Undeniably, there is an American Education Crisis. Anyone that says otherwise is, at best, ignorant of the researched facts or, at worst, lying to themselves in the most egregious way imaginable. Many tests and experiments have been run that show American adolescents consistently scoring lower than adolescents from other comparably developed countries. Data given by the international test given every three years called the Programme (Program) for International Student Assessment (PISA), the National Institute for Literacy, the National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the United States Census Bureau all provide very incriminating evidence that the United States of America is having serious problems with educating its youth into well-educated adults.
It is data from the sources above that bring horrifying statistics such as the fact that the United States ranks 12th in literacy among its high income peers, 44% of American adults do not read a single book in a year, and that a whopping 28% of high school seniors are unable to read at their grade level. PISA shows that surprisingly low reading scores are not the only aspect of American education that seems to be slipping from high standards. The 2015 iteration of the test showed that the United States that, out of 71 countries that participated (many of these countries being of comparable development), the United States ranked 38th in math and 24th in science. Even though America has shown some improvement over the last two decades, the data still puts the United States lower than many other countries. It goes without saying that simply looking at raw data like this is very disheartening.
So, after looking at the facts, what can be done to help revitalize the American education system? What can be done to cure the American Education Crisis that has spread across the country epidemically? The 2010 documentary entitled Waiting for “Superman” is an example of a proposed solution to the problem plaguing the country. The solution proposed in this film is the reintroduction of charter schools as the primary source of education, causing the private sector to be the primary source of financing for the education system itself. While the conservative agenda would suggest that this is the best policy because, just like the economy, competing private charter schools will be forced to compete with one another which will result in the improvement of all schooling. However, the counter argument to this is that policies such as this only go to further the influence of money on the lives of the people within the country. That is, the fact that the more affluent students will be able to afford the nicer schools while the more necessitous portion of the population will be stuck in the inevitably underfunded schools with no mean to participate in the competition that will allegedly help them improve.
As professor Slattery at Texas A&M suggests, the archaic education system of the last few decades simply does not fit into the Post-Modern world and current state of the American people. Traditional methods are almost certainly in need of an update, however one of Slattery’s many ideas about the magical fix to the system is what he calls an “autobiographical approach” to curriculum design. This method heavily relies on the connections that are meant to be made between students’ personal lives and the subjects in school. The method encourages teachers to turn away from teaching the classic subjects through the singular point of view of traditional curriculum and encourages students to use their own experiences to create a personal connection to the material. This style lends itself especially well to the subjects that involve a fair bit of interpretation, such as history and language arts. The “autobiographical approach” would have teachers forgo the traditional textbook description of slavery during America’s early years or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and gives students the freedom to interpret these in their own way. However, the primary critique with this method is that it does not have any type of testing that would be immediately available to such a vague interpretation from the students. This method often is criticized for being far too liberal and accommodating to have any impact in the class.
Given these two extremes, the former more conservative and the latter more liberal, solution to the American Education Crisis would seem like an impossible fever dream thought up by intellectuals to justify their position in the world. However, perhaps the solution lies somewhere in between the extremes. Education should be viewed less as a political issue and more as a social one. The youth of America should not be subject to such extremes. Finding a solution that is free of politics might be the best answer to the mystery of American Education.