Friday, February 15, 2008

Failing Schools? Or Failing Society?

I am sick of reading about America's "failing schools," as though the school system were to blame for anti-intellectualism in this country.

I studied to be a teacher. My mom is a teacher in a rural school district. I did my internship in a wealthy suburban school. Then I taught in an underfunded inner-city urban school. In each of those systems, the majority of teachers are dedicated, capable professionals. Teachers and schools are not the cause of under-achievement in American students.

American hubris and over-busy-ness are.

Parents (and students!) think they know better than teachers, how to teach. Government thinks it knows better than a teacher who interacts with students every day. And... here's the biggie ... as a nation, we have lost faith in experts of all kinds, and think the individual, however uneducated, knows best. We see no reason to work hard and learn. No reason to listen. We refuse to put aside our own self-importance to hear what someone with more experience than ourselves has to say.

Even for those who value education, how many people (adults) actually take the time to read, think, and discuss intellectual issues, whether in the realm of science, politics, or philosophy? No, we'd much rather sit back and watch American Idol. Our jobs, commutes, and general pursuit of the American Dream leaves us without energy to pursue artistic or intellectual growth. We model this passive, anti-learning behavior every day for our children, yet we expect our children to be intellectual giants.

Then we blame schools and teachers when they fail to live up to our expectations.

Let's stop blaming schools, and start taking personal responsibility for becoming an intellectually curious society. With a dose of humility, and slowing down enough to learn from and discuss the vast accumulation of knowledge available to us, we can, indeed, raise a generation well-prepared to compete in a global economy.