Why America's Schools Are Slipping

U.S. students suffer from lack of diversity in teaching, uninvolved parents, and a false sense of entitlement

By Michael A. Forbes

Education gains from diversity. All subjects can be taught in multiple ways, varying in both content and style. Math is a good example. The Pythagorean Theorem, a basic mathematical principle, can be proved in more than 300 ways, with both analytic and geometric proofs. While an extreme case, it illustrates the creative flexibility that exists for approaching math and science in the classroom.

Diversity in how things are taught is important because alternative explanations, visual plus verbal, help reinforce ideas. Also, a second presentation can spark understanding in some students who didn't grasp the concept at first. Teachers who do not explore enough options may fail to reach all their students.

However, the options open to teachers have become restricted in scope because schools have bowed to parental pressure. Parents want to know, "Why are my kids learning this? What use is it in real life?" While it may seem like a good idea to train students for the working world, it is really a mistake.


  The goal of academic learning should be twofold: to expand the minds of students so that they can reason better, and to expose each child to as many topics as possible--not only to improve lateral thinking but also to ensure that every child has the opportunity to find his or her niche in this world.

A high school student who does not want to learn will not learn. No teacher can really change that. The motivation to learn can be inspired only in elementary school. Unless the desire to learn is achieved at a young age, learning as an adult will be tedious. This is why parents are so important to the process of education. But too many parents don't seem to want to help their child's education.

A good way to change this is with diversity in parent-teacher communications. At my high school, we have Web software that allows teachers to post information for students and parents. To find out how their kids are doing, parents no longer have to trek to the school at an appointed time. If all schools had such software, perhaps parents would get more involved.


  We need to find ways to stimulate more parents to participate, because that's the real key to fixing the education system. Too many parents seem to believe that their children are entitled to a diploma simply by attending school. Naturally, their children often suffer the same delusion. I personally know of parents and students who have begged teachers to raise a grade, not because it was earned, but because they believe they are entitled.

"You can be whatever you want to be." That familiar American motto has been taken out of context in the age of entitlement. Forgotten is the tag line: "as long as you work for it."

Today, students in countries such as India and China are the ones who are working, and working hard, to be what they want to be--with strong support from their parents. The motivation for learning is embedded in their cultures, and that will certainly help their economic growth.

In the U.S., the easy life has turned schools into a place where having the latest fashions, cell phones, and DVDs is more important than learning. And entitlement has become a plague on our educational system.

Forbes was a finalist in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search

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