The Need to “Fix” Our Views on Education

           Everybody has an opinion on what should be done to “fix” public education.  Unlike the issues arising in the medical field, tax law, or immigration, the average person has sufficient exposure to or knowledge of what takes place in a public school building.  Every campaign season politicians discuss the need to “improve education,” and nearly every year states pass new legislation to help “make students competitive.”  Public education and those that work within this field are also targeted and blamed, and in recent years a large trend for more charter schools and private schools has led parents to remove their children from the “failing system.”  As parents remove their children from public education and society as a whole attempts to “assign blame” for the failing educational system, a socioeconomic segregation in today’s youth is setting the foundation for the future of civil rights movements.

            It is easy to see that the current system is far from perfect.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2008 only 39% of 17-year old students were able to find, understand, summarize, and explain relatively complicated literary and informational material. Internationally, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores have left the United States far behind other countries in regards to student performance.  There is also evidence to show that drop out rates are still high, individuals are struggling to find employment after school even if they do pass, and the curriculum being taught is not necessarily helping students with jobs they are able to find.

            Despite its prevalence in society and endless discussions about how to fix these problems, many people still do not consider public education to be a civil rights issue.  However, the racial disparities are impossible to ignore:  47% of white students are at the highest level of reading, while only 21% of black students and 22% of Hispanic students are at that same level.  There are also studies that show correlations between socioeconomic status and academic achievement, and additional studies to demonstrate that academic achievement can lead to future success.  Unfortunately, these studies also show the correlations between low socioeconomic status, low academic achievement, and future inability to maintain steady employment.  These studies form the basis of the “school to prison pipeline” and highlight how the failure to fix the educational system harms society as a whole.

            Webster dictionary defines civil rights as the nonpolitical rights of the citizen, or the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.   The rights of citizens to political and social equality form the foundation for the most famous civil rights movements in our nation’s history.  Education forms the foundation of these civil rights, as the purpose of education is to give all people an opportunity for success in the future.  Those individuals leading our country, our states, our cities, and even our universities are all well educated, regardless of their race or former socioeconomic status.  A strong education gives people an opportunity to pursue greater professions, to change their socioeconomic status, and to potentially avoid a life of crime or violence.  All people have the right to social freedom and equality, yet without the knowledge of how to pursue those rights many individuals are left reliant on the educated elite who are able to navigate their way through the current system.

            The reality is that all children can learn, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.  Charter schools, private schools, and public schools have all provided evidence that children can learn in the right atmosphere and with the right teacher.  Despite this evidence, people still refer to public school demographics and make assumptions about what that school is able to accomplish.  People hear where an individual went to school and immediately make assumptions about that individual and what his experiences were like at that school, and assume he is similar to his peers.  This is one of the reasons several educated parents that can afford to do so will place their children in private schools, where the assumption is that they will be getting a superior education and be in a better position to excel in the future.

            Public education is the civil rights issue and a primary staple of our society that must be addressed to ensure that individuals have an equal opportunity at obtaining employment, higher education, and quality housing.  Without addressing public education as a civil rights issue, we can only address the aftermath of inequality and not put prevent these issues from arising in the future.    The research is available, and educators across the country can provide further insight into what changes need to happen to ensure that students are able to pursue social freedom and equality.  Yet until public education is recognized as a true civil rights issue, and a majority of educated and uneducated adults are ready to demand true educational equality and opportunities, the education system will remain a topic for debate and political campaigns.

6 Responses to The Need to “Fix” Our Views on Education

  1. profadcock says:

    Like the icon ☺

  2. Johnathan says:

    I agree with this post in theory, but I feel it may be over-simplified. There have been many “fixes” but most often they are not given enough time to actually work.
    Another “fix” will not solve the problem(s). In fact there needs to be a paradigm shift in our reasoning for education. In the Scadanavian Countries education is for education’s sake not as a means to an end as it is here in the United States.
    While it is true everyone CAN learn, there is a continuum which must be followed to allow that learning to take place. The same old subjects we have always taught may need a bit of a revamping. Many students have no ownership of such subjects so they do not care.

