Business Insider wrote an article this past September detailing how the US has seen it's global education ranking drop 21 points from 1990 to 2016. There was once a period in American society where our greatest achievement was the ability to create schools and universities to educate the masses. This American value has since been twisted into a disfigured compulsory form of learning that imprisons and degrades young people into conformity and obedience.
Despite having dropped 21 spots in less than 30 years, the US spends more on education per student than most countries in Western Europe and Asia. It's fairly obvious that this money isn't being invested into better teacher training, smaller class sizes, or improved academic materials, so where is it all going? We have had contributing editors such as Zachary Clymer write about his charter school and how the institution spent an increasing amount of money on sports equipment while neglecting arts programs and academic resources. The administration begged and fed off of the willing parents who believed that their money - donated or taxed - was going to support whatever their child wanted to pursue.
The US system has also refused to acknowledge the idea of specialization and, instead, sets "standards" for what every student must be able to show knowledge of by a certain age or grade level. Although policy makers would claim that this creates a "foundation" for future education, many argue that it simply feeds the same information to a set of unique young people and slowly turns them into identical compliant adults with no desire to question what they understand to be their “obligations” as citizens.
In October of 2017, the Goethe Institute published a report about their transatlantic outreach program. In this period, they traveled to several German educational institutes to learn about how the German government has decided to educate its students. In the report, the outreach participants explained that students in Germany had two options when deciding what to do for secondary school: academic or vocational.
Students had the option of acknowledging that an academic track was not something they were interested in and were offered programs in welding, plumbing, coding, business, and other fast-tracks into the workforce. The students who did choose to attend a more academic institution were given ample time and support to help them decide where they wanted to direct their focus. They expressed that their decisions on what path to pursue was truly their choice. Students had very little direct influence from teachers or counselors as to what industry or profession they would choose to work in.
In Germany, businesses are more concerned with a students preparation to enter their field of work rather than certification or documentation of education. German businesses will hire students part-time while they are still in school to expedite the training process. Students’ work with their specific "host company" counts towards their education. Most students end up being hired by their company once their academic work is complete. We see programs such as Praxis and Pathly that have similar values budding in the US and Canada, but these ideas have a long way to go before they are mainstream,.
As anyone who spends enough time on social media will see, there are plenty of people who claim that Western European and Asian models of state schooling are much better than what the US has to offer. Although I would agree with this, especially after reading what the Goethe Institute published in 2017, I wonder if this type of education is applicable to American society. As progressive as many of the younger generations are, we place a lot of value in traditional paths, roles, and ideas that were created during times that we have little relation to now.
Would the people of the US ever be ready to admit that the university or compulsory education standards we have known for decades are simply outdated? Or would we continue to hide behind our need to belong and identify with an institution? When many students are asked what the best part of their educational experience was, they may reminisce on their sports teams wins or their schools quirky traditions that they participated in. It is rare to hear a student say that the reason they enjoyed aspects of their education was truly the education they received. It is more often now than ever that students who go to university are not paying for knowledge, they are paying for a name, a label, and an association.
The way American's interact with each other is vastly different from the rest of the world. We rank each other based on affiliations, not skills, morals, or ideas. We find value and worth in who we identify with, regardless of how their values may conflict with ours. We may never be prepared to admit that this age-old process of accruing value is worthless when it comes to actually doing our jobs or standing our moral ground.