Here’s an illustration of what’s wrong with education today. First, for the last five days, I’ve graded almost non-stop because all of my sections started out overfilled, and now, at the end of the semester, I’ve still got as many students as I normally begin the semester with. There’s almost a sadistic mandate from the highest levels to overwork us and burn us out. It truly seems purposeful, as if administration views educators as a disposable commodity with an infinite supply. Perhaps there is an endless supply of warm bodies to proctor a course, but in my experience, it takes years to develop professional educators, and the percentage of people who can grow into professionals is relatively small. So one major flaw in our system today is the best quality educators, at least from my perspective, are being driven from the career because of burn-out and mental fatigue.
The second major flaw comes from how the K-12 system has created a generation with no concept of accountability. Yesterday was a perfect snapshot of this mentality. A student had flubbed her internal citations for a major paper; she wasn’t even in the ballpark of what I had taught. After asking me to explain to her how to do it properly, she continuously interrupted me to tell me I was wrong and that she had in fact done it correctly. Again, she wasn’t even close yet believed she knew more about MLA style than I do. I was so irked by her disdain for my authority on the subject I literally had to walk out of the room.
From talking with colleagues, I’ve found that this particular mentality is becoming more and more prevalent among freshmen. How dare we question them or hold them to standards! For their entire academic careers, all they’ve had to do was show up and put something down on paper to get passed along to the next level. While many honors and advanced programs do maintain certain standards, what we’re seeing is that the less rigorous ones seem to have none. Showing up is all that’s required. As a college instructor, I’m indescribably frustrated by this erosion of principles because as a composition teacher, often I’m the first person to hold these kids accountable for their lack of ability. Therefore, I’m the villain for ruining their opportunity for higher education.
Like the old cliche states, children are our future, and from my vantage point, our future as a world leader is on shaky ground. Without standards or accountability, children are coddled into believing that quality does not matter, and as quality evaporates, so does competitive edge. In a global economy, competition is more fierce than ever, so at a time when we need it most, we are robbing our children of their competitive spirit because of a flaw in the system that encourages passing along children regardless of performance to maintain funding. Older teachers who have worked in the K-12 system know exactly what I’m talking about, and many of them either already have or soon will flee the system because they are “encouraged” to lower their personal standards to meet the declining abilities of students.
The real crux of the problem is that most administrators have very little in-class experience. Some do, but most don’t. Most are trained administrators, so the system has evolved into one where the people with the least experience with classroom management and course development have the most say-so in setting the guidelines for how the system works. To me, that seems like backwards thinking. I know other sectors, such as manufacturing, have gone through similar struggles, where the people making decisions on how a particular line runs have never actually operated the machines, but education is not manufacturing or food service. Education is the foundation for everything else, and I do mean everything, so we as a nation are setting ourselves up for failure because we have broken our own foundation. All I can say is it’s a frustrating time to work in this profession.