Valuing Education

Valuing Education January 27, 2012

I’m really concerned about education in America. For one thing, the education senate committee in Indiana is recommending that public schools teach creationism. I don’t know whether the motion will pass, but I cannot believe that religious topics are being discussed in a school system that’s still struggling to eradicate bullying and improve literacy rates. I have nothing against people wanting to teach their own creation myths but not in the science classroom, please, and don’t waste time on debating this when basic needs go unmet.

In addition to the tension between religious and secular concerns, the problem, I think, is partly that the quality of American education varies drastically by region and economy, and partly that we focus on competitiveness and testing over promoting equality in the classroom.

This article on the Finnish school system addresses these concerns. Finnish schools have no standardized tests, and there are no private schools. Yet their schoolchildren have some of the top test scores in the world. The hypothesis is that in creating an equal education opportunity for everyone, and by allowing teachers to evaluate the needs of their students rather than conform to a national curriculum meant to produce high test scores, Finland’s children are made to feel comfortable and cooperative in their classroom endeavors, which leads to better learning.

All Finnish schools must be safe and healthy environments: “Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.” Can you imagine what that would be like in America? If kids who were somehow different (shy or nerdy or LGBT or whatever) didn’t live in constant fear? If the kids who weren’t different didn’t feel the social pressures to bully? If kids could focus on their schoolwork because they were adequately fed?

I don’t know if I see Americans coming round to this viewpoint anytime soon, especially since it seems like we’d rather invest our money in other things. But I think that our policy of devaluing education will make things much worse both in our country and in our interactions with others. Having an poorly educated population (or a population with drastic discrepancies in education) in a democratic nation is a terrible idea – and it also means that we’re not well-equipped to compete with the scholars and inventors of other nations. Or, you know, just have intelligent conversations with people from other cultures. Because let’s not forget that America is multicultural, and if we’re not giving our children the education to maneuver in our own society, we’re doing them a great disservice.

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