The Death of the American Educational System

If I ask you to recite the alphabet, what pops into your head? I’m willing to wager that it’s a catchy little jingle you learned when you were a toddler. All twenty-six letters of the English alphabet wrapped up in order inside a simple song. You and I learned the components of written language through music.

Music is only one of many programs now being removed at alarming rates from the American educational system. Funding is being pulled from the public-school system. As a result, schools are having to eliminate “non-essential” programs. These programs are deemed to either have served their purposes and are now obsolete, or to be unnecessary as a whole.

Some of the prominent programs on the chopping block are as follows:

–Gifted and talented initiatives

–Anti-bullying activities

–Mental health services

–International education and language studies

–Civics and arts programs

–Sports and Physical Education

Gifted and talented initiatives—Ending these programs is right up there with giving every child a trophy. Gifted and talented initiatives were originally designed to not only allow children to take pride in excelling in a subject, but to provide them with material in those classes that was more advanced. You know, furthering their education as opposed to having them stay stagnant by being taught material they already comprehended. The problem is that not everyone could take part in “gifted” or “advanced” classes. It hurt other children’s feelings. Now, instead of children having to work harder and better themselves to make it into these programs, most schools have eliminated them so more advanced students can hold themselves back to appease everyone else. This sadistic bondage of intellect would make Christian Gray proud.

Anti-bullying activities—I grew up in a time where bullying was just part of going to school. Of course, bullying was very different back then. No, I wasn’t the little asshole. I was the chubby kid who got fat-paddled in the locker room. I was the social moron who wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. So, during school hours, I needed only maneuver myself near a teacher. Bullying done. After school, I simply had to make it to the safety of my home. Door closed. Bullying done. But bullying is on a different level these days. No place is safe. Technology such as texting, instant messaging, and social media have made it an all new ballgame. Children now no longer have to worry about seven hours of the day. They can be abused all day and night through technology. Ridding schools of these programs is the equivalent of putting the elastic band of Awkward Kid’s underwear directly into the hands of Mr. or Ms. Mommy and Daddy Issues.

Mental Health Services—To combat the destruction of self-esteem done by bullying, or the issues at home that create the bully, children need only to speak to a mental health professional. Naturally, the next step would be to eliminate mental health services from public schools. If we’re okay with stepping aside from addressing bullying, let’s make it completely hopeless and offer no aid to those also struggling with academic stress or abusive parents. Schools shouldn’t have to focus on making children whole and mentally-healthy people. What does that have to do with standardized test scores? If you can’t pick up on the sarcasm dripping from these words, you did not belong in advanced or gifted classes.

International education and language studies—The land of the melting pot has come a long way. Even though the United States was built on the combination of many cultures and nationalities, we have decided that learning about them and their languages is pointless. As of 2015, there were 41 million native Spanish-speakers living in the U.S. Add to that number an additional 11.6 million native Spanish speakers who are bilingual. Within a fifteen-minute drive from my home, I have access to restaurants in all directions. Those restaurants include Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese sushi, Italian, and Irish menus, among others. America itself was “discovered” by immigrants. And yet the educational system is eliminating programs that allow our children to live in today’s world in intellectual understanding with the other cultures upon which the nation itself was founded, and cultures that are included in our everyday existence. Lack of knowledge results in fear. Fear results in people electing into office inarticulate and illiterate douchebags who want to build walls.

Civics and arts programs—And this chills me to the bone. These are the very programs that cultivate free-thought. Civics education centers around teaching students how to be active participants in understanding and maneuvering a democracy. In short, how to be citizens. Arts programs such as music, art, and creative writing push students to see, hear, and experience the world differently and offer unique points of view. Ironically, it is a piece of creative writing, 1984 by George Orwell, that exemplifies exactly what happens when free-thought is eliminated from education. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick it up and look to the future the American Educational System is creating.

Sports and physical education—Growing up, I wasn’t the most athletic young man out there. I was overweight and not particularly coordinated. My dad insisted I play sports anyway. He put me in basketball. I was an excellent pick man. I was hard to get around, I guess. And standing still seemed alright by me. The coach always seemed thrilled to put me in the last thirty seconds of the game because he was obligated to do so. I tried soccer. Considering the amount of running involved, I was not a starter. I played baseball. I found out I had a hell of an arm and could fire the ball in from the outfield without my cut-off man. I enjoyed that. My coach had the brilliant idea to try me out as a pitcher due to my power. Apparently, throwing long distances accurately is very different from throwing short distances. Control was not my strength. It wasn’t until I almost murdered a batter that my pitching career ended. Regardless, playing sports taught me sportsmanship and team work. P.E. eventually found me in weight-lifting classes. It was there that I discovered an appreciation for physical exertion and where I lost the fat and replaced it with muscle. I became a healthier version of myself. In a world of technology that results in children sitting all day, sports and physical education promote movement and health. Yet these programs are being eliminated and we have the audacity to ask how we’ve become one of the most overweight and unhealthy countries in the world.

