According to Webster’s, education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reason and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” Acquiring or imparting “particular knowledge or skills, as for a trade or profession” is also considered education.
The reason I cite Webster’s is because with the crisis in education in this country, I wanted a basis for even discussing the subject. If we examine the definition closely, the act of imparting or acquiring knowledge is paramount to the process of learning. The teacher or the professor may be brilliant at imparting knowledge, but if the student is not acquiring knowledge, then it is all a waste of time. When the student manages to get out of high school with a diploma and is still basically illiterate or cannot do simple math, one wonders where the process broke down.
For any of you who have visited a classroom at a public school recently, it is a miracle that anyone learns anything. The chaos is caused by the fact that many of our young students are mirrors of the society we are now experiencing. These students, aside from facing the always-present peer pressure that even plagued my generation, have a slew of other problems, including bullying, gangs, drug and alcohol abuse, parents who are not married or, worse, could care less about their child’s education. Some parents spend their time at the casinos while their children go unsupervised. Added to this is the fact that many students are having sex at a young age, further complicating their lives. The constant soap-opera dramas that occur in the classroom on a daily basis make me wonder how teachers keep their sanity and manage to “teach” anything at all.
The other problem with all this drama is the fact that it drags down all the other students who are trying to learn in this difficult environment. The difference between public schools and private schools is so radical that it seems like night and day. Is that because parents who are paying $10,000 to 12,000 a year are deeply committed to being a part of their children’s education? It’s not just the discipline; those students seem to realize their parents are paying through the nose, and they want to study and do well. Maybe if parents of public school students, aside from being taxed, were given an additional bill for $10,000 to 12,000 a year, they would be at every school board meeting and doing homework with their kids every night.
Another serious problem that I see in many public schools is bureaucratic, political and callous administrators who are more concerned with their own salaries and careers, hopping from one failing school to another, than helping students progress or supporting teachers.
The crisis also affects the universities in our state. Students have to take remedial English and math courses just to get in. And the universities don’t help matters by constantly raising tuition, hiring some 18 vice presidents and yet only graduating some 30 percent or 40 percent of their students. It seems to me that lack of a clear plan from grade school to graduate school to get our students educated and out in the real world is a serious problem.
I recently interviewed a student from our flagship university who left totally frustrated. she had selected a career path, but the courses she had planned to take were either changed or never materialized. She was close to finishing college when she had to change her major. No wonder students take five to six years to graduate and amass a fortune in debt.
This educational crisis is very real, and the future of this country is at risk. It can be solved, but not the way things are being run now. But if we don’t act now, mañana will be too late.
Writer/historian Orlando Romero may be reached at Nambe1@aol.com.