It is fair to claim that the state of education in the United States today is symbolic of the state of the nation. The biggest concern is the falling of scholastic standards. It is believed that programs such as No Child Left Behind may have actually undermined the quality and parity in education. There is consensus among educationists that math and literacy proficiency among American students is lower compared to their European counterparts from the same age group. Such learning deficiencies have profound implications for the country’s future. In the context of economic globalization, many American jobs are already being offered to skilled workers from India and China. If the standard of education continues to dilute then American graduates and post-graduates will find it more difficult to compete with workers from the rest of the world.
The other big concern is the rising tuition fees at a time of prolonged economic recession. This means that for many middle-class American families providing their children with quality education is becoming ever difficult. Even in recent American history, public education used to be a safety net for children from lower rungs of American society. But this is no longer the case today. This is partly attributable to government decisions to reduce public expenditure during successive recent economic downturns. As a result, funding to public schools has dried up substantially. This in turn has led to hiring of unqualified teachers, poor infrastructure, etc.
The other major problem facing American education today is its disregard of ideals. The education system as it exists today fosters obedience and skill acquisition at the cost of critical thinking. The motives and methods witnessed in educational institutions today is far from the ideals set forth by such luminaries as John Dewey. To the contrary the present system’s purpose is one of indoctrinating the young. It is as if the system has turned into one giant assembly line for producing labor forces for Corporate America. The nation’s business leaders are products of these mass producing institutions. This explains why the nation is frequently beset by corporate scandals, bankruptcies, stock market crashes, economic depressions and recessions, and ever increasing unemployment figures. In the backdrop of these dismal statistics, it is fair to state that the education system is not molding enlightened and inspired young leaders to take charge of business and political institutions.
Contrarian authors and subaltern viewpoints are conspicuous by their absence from the syllabus. For example, the social sciences curriculum only gives sparse attention to the works of public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. In this manner the syllabus represents and promotes the Establishment viewpoint and opinion to the suppression of others.
In conclusion, what the country needs is an urgent revamp of the education system. Cosmetic changes here and there would not produce the desired results. Instead, what is needed is a rethink on the fundamental reasons for education. As it stands today, education is synonymous with training young people with technical skills that they can sell in the job market. But unless education is restored to its Enlightenment Era conception of ‘an end in itself’, the country will not see progress. Ideally, fields and disciplines in the arts such as music, literature and the visual arts are given more importance than technical training.