Luckily, science is still a subject touched on in standardized testing, which is what the United States government has decided represents a well-rounded education. In that interest, I’ll recite some science. Virginia Penhune at Concordia University did a study that showed music education, primarily musical instrument training, affects brain structure and motor abilities. Children who are taught to play musical instruments show a significantly increased connection between the left and right hemispheres of their brains. These physiological effects last into adulthood and improve their ability to listen and communicate. Other studies show that learning a second language influences thought, consciousness, and memory. Team-building exercises from sports and physical education result in better concentration. A protein is, in fact, released during exercise that transforms the brain for better functionality. A school in Naperville, IL tried an experimental mile-long run at the beginning of every school day. Those students’ test scores not only out-performed the neighboring districts, but entire countries. Claiming that these programs are unnecessary for the education of students is utterly ridiculous.

I’ve seen the results of poor academic communication and lack of free-thought first hand. I attended an online university a few years ago to obtain my degree in Criminal Justice. The courses required students to answer posted questions that pertained to the reading, and then to respond to one another’s answers to promote class discussion. What I found is that most individuals were unable to transfer coherent thoughts into written words. And many of the responses were merely regurgitated and inaccurate information. There was hardly any free-thought or critical thinking. One question posed to the class asked, “With the wide use of text messaging and instant messaging, are we losing the ability to write properly in an academic setting?” One woman’s response discredited the idea because, “When we’re talking through text message or instant messaging, we’re usually talking to friends or family. In an academic setting, we’re talking to teachers or other students. We change how we write.” Ignore the fact that her response didn’t answer the question at all (and the rest of her paragraph-long response was her repeating this in various ways). The biggest issue with her response was that absolutely nothing was capitalized, including her use of the pronoun, “I.” It was made only slightly more difficult to read due to there being three punctuation marks total between twelve sentences. Although I did enjoy her use of emojis in her academic answer.

In another instance, I was fortunate enough to read the back and forth correspondence of two young African American women when asked, “In today’s society, do you feel Affirmative Action works? If so, do you feel it works as it was originally intended?” This question was posed in a class titled Cultural Diversity. These two Black Women (that’s a minority within a minority, in case you’re not paying attention) claimed that Affirmative Action does not work, nor does it work as intended because these “Chinese people keep coming over here with absolutely nothing and within two weeks have mansions, nice cars, businesses, and millions of dollars…all given to them by the U.S. government while nobody else gets any money.” If this response had been given by only one woman, I could have chalked it up to simply an ignorant racist oblivious of the world around her. I could have ignored the fact that her answer didn’t touch on the subject of Affirmative Action at all. However, Black Lady #2 was on the same page and their conversation that followed was one of the most broken, unintelligible, and bigoted interactions I’ve ever witnessed. And I bartended for years in a hotel bar filled with old, White contractors.

So, why are the programs that could counter these things being eliminated from public schools? Most public-school funding is attached to how well schools perform on standardized tests. Free-thought and critical-thinking have no place in memorization. Teachers now are even encouraged to educate students on how to bullshit their way through multiple-choice questions. If there are four options and one of those is “all of the above,” that is often the correct choice. Otherwise, choices “B” and “C” are more often correct.

Is this the fault of the schools? No. They rely on money from the government to maintain programs. When money is cut, programs must go. And so go the “unnecessaries.” On the up side, the United States government has been using money that could be allocated to public schools for some extremely interesting studies just within the last couple years. Examples are as follows:

–$65, 473 to find out what bugs do near lightbulbs

–Around $150,000 to understand why politics cause stress

–$283, 500 watching Gnatcatchers (funded by the Department of Defense to watch a group of birds)

–$300,000 to found out if boys or girls play more with Barbie dolls

–$1.5M to study fish on treadmills (yes, you read that correctly)

–$3M to discover that the Jaws theme song causes negative feelings toward sharks

–$3.4M to study hamsters fighting in cages

–$5M to discover that college fraternities and sororities promote alcohol consumption

–$3.1 billion for vacation pay to government employees on administrative leave for misconduct (this figure is only for the year 2015)

Need I say more?

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Turn the Page

books

What do you like to look at when you visit someone’s home for the first time?

There are the obvious first-impression items. Decorations, furniture, pictures. These things are all laid out and organized specifically to promote a particular impression of who a person is and how that person keeps his or her home. However, if most people’s homes are anything like my own, they aren’t entirely accurate. If I know I have company coming to visit, my first order is to tell my daughter to make her bed and find her bedroom floor. The glass coffee table, usually home to Littlest Pet Shop toys and delicately-placed fingerprints, is wiped down and the toys are replaced with the TV remotes that spend most of their time on the arms of the couch. The toilet is inspected to get rid of any rogue poo splatters that might have not flushed away. God forbid any guests assume I use that retched device for evacuating my bowels. I make sure the stove top is clean enough so as not to allude to any past events of feeding myself or my daughter. The throw on the back of the couch is replaced with one not covered in cat hair. My guests will naturally assume the cats use the cubby I bought for them. They do not. The bathroom counter will show no signs of me brushing my teeth, shaving, or wearing deodorant. Any evidence of having used the faucet will be eradicated. Scented wax will suggest that no part of my home has ever smelled like last night’s dinner or a fart. Luckily, I’m an excellent cook and those two cannot be confused.

