Even though I spend most of my working life engaged in scientific research, I do teach and I regard myself as an educator as much as a researcher or a scientist. Thus, education is a topic I hold dear, and threats to education are a frequent source of outrage. I believe that America's children deserve a quality, secular education and that this is essential to ensuring that we remain competitive in the global markets of the future and that we retain an informed citizenry, capable of participating in the American democracy.
I am saddened by the declining educational standards I observe, and I continue to believe that America deserves better. Rather than appropriately funding public education, we have simply lowered educational standards. More children enter college, not because more are academically qualified but because we have gradually made it easier to finish high school and gain college entrance.
In college, standards are lowered to prevent having to flunk out a large majority of the unqualified students who enter. Our democratic ideals tell us that every child deserves a college education, even though reality tells us that not every child is capable of earning one. If we are serious about every child deserving the opportunity to succeed in college, then we need to get serious about making sure they are adequately prepared. Because this entails increases in funding, it has yet to happen.
But the problem goes deeper than inadequate funding. At the center of the problem is the value which we as a society place on education. We celebrate athletic accomplishments and reward athletic talent far more than academic talent. We idolize the jocks and ridicule the nerds. Not even the vast contributions to our society by Bill Gates have altered this pattern. Too many parents raise children who grow up believing that a diploma is little more than a commodity. The educational experience itself is considered near worthless, as it is all about the diploma as a ticket to a job. Learning for learning sake is considered wasteful; one learns to get a piece of paper to get a job to get money to get a big TV and so on.
And consider the example set by our President for a moment. This is a national disgrace and an international embarrassment. That we somehow found this folksy moron endearing enough to elect tells speaks volumes on the degree to which our nation devalues intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, and education. That this statement did not make headlines in every major newspaper and lead every newscast tells me that we have a tremendous amount of work to do if we are to get America back on the right track.
Not only does Bush not appear to be particularly embarrassed by such frequent gaffes, but his administration regularly expresses disdain for science. What sort of model does this provide for our children? The neo-conservatives don't even think government should be involved in educating the citizenry!
Expect to hear more from me on this topic because it is too important to ignore. If we value reason, we must recognize that reason is learned. A strong secular education fosters reason and critical thinking skills. If these are the skills we want our citizenry to apply, then strengthening public education must be a priority.
Tags: education, public education, secular education, reason, Bush, America, democracy, high school, college