The American system of education is under attack. Our test scores don't measure up against other countries. We are ranked 50-whatever in math and science skills compared to the rest of the world. We seem to have fewer and fewer of the top minds. Our global reputation as a country is about as low as it has ever been. Our future itself seems to be in jeopardy.
So how did we get to this point?
I think the biggest reason that we have slipped as a nation is what I call "The Wussification of America." We are raising our kids to be weak, dependent, wusses. Part of the problem is parents, part of it is our education system, and part may even be the government. Sometimes going against what is popular is the most wise direction to take, however.
Everyone seems to agree that changes need to be made when it comes to education. The problem is that the popular changes seem to be going in the direction of making things easier and more comfortable for students, rather than tougher. This is a problem.
There are many examples of this trend. I am going to discuss some of these examples in a few of my upcoming blogs. This brings me to my topic for today:
IT IS BECOMING IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL
The "don't let anybody fail" camp believes that letting students fail hurts their self esteem. Failing a test, a class, or an entire grade will shatter their opinions of themselves and reduce them to blubbering blobs of goo. So the movement is to eliminate the possibility of failure for students so that they don't have to deal with it. Well that solves that problem! But what happens to these students when they inevitably fail at something as adults?
In the old days, you could fail a grade in school (even without your parents consent). There were tests that you had to pass, and a certain amount of work that you had to do in order to pass on to the next grade. This system seems to be becoming extinct in American education.
The problem that schools face is that statistics like graduation and passing rates have become increasingly significant parts of evaluations of schools and school districts. So now money and reputation are riding on these figures. So schools have a choice to make--Either make it easier to graduate and help their numbers, or make it tougher (or as tough) to graduate and risk lower rates. This is not a pleasant choice to have to deal with.
A new report from the Department of Education shows that high school graduation rates are at their highest level since 1974. This would be great news if the requirements for graduation hadn't changed. However, the pressure of graduation rates on schools has pushed them to consider making it easier to graduate to save their numbers. There is no other way to describe this situation other than "cooking the books." So lets not go celebrating these high graduation rates just yet.
What are the consequences of this trend? The consequences of making it nearly impossible to fail is that the value of a diploma has diminished. It used to mean something to pass a grade, a class, or a test. Now, it seems like it means that you just showed up. Congratulations. You have great transportation skills. Let's invite the family over to celebrate. If passing is practically guaranteed before you even show up, then what is the motivation to excel?
What is the answer? The answer is for people in power in education to remember what the purpose of education is supposed to be--to help and prepare students. Making failure an option is the only way to do this. Students need to learn that there are consequences for their actions, both good and bad. What they do not need to learn is that they will be bailed every time that things don't go well. The sooner that leaders in education take a stand for what is best for students and risk going against what is popular, the sooner education in America will turn around.
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