Education in America is not as effective as it should be because of a number of problems inherent within the system. Because of the way issues of political and social differences have infiltrated educational policy and decision-making, students are not being offered a sound way of dealing with diversity or understanding how to manage differences. Furthermore, in the midst of more large scale debates centering upon sociopolitical questions, there are more concrete problems that are not being dealt with such as the issue of cheating in schools and even the imbalance and potential unfairness of the grading system.
In many cases, it seems that the problems in the schools are related to an inability to make important decisions about the future of education in America. Instead of focusing on the areas of true and immediate significant importance and value, time is being wasted by infighting and indecision. Instead of wasting time of these debates, the larger issues that have an effect on the system as a whole and outcome of educated young people should be addressed and these other side arguments should be saved until a time comes that education in America is improved.
One of the problems with the American education system is that it has yet to form a consensus about the role of religion in the classroom. While this is not a statement meant to argue whether or not religion has a valid place in the public schools, it is fair to state that this is certainly an area of contention as opposing sides attempt to standardize how religion is treated, particularly in textbooks. Because of a lack of agreement, proponents on both sides use litigation and other actions to determine religion’s status in schools and this has caused textbook publishers and other educational entities to have to take a dramatic stance. For instance, some argue that the efforts to stay away from this debate “has pushed textbook publishers to excise religion altogether, even from history class. It is not just the teaching of religion that has become taboo…It is the teaching of religion" (Goodman 1). No matter where one stands in the midst of this controversy, it is necessary to at least admit that a large portion of Western history revolves around religious ideas.
As a result of this fact, it seems as though these textbook publishers who are afraid to include anything of a religious nature are doing students a disservice since they are denying the legitimate reasons for many historical and social truths of history. In other words, political correctness and oversensitivity about religious issues have clouded education and caused students to have a rather skewed view of society since they are only being offered a rather whitewashed version of it. When Goodman suggests that American schoolchildren need to be taught the importance of diversity by stating, “it is not that Americans deny their differences or always resolve them, but that we have managed, until now, to live with them" (1) she makes an important point about diverse thinking. As her statement also makes clear, American education cannot gloss over history and society without cheating students out of a deeper understanding of differences in opinion. By offering young people only one narrow way of thinking because of political reasons, it limits their scope and ability to deal with such social difference later in life.
Education is not becoming more ineffective simply because of political wrangling about the role of religion in schools, but also because there is a lack of understanding about moral issues, such as plagiarism. While its another argument entirely about whether or not the two are interdependent in some ways (religion and simple morals/ethics) it is noteworthy that there is a lack of ethical stringency in schools. When it has been suggested that out of the top American students many cheated and had ambivalent views about it, it becomes clear that there is a lapse in ethical lapse in the system itself. According to one of the statistics in “Their Cheating Hearts" by William Raspberry, “80 percent had engaged in academic cheating and thought cheating was commonplace. Moreover, most saw cheating as a minor infraction" (Raspberry 1).
It is not just that so many students are cheating but that so few think it is not a major issue. Even still, as Raspberry notes, many of them contend that they would wish to live in a community where people “adhered to the highest ethical standards" (1). This disparity in what students believe about plagiarismand what they practice highlights a significant shortcoming in the education system since it seems it only teaches young people what is wrong but does not perhaps address how they should apply this to their lives. Again, one must wonder if the fear of controversy over moral issues has extended so far that it is shortchanging students of valuable information that will allow them to make informed, responsible, and ethical decisions. Instead of getting caught up in debates of great magnitude (the role of religion in schools, for instance) these questions should still be posed but should also take into account that children need to be taught important ethical lessons while the argument rages on.
Another important issue that must be addressed in order to help save the deteriorating state of the American educational system is that of the grading system. Educational researchers, students, and teachers at all levels have confronted the issue of possible imbalance in the system even though, according to one opinion, “No one has ever demonstrated that students today get A’s for the same work they used to receive B’s or C’s" (Kohn 1). In other words, even though there is an ages-old debate about the grading system it is generally something that comes and goes yet is without a great deal of merit. In many ways, it seems as though there is a great deal of time being wasted within the educational system (on the part of educational researchers, critics, students, and even teachers) about this supposed problem. Instead of focusing on legitimate issues (such as cheating) again it seems there are useless or debates that cannot be won that are taking up precious time and resources. Furthermore, just as in the case with the problems arising from religious debates in schools, the question of political correctness is in the background as thinkers wrestle with the possibility of grade inflation and what is defined by “too much concern about the students’ self-esteem" (Kohn 1).
These more ethereal questions are being posed when the real problem lies in the fact that there is no consensus about this issue among others. This is another clear case of the educational system failing because no one can agree about important factors affecting education in America. Although it would be impossible to claim that is one standard by which students would be judged, wasting time on this debate detracts from more important issues such as how to improve testing scores, how to make sure students are maximizing their educational experience, and whether or not the system is attempting to make better citizens out of young people.
Even though all of the problems that have been addressed thus far are important, it is necessary for thinkers to look at and offer commentary on larger societal education issues. In the case of academic dishonesty there is a move to look at how students view the issue from a larger cultural/social perspective and this should occur in other educational debates as well. While it would be a massive undertaking to change the way high schools function at this point when the system is already weak, Botstein observes how culture and social changes are having an effect on even the most basic assumptions we have about schools. For instance, “The primary cause for the inadequacy of high school rests with irreversible changes in adolescent development" (Botstein 1). While this is biological since adolescents come to maturity more quickly than they did in the past, it is also a matter of culture. Influences ranging from the home to the media are making adolescents feel like actual adults and thus perhaps high school is outdated since “High school was designed to deal with large children. It is now faced with young adults whose adult behavior has already begun" (Botstein 1). This kind of thinking moves the questions about how to fix education forward since it accounts for new developments with the focus of the schools—the young people themselves as opposed to the theorists and proponents of morally or politically-based arguments.
It is clear that there are serious problems with the modern American educational system. As it stands, the solutions to the problems inherent to the American system of education are within reach if there could be common agreement about what some of the basic needs of students are instead of the less concrete concerns. Still, it is important to recognize that all the theories that have been put forth about what is wrong with schools are still important, but that they must not overshadow the commitment to making education more effective in the here and now. If culture and the rapidly changing state of society can be taken into account, new ideas about education can be useful. If, however, debates rest on stagnant arguments that cannot ever be won by either side without even slight consensus, then education will continue to suffer.