS curriculum does it cover how to overcome personal obstacles to be successful and create a better future? If you are over the age of twenty and have had at least one job interview in your life, you have most definitely had to give an example of when you made a mistake or failed at something and how you recovered. But when do we teach that?
In a world where the iPhone is updated every six months (or less), where we can order our coffee from our phones before walking into the coffee shop, where we can essentially collaborate and create a project with five strangers in five different countries, we absolutely need to upgrade and update our education system. We need to think more long term. Students do not need to be memorizing maps, or practicing alliteration, or reciting Shakespeare, unless it directly ties in to their life and the skills that will help them have a better future. Let’s be real, almost every fact is easily accessible on Google. Even maps are accessible on Google (including virtual tours of places like Taj Mahal and the Amazon Rainforest)! What our students need to be learning, practicing and mastering are the soft skills that their future employers will demand of them.