*On an autumn day in September of 1962, President John Kennedy challenged a nation to do the impossible and send a man to the moon in just seven short years. Perhaps the thing he his best remembered for other than his unfortunate death, we take his declaration for granted.
What is interesting is that at a time before digital calculators and watches, before microwave ovens and before TV shows were regularly broadcast in color, the audience at Rice University did not greet his proclamation that “We choose to go to the moon” with incredulousness, or appear to wonder how such a monumental goal might be achieved, but instead greeted it with eager applause and giddy enthusiasm.
President Kennedy felt emboldened to make his pronouncement and a nation felt empowered to support him because they had already seen how it would work; it was real to them. Traveling through space had been explained, diagrammed and animated by the genius behind the propulsion system NASA still employs today, Werner von Braun, with the help of America’s biggest space enthusiast Walt Disney and his TV series, ‘Man in Space’.
Without Walt and his Imagineers making von Braun’s vision tangible to an entire nation including a then young Senator from Massachusetts, the unifying energy and enthusiasm that drove a technologically nascent nation to accomplish such a feat may never have materialized.
We need to spend a lot more on education.
For decades now, voters have been periodically asked to pay more tax to fund the same schools and get the same results, which news stories and articles like this one remind them, aren’t very good. It is tiresome and obviously ineffective.
Secondary education needs to be re-imagined from the top down based on what is required to give our youth and our nation the best chance to not only compete in the world but continue to be a global leader. Once imagined, this new vision must be explained, diagramed and animated by people like today’s Imagineers at Disney, and made tangible to taxpaying parents, grandparents and prospective parents. Perhaps a series of TV ads titled, ‘America’s Youth in School’ would be a good place to start.
Without a clear vision of a new outlook and approach to educating our children that will drastically improve results, the education of our children is doomed to continue to be mediocre, their days spent in underfunded schools with underpaid teachers limping along as best they can. But if we can create a clear vision of a truly better approach and convince America of its merits, America will pay for it – we’ll do anything for our kids.
In the same way that a parent hopes that their love for a team or school or profession will be shared by their children, so do professors hope that their love for academia will be shared by their students. The students most like the professors are the students most generously rewarded by the professors, who are hoping the students will become professors in their image. This is partly borne from individual ego, but mostly from a sincere belief that becoming a professor is the highest calling.
In this way academia begets academia and professors beget professors, as an oak drops millions of seeds hoping that one might take root and flourish. To that end, we have come to view high school as merely college prep, although more than a third of high school grads will not enroll in college and only a third of Americans have earned a college degree.
Whether we realize it or not, the entire educational structure in America is designed to produce professors on the top rung of the accomplishment ladder, doctors and lawyers on the rung below, business execs on the next rung down, and so on. Like any organic entity, education in America has learned how to perpetuate itself. And, like many organic entities, it does so with little or no regard for anything other than its needs, in this case dismissing the 35% of high school grads that won’t go to college and another portion that wouldn’t if they had other options.
for (for-profit) universities and colleges.
Some will go to college – all will go through life.”
Our first obligation to our youth is to give them the tools they’ll need to be contributing members of society. This includes making sure they acquire skills like balancing budgets and applying for a job, but also helping them discover the things they have an aptitude or passion for. If that aptitude is for Classidemics, then high school will most likely also become college prep for them. If that aptitude is for New Tech, or The Arts, or Mechanics & Engineering, high school can be solely vocational and career prep for some students, and it can be college prep with an emphasis in the area of their intelligence for other students.
Additionally, we are obligated to provide our children and our teachers the resources required to insure that our students can not only succeed, but excel and rival students worldwide. The list of these resources is long and varied, including books, teacher’s aides, software, computers and systems to interact with ‘sister’ classrooms across the globe.
In order for change to be effective it must be consistent. A national set of minimum requirements for high school graduation must be established and enforced by local school districts, who will continue to set local policies and curriculum that enhance and support the federal agenda.
We are all familiar with Jane. She is the server at your local 24/7 eatery that works the early morning shift and seems much more stressed than her two tables would dictate; it always seems like she’s having a hard time, or a hard life.
In this world, she wasn’t able to do well in school, and got labeled as dumb early on. Her only joy was once-a-week Art Class. By the time Jane was a sophomore she was so far behind classidemically that she stopped going to school and started hanging out with some people that used meth, and pretty soon she was strung out and pregnant. Like falling behind in school, Jane fell behind in life, never being able to make enough money or figure out how to budget what she was making. Her days became a series of overdue bills, tattered clothes and bullshit boyfriends. And now she wants to take your order, doing a job she is so afraid to lose that it actually makes her a lousy waitress.
In a different world, say the one over there –>, one of the Learning Issue Specialists that assist all the teachers identified Jane as being moderately dyslexic while still in elementary school and after months of work Jane learned to compensate and read well. She was then able to keep up with her class classidemically, albeit in the middle of the ol’ bell. Meanwhile, Jane’s ability to draw and paint was praised and encouraged throughout her school career.
In her Sophomore Life Prep Course Jane learned to make a household budget and balance it. She also learned about alcoholism and other addictions, pregnancy and STDs and ways to prevent them and how credit card interest works. Like her peers, upon successful completion of the Sophomore Life Prep Course she was permitted to choose one of four sets of directed studies for her junior and senior years: New Tech, Mechanical & Engineering, Classidemics and The Arts, which was no choice at all for Jane! And now she wants to take your order, doing a job she doesn’t mind because she know she’s good at it, working the early shift so she can take a couple classes at community college in the afternoon.
The nurturing of Jane’s natural aptitude in her directed studies classes allowed her to develop good skills and confidence, so she looks forward to Tuesday and Thursday nights when she donates her time to do face painting for kids at the hospital and when she doesn’t have to work on Saturday she make a few extra dollars sketching caricatures at the Famer’s Market.
Acknowledging that Jane’s story has been skewed for our purposes, that world over there — sounds pretty nice. Jane is a happier, more productive citizen, and the more students there are like her, the fuller community bands and choirs will be, the bigger the increase in arts shows and community theater will be, the healthier your community will be.
Continue to Part Three, where we identify the resources needed and critique the concept that college is for everyone.
A graduate of Portland State University, Steve Kloser is the author of
– Beginning Band – A Guide to Success and
– Let’s Make Music – Classroom Recorder Course.
He is also an accomplished teacher, conductor and composer, having penned numerous pieces including:
–La Vida and Fly With Me.
Teacher, web developer, Packers fan and proud American, Reeno’s usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on issues old and new. Reeno currently lives in Portland, OR.
Read more at reeno317.me or follow Reeno on Twitter