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The Missing Pieces

The educational system in America is in an utter state of despair!  Congress is desperately searching for a solution, and parents are begging for reform.  The headlines continue to barrage our newspapers as experts endlessly debate the cause.  Through all the ruckus, it can be very difficult to determine which expert has the most substantial claim.  Better yet, some experts deny that the crisis even exists, and all the “hoopla” is simply the result of falsified claims that serve a personal, political agenda (Bracey).  As a parent of three children, the oldest haven graduated almost 10 years ago, and the middle due to graduate next year, I can personally contest that education has suffered a drastic decline in performance over the last decade.  The most significant difference we can make in education today is to redefine the purpose of an education:  are we striving to produce robotic machines that are masterfully skilled in outwitting a manipulative test, or do we wish to shape well rounded, emotionally stable individuals who are capable of making knowledgeable, moral decisions?

Plenty of educational leaders agree that installing values into education would have a profound impact in the future of our country.  Seyfi Kenan, author of “The Missing Dimension of Modern Education”, published an article in the scholarly journal Educational Sciences.  He stated that the true crisis in education is actually a socio-ethical crisis.  He claims that arming students with knowledge and failing to provide the ethics and values to guide them is a recipe for social destruction. View this article at http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ837782.pdf.  Kenan cautions that modern day scientists are capable of massive scientific breakthroughs but lack ethical guidance.  They disregard such matters as global warming and climate change in their quest for scientific superiority (Kenan).  These same principles can be applied in any field of modern society.  What good is a teacher who is capable of teaching if she doesn’t value the well-being of her students?  What good is qualified political candidate who is going to use his experience to satisfy his own selfish quest?  Knowledge can be a very dangerous weapon in the hands of the wrong people.

Experts also agree that students learn better when they value or appreciate the significance of what they are learning.  Keithia Wilson, author of “Assessing the Impact of Learning Environments on Students”, states that students comprehend material more easily when they have a deep motivation for understanding (Wilson).  Let us evaluate this theory a little bit further.  How many American households tell their children that they have to go to school because it is the law?  How many times do we criticize teaching math and literature because “they will not use it later in life”?  We should not teach our children to view education as an unnecessary burden that they must overcome to achieve some selfish financial or authoritative status.  We should emphasize the true value of an education:  the priceless opportunity to understand the marvels of the world in which they live and to ethically share this knowledge to enhance their lives and the lives of all human beings.

This leads to the next question at hand:  What should we be teaching to create moral, knowledgeable individuals who are capable of making a difference?  Obviously, developing strong character values is a must, but which curriculum do we incorporate this into?  A new era of “critical thinking” seems to have swept the nation.  The intention is to strengthen problem solving skills and promote individuality.  This is a great idea, but not at the expense of other subjects, such as math and spelling.  Although the computer can correct any fallacies on these subjects, we are failing to remember that these subjects teach a “way of thinking”.  It is not the numbers in math that make the difference.  It is the relationship between the variables.  The very goal of critical thinking may best be accomplished by returning to the basics.  Heather Wharrad, author of “Predictions of Academic Success”, conducted a study on nursing school applicants and found that students with a conventional education versus a nonconventional education scored higher (Wharrad). Author Saul Geiser published a journal article in 2008 that stated high school GPA and grades in basic subjects were higher indicators of academic success in college than ACT and college admissions exams (Geiser).  Dr. Lee Skallerup, professor at Morehead State University, stated that over half of college applicants in 2011 required remedial instruction, yet my daughter and I both graduated with conventional, basic high school education and  scored above average (Skallerup).  Although there may be extraneous variables at play, there does seem to be credible evidence that a basic education infiltrated with ethics and values would better serve our purpose.

As to any argument, there is an opposing side.  Author David Carr, in his article “What’s the Point of Values in Education”,http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-5446.2000.00049.x/full, argues that it is impossible to teach values because morals and ethics differ among cultures, and in this country, we have a heterogeneous mixture of several cultures (Carr).  This is a valid claim, and specific cultures do place different values on particular traits.  However, there are some values that can be universally incorporated.  Honesty and compassion are generally accepted as positive attributes regardless of cultural heritage.  Carr also argues that it is impossible to measure values, and we have no concrete method of evaluating progress.  We do not need to measure   values.  We can monitor academic progress in a strong ethical environment as opposed to an unethical environment to determine the effect.  If we feel obliged to “quantify” the results, it is possible to administer character evaluations.  Several employers already administer these types of tests.

Overall, the purpose of an education should not be to accumulate enough knowledge to obtain acceptable status.  The purpose of an education should be to create ethical individuals that use their knowledge to benefit society.   Whether we teach “critical thinking” or “return to the basics”, without ethical guidance, neither will serve its’ purpose.

Categories: Curriculum Reform
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  1. April 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm
    Edwin Johnson

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