The root of educational failure
Ever since I dropped out of high school I have wrestled with defining the value of education. Everyone knows that education is important; the importance of education, though, becomes vague when the goals and strategies of education are foggy and confused at both institutional and personal levels.
For some, the value of education is defined as a process to prepare students for "the real world." For others it is a mechanism for instilling a broad perspective on culture and history into individual people. For most of us, the idea of education is a marriage of these two views. But still, the definition feels incomplete, even this combined view.
The irony and struggle, in my mind, is that while everyone believes in the value of education, it seems that so few of us actively pursue education. I have noticed that parents often implore their children to study hard in school, but those same parents have sparse collections of books at home or rarely frequent libraries and bookstores. Even some teachers, at times, seem to lack a thirst for knowledge.
When curriculum mechanics and lawmakers tinker with the structures and funding issues for schools, I get the feeling that the efforts are almost doomed to failure. New tests and textbooks and policies and money can always improve the tools, but I doubt they will ever make our schools the facilities of learning we intend them to be without another, almost intangible and radical change—one that can hardly be changed with the wave of a pen.
Education is almost fake unless the participants—both teachers and students—really care about the education personally, almost religiously. Else, even those students who appear to do well in the classroom end up with little of lasting value; the motions they go through to impress teachers are forced and essentially fruitless. This is especially true in the public schools, where students attend out of compulsion and lack an upbringing that values education.
Parents that have failed to instill a yearning for knowledge in their children have tied the hands of educators; moreover, they have effectively blindfolded their own children.
Breaking the cycle is hard, though. Parents that don't value learning in their own lives will be hard-pressed to change their lifestyles to include learning activities in their lives. A parent who abhors reading is not likely to effectively set reading standards high in the house; a parent that hates to be challenged mentally is not going to set the right standards for children.
The challenge facing modern public education is creating a system of impressing children with the value of education in their lives. And because such a system has to be extremely individualized, it's hard to create a consensus among policymakers regarding the way to deal with the issue. Until that challenge is met (and I don't profess that there necessarily is a widespread solution), then the dilemmas of ineffective education are not going to leave us.