A Cynical View of Education in American Politics
There is a commonly-held political axiom (especially during election years) that politicians of every stripe will use "education" as a political talking point. These talking points consistently make promises to parents and communities about providing what they believe to be the "best for the children", as well as what they will do (and how they will do it). Regardless of whatever name is given to these proposed educational programs, there is always some political marionette who is arrogant enough to claim that they know exactly how to meet the educational needs of every child in the district/state/country in order to secure your vote. And yes, that includes me.
There is another political axiom that states "education is critical to success". Recently, politicians of a specific ilk have tried to expand that axiom to claim that "a well-educated citizenry is essential to the success of our state." Personally, I rather agree with the sentiments inferred by these axiomatic statements, but here's the rub (and there's really no way to get around it): I question whether politicians (as a group or as individuals) are really the best qualified people to determine what "well-educated" is, or how to measure the "success" that is so frequently mentioned as the end goal. Seriously, how many politicians are or were educators? Despite many of us claiming to have advanced academic credentials, most of us probably couldn't spell "cat" if you spotted us the first three letters (which is probably why we got into politics in the first place).
American Education Today
The policies of American public schools largely depend on what various state and local governmental entities have predetermined American students should know and be able to do based primarily on nothing more than their dates of birth. Enabling of these policies since the late 19th century has resulted in requiring students to sit still, walk in straight lines, be quiet, memorize facts, and most importantly, pass standardized tests. The system then applies canned instructional programs to what it designates as appropriately grouped students, but even in the upper levels of primary education (i.e., our high schools), the system allows very little possibility for a student to explore their own unique gifts, or to address any possible challenge that they might face which could interfere with their education. As a consequence of the application of these policies, if the student doesn't quite fit the mold, or if they deviate from the stillness, the straight lines, or the quietness demanded by these policies, then it is automatically the student that is the problem, and not the policies.
Put another way, children in Texas are not taught how to learn; they are taught how to conform. And the proof of this allegation is in the results that we see in our schools today. The mark of a good student is one who arrives punctually, follows the routines that have been set for them by someone in a position of "authority", sits quietly waiting for instruction, regurgitates information, and performs tasks well enough to pass a test, thus "demonstrating" a mastery of certain skills along the expected timeline. A predictable and conformed student looks like the "best" student. And while it could have been argued that this was the most likely path to success in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is simply an archaic and failing model today.
Admittedly, there have been several notable changes in the last century, but far too much of education today - and most especially public education - still follows this incredibly outdated approach. Children in Texas are not taught how to learn; they are taught how to conform. And the proof of this allegation is in the results that we see in our schools today.
It is time for Texans to reject this model and embrace new ideas for education in the 21st century.