There’s a constant complaint heard nationwide about how American students trail their peers in other industrialized nations in terms of educational achievement.
US kids as a whole rank nowhere near the top worldwide in math or science, for example.
According to a recent study sponsored by the journal Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, most US states rank closer to developing countries than to developed countries.
Thirteen developed countries have more than twice the percentage of advanced students as does the U.S., including Germany, Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan, Finland and Austria, according to the study, which compared the percentage of US students in the graduating class of 2009 who have advanced skills in math with the percentages of similar high achievers in 56 other countries.
Year after year there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth over the situation: Pay teachers more. Shrink the number of students per class. Introduce even more standardized testing to measure student performance.
All are tried to one degree or another, yet the problem remains.
Politicians and pundits alike weep for our nation’s future, but no one really wants to face reality – a good part of the blame rests with parents themselves. So says Jeffrey Tucker at the Mises Economics Blog:
The problem begins with public schooling itself. Teachers and parents alike tend report the widespread tendency of parents to take a strong interest in their child’s education from preschool through second grade. But after the child learns to read, more or less, and life gets busy to double income households, the job of tending to education is left to the authorities, who give off the illusion that they are taking care of all important matters.
The child is meanwhile swimming in a world of peers and the distance between this world and the world of the parents grows, and by the time the child is in middle school, there is very little connection left between the parents and the child that would allow anything like close monitoring of educational outcomes.
Child rearing becomes a waiting game and a matter of a huge checklist. Reading: check. Basic math: check. Middle school: check. High school: check. SAT prep: check. College admission: check. Then the magic age of 18 arrives and it’s off to college, a time when parents sign huge checks and the child learns that life is a blast with few responsibilities beyond repeating on tests the blather they hear from the expert standing up front.
Hence, we get a nation of students largely unable, and uninterested, in being able to think for themselves.
Yet parents can’t figure out why their once-promising offspring are content to go through the motions, exert themselves only when absolutely necessary, and not always then, and are even willing to cut corners through such means as cheating and plagiarism rather than apply themselves.
Learning has been devalued among many American youth because it was never valued at home.
As Tucker writes, “We let the state take over the core responsibilities from the age of 5 through 22, and then we are shocked to discover that kids leave college without a sense of work ethic, without marketable skills, and even without the ambition to succeed in the real world. So we let them become boarders in our homes, ‘reverts’ who specialize in Wii and Facebook updates.”
Thus, instead of turning out a body of graduates with an understanding of what they don’t know – and a lifelong desire to learn it – we have instead created a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.