These things are just what we do. We clean and organize. We make it clear that we are not people just like everyone else. But there are those items in our homes that give away our secret selves. They offer peeks into who we really are. I’m not referring to our medicine cabinets, despite some sociopaths feeling it is okay to find out if a homeowner is depressed or ever had a rash. I once had a friend come out of my bathroom and ask whose moisturizing gloves those were in my closed shower. Um, they were exfoliating gloves, Marcus. And they were mine. You freak.

My movie collection is extensive. It does offer a small look into my secret self. There are a lot of chick flicks. We’ve already established that I’m a crier. Although I love music, my collection isn’t very large. But music collections offer other previews. The problem is that it’s rare to listen to an entire album. Usually, a person skips to his or her favorite handful of songs. Likewise, movies only take a couple hours. There isn’t necessarily a lot of dedication involved in music or film.

Thus, I like to look at a person’s bookshelves. Bookshelves are beautiful open doorways into the soul. Most books take days or weeks to finish. That is a lot dedication in today’s busy world. A collection of books is like a map of someone’s passions and interests. The secret self on display right in clear view. Whereas we rearrange our coffee tables and bathroom counters to hide the messy day to day happenings, bookshelves are rarely altered for perception. No one thinks about it.

My own bookshelf represents me pretty well. It’s a five-shelfer. Not that I’m tall by any means, but I needed a shelf that would hold a lot of books. Every shelf is filled, with a few of my latest books resting on top of the others. I’m not terrific at letting go of things I enjoy. The top shelves are bowed from years of heavy hardbacks weighing down on them. I can relate to that. Sometimes I feel a little bowed myself. Although the books are fairly well organized, there is a certain chaos to their placement. I can definitely relate to that. The shelves often find themselves acting as the home to various trinkets belonging to my daughter. It currently houses a small bottle of blue raspberry-scented hand sanitizer, two Littlest Pet Shops, the game Jenga, and three smashed pennies with the logo from the St. Louis Zoo imprinted on them. As with the shelves, there is always a piece of my daughter with me. The most read and loved books have weathered edges on their covers, bent pages, and cracked spines. Like a person who has lived a full life, books also show their wrinkles, laugh lines, and scars. I have plenty of all of these.

One glance at those often dusty shelves, and you see the real me. An inscribed copy of the Holy Bible. I’m not a religious man, but it was a gift from the first woman I ever loved. I keep it to remind myself that faith comes in many forms. And that sharing your faith with someone isn’t always about religion. The collection of the What to Expect books. I read them front to back because I was terrified of failing as a father. While that dread never completely leaves, they helped me at least step into the business of parenting with some idea of what the hell I was doing. Most of Stephen King’s books. I was always an adept reader, but didn’t fall in love with reading until I stumbled across my first work of Stephen King in sixth grade. The book report was due in four days. I finished the book in three. A dictionary. Something about opening those musty pages when looking up a word is far more satisfying than Googling it on my phone. Psychology text books. I’m still fascinated at how a lump of sludge in our heads can do so much. The Idiot’s Guide to Playing Guitar. I have a classical guitar in my closet. And I can rock out probably a good four chords, no problem. Just don’t ask me to switch between those chords without doing that weird neck-crane move while I stare at my fingers. True crime and criminal investigation books. I know more about forensics, criminal investigation, and serial offenders than the average Joe. I try to avoid discussions on the topic with a woman until she has at least spent the night and left unharmed. First-date talk about serial killers and behaviorally profiling them generally doesn’t lead to a second date. The Lord of the Rings collection. Tolkien was one of the most dedicated writers ever. He insisted on having incredible back stories for his characters. He loved them and it showed. I’m still slightly upset I wasn’t allowed to name my daughter Eowyn. Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Dr. Seuss at its finest. This book is also inscribed. It was given to me by my sister when I graduated high school. It reminds me that, while I might not always have a clear idea of where I’m going, other people believe in me. And that children’s books don’t have to lose their potency just because we grow up. Robert Fulghum’s collections. Fulghum was introduced to me early in my original college career. He quickly became, and continues to be, my favorite author. Those books act as tokens that original plans don’t always turn out how we hoped. But also that we can always take something away from any situation. And that the written word has real power. These are only a handful of the doorways in the mansion that is me.

Unfortunately, with the creation of tablets, fewer and fewer people own actual books that can be displayed on shelves. Me? I’ll stick to my books. There is something so much more exciting about turning an actual page as opposed to scrolling a screen. Tablets don’t have that scent of old ink on yellowing paper. Stories on a piece of electronics can’t be transcribed. And I love having my secret self in plain view if you’ll only look hard enough.