After years of trying to replace our educational system, I finally saw a way instead to build it up!
Many signs tell us our present system, designed to provide our nation with a productive work force, is failing. In spite of decades of reform, the real percentage of participation in our labor force--taking into account those who stopped looking for work and who took part time or low paying jobs--is at a low point since before WWII.
It's time to stop blaming the team--teacher and school performance and student motivation--and blame the coach: educational leadership that is seriously mismanaging our youth, America's most valuable resource.
The United States is a uniquely powerful culture, built on qualities like creativity, innovation, courage, adventure. Yet instead, the educational system of its leaders mirrors academic priorities of other nations, and ends up being out-performed by many at an increasing rate.
Further evidence of the failure of the strategy of these leaders:
The achievement gap between white students and minorities stubbornly persists in their system. Given the civil rights movement, African American students are more isolated today than they were 40 years ago.
Kids need and want adult concern and guidance. Yet most of them don't like or trust their system, which often leads to disrespect, cheating, bullying and now school shootings. Roughly half of their teachers leave within five years.
Their system does not foster basic American beliefs of liberty and equality; on the contrary, it favors the privileged. Studies show the SAT--the prime assessment for college acceptance--traces family income. Only 3% of students of families from the lowest income quartile attend the 146 most elite colleges.
Given that education equals opportunity, the overall consequence of their system is the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, while the middle class is disappearing.
But replacing this system is presently almost impossible because of the powers that support it. As former Yale professor William Deresiewicz points out in his book Excellent Sheep, even elite universities have abandoned their traditional purpose of building moral character for the purpose of helping the privileged students build competitive résumés for work.
So I suggest this plan: Keep this system as it is, but build another educational system on top of it, one that addresses the deeper and unfulfilled needs of children, particularly the unprivileged.
This new system would be based on what students fully control--attitude, effort, character. It would utilize assessments of such outcomes as class effort and participation, respect, curiosity, grit, concern, leadership, honesty. It would also build on the many programs presently addressing such qualities.
Students who achieve well in this new system would reflect the qualities that built this great country. We might call them American Scholars.
Solid American Scholars would provide leadership for our country, so our government should financially insure their higher education.
Since many colleges and universities may not admit all these American Scholars (based on their academic records) I suggest the government financially help empower the emerging community college and junior college systems to identify and provide a higher path for them. Ultimately, this movement may help higher education in America reassess its overall purpose.
Gallup polls report that Americans are pessimistic about the direction of our nation. Surely dissatisfaction with our educational system over the past 50 years, including its inability to offer an equal education to the disadvantaged, is part of that discouragement. But I contend Americans, and particularly parents, would be receptive to this American Scholars plan, given their reverence for character (eg: A Harvard study of 10,000 students found that 96% of their parents' primary concern was their children's caring for others and character.)
This add-on system becomes a win-win situation for all families, because privileged students can also become American Scholars--without the financial assistance.
This plan finally offers disadvantaged students real opportunities the present system fails to offer. It develops the deeper character of all students. It injects a new spirit in students, teachers and schools. It offers higher education a better developed and more mature graduate. It ultimately offers our nation a far more complete and effective labor force, one truly rooted in our American heritage.
This should become America's new frontier.