Earlier this week I watched a quick video called The Truth About School, and I got all fired up! We just kicked off an extended series on education, so the timing was perfect for today’s rant about the big education lie. I hope you’ll stick with me through it, but even MORE importantly, I hope you’ll join the conversation by giving your two cents in the comments below. We need ideas. We need voices. But first, let’s look at the problem.
As I was watching the video, I had an aha moment. It wasn’t a new revelation. It was more like a sudden awareness. We send our kids to school for 13 YEARS! That’s a long time.
And wait…there are initiatives in different parts of the country to lower the compulsory education age. Really? The government wants my kids for even more than 13 years? To do what? I can tell you for sure what they’re NOT doing. They are NOT preparing our kids for life and no new legislation can convince me that that’s changing any time soon.
For five years my family lived across the street from an elementary school, and we grieved as we watched lines of innocent children pouring out of buses, filing lethargically into big stone buildings where they would be trapped for the lion’s share of the day’s sunlight hours having the love of learning beaten out of them.
Think I’m being dramatic? Why is it that a third of adults in the U.S. report that they have not read one single book in the past year? It’s because they do not love to learn. Ask anyone who loves learning how many books they’ve read in the past year, and I guarantee you’ll find out it’s way more than one.
Can you tell me why people applaud politicians who say we need to “invest in our future” by increasing education funding? We are a brainwashed society (probably because we’re also a product of the stupefying education system) who is standing by and allowing the government to take our hard earned dollars (dollars that our public eduction did NOT teach us how to earn, keep or grow, by the way) so they can squander 13 years of our kids’ lives.
What the heck are they doing with all that time? Again, I can tell what they’re NOT doing — they are NOT preparing our kids for life.
Does school teach kids how to start a business? Ask your middle schooler to explain the difference between a sole proprietorship, a DBA, an LLC, an S-Corp, a C-Corp and 501(c)3. Ask your high schooler how to choose which kind of business entity a new business owner should become and the steps it takes to do that.
Does the school teach our kids how to file taxes? Ask your tenth grader what W-2 is or a 1099 or a Schedule C. Ask him to explain the standard deduction.
Does school teach kids the steps between an idea and a successful product launch? Does it teach them how to sketch an idea, build a basic mock-up and then turn that mock-up into a prototype? Does it teach them how to turn their prototype into a working product and then take it to market?
Nope. Watch one episode of Shark Tank, and you’ll find out that our education system does not prepare our children to succeed in the marketplace.
Let’s talk about finances. In the course of that grueling 13 years, does the school system teach our kids about our banking and finance system? Ask your 9th grader to explain the principles of compound interest. Ask your 11th grader what steps you need to take to buy a house. For heaven’s sake, most kids don’t even graduate knowing how to open a bank account or how to balance a checkbook.
You might be reading this and saying, “Oh my son’s school did a lesson on balancing a checkbook. I know education is bad in other schools, but OUR school is good.” We actually hear some version of this all the time. I think parents are so desperately afraid to face the truth because they don’t have an alternative. Let’s face it, not everyone can homeschool.
But the truth is, schools are not preparing our kids for life.
Kids should be learning not just how to balance a checkbook, but how to comparison shop when they’re opening a bank account. What should they be looking for in a checking account? Should they open a money market instead? What is a CD and why or why not should they have one? What’s the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA? What’s the difference between stocks and bonds? What are mutual funds? How do you evaluate whether or not an investment opportunity is a good one?
Does the school system even teach our kids how to be wise consumers? Does it teach them how to find independent product ratings and do cost comparisons? Does it teach them about extended warranties and why you would or wouldn’t want to buy them?
We all live in some kind of house or apartment and drive some kind of vehicle, right? Does school teach our kids how to maintain or repair those things? Nope. We have to depend on other people for everything. Obviously there are some things that we would want to call an expert to do. But after 13 precious years, most kids graduate from the public education system not knowing how to change the oil in their car, repair the brakes, or replace a worn out belt or a broken water pump. These are all fairly simple tasks, and during lean economic times, it can be a big help to do them yourself and not have to pay someone.
