America’s Growing Gap

America has a growing gap between greatness and mediocrity, a gap that has spread through our culture. Our national conversations about the future have disintegrated into political bickering and jockeying. Instead of proposing and debating broad and lofty ideas for our future, we spend our time fighting narrow ideological battles.  One of the most dangerous, with long-lasting ramifications, is the attack on public education.

Americans seem more interested in indoctrinating young people than in educating them. Any book or theory that might stretch a student’s mind into the 21st-century is subject to being tossed from the classroom. Any history that examines America’s faults along with its glory is a candidate for banning. Any study of theories that challenge America’s manifest destiny myths is subject to being culled from the history books.

Our Greatness is Sliding Away

Why is this happening? Because national greatness is no longer America’s long-term goal. Partisan domination is. Our commitment to educating the young people who will become our future leaders has been lost in clouds of misinformation and the debunking of science in service of a Republican agenda.

Too many young Americans have no idea about their role and responsibilities as participants in our democracy. In my elementary, high school and college years I remember hearing rhetoric from Dwight Eisenhower about the dangers of the military-industrial complex; from John Kennedy about serving my country; from Lyndon Johnson about racial injustice; from Martin Luther King, Jr. about his hope that America would consider the content of a person’s character rather than the color of his/her skin.

My early thoughts about these value-laden subjects were crafted in my home, and then later by study and analysis in classrooms and in conversations. The books I read challenged “the way we have always done things.” Conversations with teachers and fellow students honed my ability to talk about and listen to big ideas, many of which were contrary to a prevailing national rhetoric. Today, such conversations might cause protests from parents about indoctrinating their children.

Learning and Inquiring

My education gave me the ability to keep growing, learning and inquiring after school days were over. As a young adult I was led into deeper and broader understandings about the evils of discrimination and the white-led institutions that promulgated those evils; about how the killing of Native Americans and destruction of their communities fueled the expansion of our nation; about how the evil institution of slavery was integral in building the nation’s early economy; about the injustice and loss from the marginalization of women. And I learned scientific facts about how our fossil-fuel economy was fueling the destruction of the world’s environment.

But, the American schools and colleges that prepared people like me to understand and live productively in an increasingly complex world are in peril. Policy discussions about education seems to be more concerned with the rights of parents than the rights of children and teachers. Too many of our school meetings have become debating forums for adults rather than citadels of education for young people. We increasingly limit discussions about educating our children to poll-tested soundbites. Instead of supporting teachers and expanding curriculums, school boards talk about banning books and keeping conversations of difficult public issues away from children. Sadly, those books and issues are highly relevant to the world our children will become adults in.

American Education in Trouble

Outside evaluators agree that American education is in trouble. The World Economic Forum ranks countries’ education systems for preparing children for future work. In science and math, China is #1, and the USA ranks 22nd out of 25 large economies. In an increasingly global economy, 80% of our high school graduates are not fluent in a foreign language. Domestically (according to the 2021 National Report Card) less than a quarter of high school seniors are proficient in civics, and 88% do not meet standards for understanding US history. These students are not being prepared to be community, national and international leaders.

Educating for American Democracy, a non-profit funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities and the U.S Department of Education suggested that we “urgently expose young minds to competing theories, and teach them how to think critically.” Our children must be able to discover “legitimate sources of information,” and to “evaluate evidence and competing arguments, and form their own independent views.”

We have been failing our students and our teachers for a long, long time. It is urgent that America changes course and listens to educational experts rather that those who are hawking a distorted political/social agenda. Only then can we expect to close the gap and leave mediocrity behind. Stand up, speak out. Confront lies and misinformation with truth and facts.

 

 

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