The Education System, Huh?

I know I wrote that I was on hiatus, but this article set me off . . .

An article from the Associated Press, which was republished on December 21 by al.com, tells us in its first two paragraphs that an organization called the Education Trust blames the education system for the high failure rate on the military’s entrance exam. According to the article, 23% of “recent high school graduates” who take the initial exam to get into the US military do not score high enough to get in. Education secretary Arne Duncan is quoted later in the article as blaming the high dropout rate, so right off the bat I don’t get what the article is driving at: are we talking about the failures of dropouts or graduates?

However, some other facts that are relayed in the article are equally important to me. It goes on to tell readers that 75% of applicants are turned down because they are “physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate from high school,” three times as many as are kept out due to a low test score. Even though there is relevance between those three factors and the education system, all three of those factors have a lot to do with parental involvement. First, eating habits and exercise habits can be influenced by schools, through classes like Health and Physical Education, but home life has a heavy influence on eating habits; moreover, any consumption of sugary sodas and other junk food originates at home, since school lunchrooms don’t serve or sell those items. Second, even though schools give children a better alternative to street life, morals are learned at home and supervision over children can keep them out of bad situations, which is the work of parents and communities. Third, the education system can only help children if they show up in mind, body and spirit; once a child drops out or just stops doing schoolwork altogether, that child’s family and community must accept that will be his or her only “teachers.” On down the article, a 19-year-old man is cited as saying that the military entrance exam “is easy for those who paid attention in school,” even though he “blamed the education system for why more recruits aren’t able to pass the test.” This man nailed it in the first part of his statement: the test is a no-brainer for people who went to school and accepted what was offered to them.

I would also like to proffer two related more items for consideration. First, this article’s inflammatory title and first two paragraphs seem to indict the education system, then the information rambles around from topic to topic, eventually landing at the fact that the really staggering number is the obesity rate, which keeps more young people out of the military than the test scores. The writer’s lack of focus that follows the inflammatory introduction is stunning. The article also gives the typical and now-expected numbers on the racial gaps, with Blacks performing lowest, Hispanics a little better and Whites best, but the lowest passing rates were in Wyoming, which is almost an all-white state. The writer makes no connections at all about these disparate facts. The final impression that I took from it is not that the education system is failing, but that teenagers today should stop eating junk food and playing video games, and start exercising and paying attention in school!

Second, this article offers no indication of any solutions to any of the problems, because the Education Trust’s report didn’t offer solutions, only problems. I browsed the report, which was offered as a download on al.com, but did not see any positive action suggested. At the end of the report, their missions is stated: “to promote high academic achievement for all students.” I am disappointed in their approach in this report, since all I saw in it, and in the article, was an elaboration of the problems. So what do we do about it?

The implication in this article’s title and opening paragraphs is that graduates are being allowed to pass without really having an education, which is supposedly the education system’s fault. If you ask me, the truth involves much broader issues about parental involvement, the role of schools, young people’s use of technology, and more.

About the education aspect presented in the article, this matter brings me back to my same old diatribe about objective testing, multiple choice formats, and standardized tests. It’s suspicious to me — though not surprising — that standardized test scores are continually rising, as they are legally required to do by NCLB (or else federal funding is cut), but there is a crisis in actual learning as shown by this report from a compilation of data about military recruiting; when these kids who are passing high school standardized tests go out and try to function in the real world, they aren’t educated enough to do it. The military can’t use a whole generation of young soldiers who want to pick A, B, C or D and get the points; the military needs people who know how to use information, make connections, think and produce results, which our current methods aren’t teaching students to do.

Just as one last somewhat cynical note, did anyone ever think that some young people fail the test on purpose because someone (a parent, a friend, a teacher) is pressuring them into joining the military when they don’t want to? Just a thought.

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