  3. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Um, you might want to cc Bill Gates, the Walton family, Rupert Murdoch, et al. They’re the real education reformers.

  4. John Byrne says:

    In other words, the educational system’s failure to properly educate is a civil rights issues? Newsflash: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a civil rights, sociological, political, or cultural issue-even though it’s unequivocally a combination of all-because what you’re really talking about is laying the foundation for social mobility by using education as a primer. That’s all fine and dandy, except you blinded yourself of the fact that education coined as a civil rights issue wouldn’t force the problem to move any less glacierly than it does now. The reason is because familial, socioeconomic, and teacher expectation/deficiency issues erode the system from the inside out. Simultaneously, the system is mismanaged from the outside in by local and state governments. The education problem involves micro, mezzo, and macro system failure and/or complacency. Lumping this into a single holon and calling it a civil rights issues (1) doesn’t change a thing and (2) further trivializes and frustrates the purpose and dynamism of the issue.

  5. Hailey says:

    While I appreciate the comments and welcome the conversation, I respectfully disagree with the interpretation that “it doesn’t matter whether it’s a civil rights, sociological, political, or cultural issue.” I agree that education would need to be addressed from each of these angles in order to truly change the system. However, the drive to force change is currently absent. The African-American Civil Rights Movement was successful because there were major campaigns of civil resistance that required immediate attention by federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and communities. The recent “Ban the Box” and “Civilian Review Board” initiatives are being addressed in Charlotte due to the recent outcry from residents.
    The interpretation of education as a civil rights issue does not simplify the familial, socioeconomic, teacher, and mismanagement issues. This understanding of education as a civil rights issue has the potential to push people to action and to recognize that education is the key to political and social freedom and equality. Unless people are willing to fight for a change in education, you are correct that coining education as a civil rights issue would change nothing. However, if more people recognize that education is a civil rights issue that can be changed through major campaigns of civil resistance and a unified force advocating for change, we have the potential to actually shift the paradigm in the reasoning for education and move towards equality.

  6. John Byrne says:

    Hailey,
    I, too, appreciate the response.
    Tell me if I understand you correctly. You’re saying that if American’s understand education primarily as a civil rights issue, then attempts to “fix” the system would become more efficient because it would “push people to action?” My question is how and why? What would change if people recognize education as a civil rights issue? Would we somehow feel a more compelling need to act because the issue is now more interpersonal than (or in addition to) social or political? Can you prove that and with what philosophy? Do you think people are going to say “well now I’m pissed; before my child was getting a bad education and that made me mad…BUT NOW that I know it’s a civil rights issue, I’m going to be more politically active about it?” Or, maybe you think education as a civil rights issue would make it a more highly prioritized political issue? But let’s think about that. Currently, education issues are addressed through national and state budgetary, social, religious/secular, employment, and often entitlement lenses (to name a few). Are you saying that transitioning it into primarily a civil rights issue would give it more cause than that? Or cause more politicians to act?

    Finally, the African American movement and the education issue are different. African Americans were segregated and belittled for who they were biologically. They were (still are) fighting for equality spread across as myriad of existing issues, education being one of them, based on humanistic ideals traced back to Socrates and Kant. Quality of education is not and never will be as fundamental or important as equality of existence (I don’t want to minimize access to quality education, I’m simply making a value comparison).

    IMHO If quality access to education is ever achieved, it won’t be with the current system because the current system has a bottom, middle, and high end; it would be with a system that recognizes and supports all different learning, testing, acceptance, and grading styles. We don’t need a “paradigm shift” in our awareness of education to achieve this. We need diversity in education (woohoo go civil rights!) But lest we forget how we go to diversity in education in the first place, let me remind you, it was “social outcry” from all directions; not just one. Diversity of influence = greater influence, no?

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