Warehouse G

Wasted Minds

The Education Of The People

By James Donahue

"The mind is a terrible thing to waste." Back in 1972 the United Negro College Fund used these words in a campaign slogan designed to encourage blacks to fight for a place in American society by seeking higher education. The phase caught on and became part of the nation’s vernacular. It is still used by educators to promote the necessity of education.

In 1972 the United States still was considered a center of higher learning. Students came here from all over the world to attend our colleges and universities where we excelled. Our high schools were geared up to prepare graduates for either college or technical education programs. People sought to buy homes and raise their children within the boundaries of school districts that excelled.

But something happened to our education system in the last 40 years. It was such a slow and gradual decline that we hardly noticed it, but today our children can no longer compete with students on the world market.

A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, comparing the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 world countries, ranked the United States "average." Sixteen other industrialized countries scored above the United States in science and 23 outscored us in mathematics. The top performing countries were Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and Korea.

What has happened to the U.S. education system since 1972? From the outside looking in we see several obvious factors. The first and most important one has been lack of money. As inflation has stolen the value of the dollar the salaries of teachers and educators have not kept up with need. In a quest to correct this problem teachers have formed collective bargaining units, thus creating a wedge between themselves and the elected school board members who must determine how to write balanced budgets.

The public schools are financed by state and federal dollars, plus local tax money that covers the cost of erecting and maintaining the buildings. But as the cost of maintaining, building and operating schools rises, and public income in the nation drops, the volume of money filtering into schools and colleges is dwindling. This is forcing schools to take drastic measures to cut spending. Such measures as eliminating portions of the education program, doubling up on classes, and cutting back on the days students have classes.

The public schools were slammed with George W. Bush’s infamous "No Child Left Behind" doctrine that all but destroyed real education in America since 2001. Teachers were judged on how well their students scored on federal mandated testing so to save their jobs, they devoted class time to cramming the answers to the tests into the heads of their students. There was little time left for teaching students the important things they should have been learning.

There is a strange belief among a lot of Americans that becoming a school teacher falls low on the scale of professions for college graduates. We have all heard it said that those who cannot do anything else become teachers.

There is something seriously wrong with this picture. Unlike other nations, and throughout history, the educators in the United States are not recognized for their key role in instructing the children and shaping the framework of the society in which they live. They should be picked from the cream of the crop….those entrusted to teaching our children should be the brightest and most talented members of the community.

Another serious flaw that has crept into the nation’s education system has been the loss of pure academic learning. Instead of studying philosophy, reading great literature and contemplating great thoughts, the school curriculums have shifted to vocational training. High school students are encouraged to pick a vocational goal early and to devote their training in that direction. Colleges and universities are training engineers, mathematicians, doctors and nurses.

Students are no longer given the incentive in school to think of themselves as leaders, but rather they are being trained to join the nation’s work force. They are brainwashed into accepting slavery as a way of life. The best they can hope for is getting a job that pays well enough for them to afford to buy a home, a good car and perhaps get married and raise a family.

The program is obviously failing. Who has not had the experience of having a cashier give them the wrong change from a cash register? Have we not noticed the poor spelling ability showing up among many of the folk texting messages on Twitter, email or Facebook? Why is it that when asked, many young adults do not know where Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam are found on world maps? Why can’t students name our vice presidents?

There has been an obvious dumbing down of Americans that is threatening our freedoms. Is this not by design? When ignorant people are allowed to vote, they can be swayed to believe the volume of propaganda pumped into their heads by such twisted television empires as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s daily radio grunts.

If we want to regain the Constitutional freedoms that have made America the great national status it has enjoyed, we need to restore our educational systems. More than just restoring them to what we had, we need to do even more. We need to elevate our teachers to higher status in the community than they have ever known. We need to raise their salaries so that the very best and brightest compete for those positions. And we need to sacrifice to make sure they have the very best books, tools and environment to inspire our children to want to learn.

Parents need to take an active part in the educational process of their children. Families should attend great plays, concerts, visit museums and art galleries, and do all that can be done to expand those developing minds.

No child should be allowed to grow in a vacuum. Nelson Mandela, the man who sacrificed so much before he helped end apartheid in South Africa, once said: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."