If everyone bothers to show up to any given AP Government class, I find myself sitting face to face with my teacher’s ankles, cross-legged on the floor. Packed in like sardines, I try not to concentrate on the tangible humidity that hangs in the air from so many sweaty palms, but instead let my mind wander: “If a fire marshal were here … ” Over the last year, the staff-to-student ratio at Carlsbad High School jumped from 32:1 to 35:1 due to the massive pink-slipping of more than 150 teachers and staff. But Carlsbad is not alone. California’s education has fallen beneath the unmerciful scythe of statewide budget cuts.
In a 2003 UNICEF study that took the averages from five different international education studies, the researchers ranked the United States No. 18 out of 24 nations in terms of the relative effectiveness of its educational system. Undoubtedly, the United States is facing an education crisis that threatens the national security and global pre-eminence of America’s future.
However, while it is tempting to chalk up the entirety of the United States’ educational deficiency to a defunct prioritization within the national budget, the fact remains that sanitation and fire safety concerns aside, money is not the only issue. In fact, the United States spends among the most per capita on education, and yet it trails most nations in terms of intellectual aptitude. Even Carlsbad High School’s API scores rocketed last year, despite problems with the budget. Thus the education question becomes more complicated, and presidential candidates become more and more unwilling to address the problem directly.
Both John McCain and Barack Obama have offered up their respective plans for America’s educational future; McCain has aligned himself with a voucher system to indoctrinate education into the free market and increase inter-scholastic competition, while Obama has favored increased government sponsorship of educational needs like soaring college costs and the No Child Left Behind program in addition to improving teacher retention rates.
McCain’s voucher system for education was first implemented in the 1960s as a mechanism for perpetuating racial segregation. Today, it presents many of the same problems while avoiding the education system’s major problems. Essentially, McCain’s system would grant every family a certain amount of money to pay for their children’s education as they see fit; whether they choose private, public or home-schooling is for the free market to decide. Assuming most families would prefer to send their children to higher performing private schools, the voucher system weakens public schools while at the same time not necessarily providing enough money for people to attend private schools. With a greater pool of applicants, private schools could afford to be more selective of the students they admit. Because public schools must accept any student by law, they would theoretically end up with all students whom the private schools turn away. It is more than likely that this would further undermine the reputation and competitiveness of the public schools, leading to a vicious circle that tends toward the total abolition of the public schools and perhaps the end of universal education.
My fifth-grade teacher was Mrs. Birmingham. She always held her class outside — in the sandbox, in the crook of this gigantic oak tree — and told us that our minds had wings, and could take us wherever our hearts could imagine. Unfortunately, that year was Mrs. Birmingham’s first and last. Most of us remember these great teachers that have shaped our past, their lessons forming the basis of our future. Compelling and passionate, these teachers have more than helped us round to the nearest decimal, they have served as role models for our nation’s youth. And while critics of Barack Obama might be right, asserting he simply plans to throw money at an already broken system, he addresses another interesting point: 30 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years in the profession. In a country known for its stubborn anti-intellectualism, good teachers are hard to come by and even harder to keep. Even the most idealistic of their ranks must have a tough time resisting the frustrations of a profession infamous for its low pay, low status and soul-crushing bureaucracy.
“It’s not just the overcrowding and the budget cuts,” Dane Stitts, an English teacher at Carlsbad High School said. “The real problem is a fundamental lack of respect for education.”
Certainly America’s education question will not be answered today, or even tomorrow as I slowly suffocate in my government class, but it is a question we must ask ourselves and our elected officials so that one day, our next generation will be ready to answer for us.
Filed Under: Letters