We all have to eat right? So does our school system use a portion of those 13 years to teach us how to grow or prepare food? Ask your 4th grader what hardiness zone you live in. Ask them when it’s the best time of year to plant vegetables in your neck of the woods. Ask them what kind of soil you have and what kind organic material and mulch they should add. Ask them to explain the difference between annuals and perennials and how to decide between tilling or building a raised bed.
I remember my first trip to the grocery store as an independent adult. I had no clue what to buy. Hmmm….I should get some milk and some bread, people buy those things, right? School never taught me how to plan a menu, make a shopping list and cook the food, and that was back in the day when we were still required to take HomeEc. I remember reading a recipe that said I needed to make a roux. What the heck is that? Or a bechamel? If your high schooler was asked to bring a crudite to a party, would she know what it was? As it turns out, these are not advanced food preparation things. These are the basics! But unless their parents are foodies, most kids have no clue how to really cook. No wonder fast food places are so successful in this culture.
So, the education system doesn’t prepare our kids for the business world, our finance system or consumerism. It also doesn’t prepare us to be effective members of our government system.
Does your kid know how to effectively lobby for something that impacts their daily life? Do you? Does your kid even know the difference between federal, state and municipal government? Do they know which lawmaking branch deals with education? Do they know who is responsible for the traffic laws? Do they know how to track their representative’s voting records? If not, how on earth can they cast an educated vote?
Aren’t you starting to feel like we’ve created a society where all the important information is elusive? It’s as if everything that we really need to know is a big secret.
So what the heck is our government doing with our kids for 13 YEARS?
There’s been a big push toward foreign language. As Jody and I talk to college admissions officers, we’re hearing that they want to see quality foreign language credits. But the fact is, we are still a nation of people who speak only one language. My family members in the Middle East all speak multiple languages, and they learned them at school. But in spite of the policy changes, we are not producing multilingual kids.
So what are we teaching them? A bunch of facts? Well, not even that!
Here’s a fun test for you. No peaking, okay?
How long did the Pony Express run in the U.S.?
Most people we ask give us one of these two answers.
Are you ready for the real answer? The Pony Express ran a single mail delivery line from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacremento, California (it didn’t deliver mail all over the country as most people believe) for a year and a half. That’s it! Basically, the Pony Express was a big flop. It was a business failure. So how come we all know about it, and we all think it was tantamount to the U.S. Postal Service of the 1800s?
Because one of the Pony Express riders, William Cody (better known as Buffalo Bill), who was out of work when the Pony Express went belly up, began touring the U.S. and Europe with his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows that depicted the exciting perils of riding the Pony Express.
As I’ve done history with my own kids, I’ve learned so much that either I’d missed in my own public school education or was never taught. Do you remember learning about the Dust Bowl migration? I don’t. But it was the largest human migration in the history of this country. From 1931, when the drought in the Plains states began, through 1940, 2.5 million people relocated. Not only did the Dust Bowl stimulate the most seismic movement of people in our country’s history, but it also played a part in the economic downturn of the Great Depression. Yet, I’m not sure that I had even heard the phrase Dust Bowl in my public education.
So what are our kids learning? English is now called Language Arts in most schools, but it seems to me it’s more about the arts than the language these days. Ask your 7th grader the difference between a verb, a participle and a gerund. Ask him what a semi-colon is and how it’s used. Ask him to list the six basic verb forms and explain the proper use of each one. Forget your 7th grader, how would you do on that test?
As a writer, these things happen to be my wheel house (but don’t ask me anything about sines, cosines and tangents). I can tell you that few adults understand the grammar rules of our language. I’m consistently aware of glaring syntax and punctuation errors in emails, blogs and Facebook posts. But I don’t judge the people. It’s the school system that should be ashamed! We graduate kids from high school with just enough writing ability to skate by.
So, what’s the answer to all this?
We have no idea!
But it’s time for us to wake up from The Matrix that is our public education system and start searching for real solutions.
Let’s talk about it and brainstorm and make calls to our leaders.
If you’ve got any thoughts to share, we want to hear them! If you had a say in what our kids learn over these 13 years, what would it include?
Let’s keep the conversation going…