Today’s American public and private schools and colleges have watered-down and stretched-out general education far beyond what is necessary for the average citizen to be employable upon graduation for various reasons, including obtaining funding from the federal government, babysitting children for working parents, employing and funding union pension plans for teachers and administrators, maintaining and upgrading the facilities, and basically indoctrinating new generations into a liberal socialist agenda.
Okay, so I’m biased. I’m a Christian conservative who did high school through the mail (albeit in liberal SoCal), lived in Japan when I was younger (and therefore compare the outcome of their education system to America’s), and my husband and I went on to homeschool our own son Pre-K – 12. (Did I mention that he’s in a top Christian college, on the dean’s list and a member of two honor societies? Not to brag – just to show that children can learn and thrive outside of the American education system just fine.)
Let’s go back to how education began in America. Why were so many of our Founding Fathers already in college in their early-to-mid teens in a casual learning environment (many were homeschooled), yet many modern teens can barely graduate after twelve to thirteen years of 180-days-a-year-school? Take a look at the Blue Back Speller, one of the most used textbooks created by Noah Webster to be used by five generations at the beginning of this Republic’s education system. Compare it to modern textbooks for grade-schoolers. (Yeah.) With access to the internet and the ability to learn anything at the touch of a button or screen, it’s almost unconscionable to hold kids back to the turtle’s pace of learning in American schools today.
It’s obvious our current schools are “dumming down” students and expecting far less of them. Back in the day, children were expected to learn quickly and be done with their basic education by sixteen years old. Most were done by twelve or thirteen if they weren’t going to college! Then they worked. Sure, jobs nowadays are more complicated and require more training. But most Americans aren’t doctors or lawyers. They’re working in blue-collar or white-collar jobs that rarely require more than the basic “Three R’s” of learning – reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic. Going much further beyond that is usually a waste of time and money.
After the basics, which could be completed by Junior High, Americans would benefit more financially, mentally, emotionally and socially from moving on to on-the-job-training and trade schools. Keeping most kids in school through High School and College benefit schools financially more than the students’ future employment odds. It also encourages students to delay maturing. Again, compare the maturity of the Founding Fathers to today’s party-college students. Forcing teens and young adults to sit through boring classes to learn things they’ll never use only causes them to lose their creativity and excitement for learning and working and they end up relying on sometimes negative extra-curricular activities to work off their pent-up energy. Time would be better spent letting them quickly get into the race of their careers that they’re chomping at the bit to run!
Of course there are pros and cons to the Japanese school system as well. And comparing American and Japanese systems really is like comparing apples to oranges, because the business culture in Japan is very different also, so preparing kids for the workplace requires a whole different set of standards. That said, Japanese schools adhere to the same kind of K-12 system, but the subjects are accelerated and they’re far ahead of America. For example, my husband’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was fourteen years old, and even though in Japan he was one of the worst math students in his class, when he started the ninth grade in NorCal, he was suddenly one of top math students. The level of math the American school was teaching in ninth grade was comparable to sixth grade math in Japan!
Another difference is the level of respect and discipline taught in Japanese schools. There’s very little time for messing around and students are expected to not only show respect to their teachers, but to the school itself. It’s very common for students to help clean the classroom (even scrubbing floors and taking out the trash) and help with lunch service starting in Kindergarten. Being polite, respectful and orderly is ingrained at a very young age. Learning is taken very seriously. The Japanese could easily graduate in Junior High and still be miles ahead of American students, but Japanese businesses are much more demanding because the same high level of intelligence, social and moral standards are required, so the schools prepare them to achieve and meet or exceed them.
One of the downsides to this system is that if you “get off the escalator,” it’s hard to get back on. In Japanese it’s called 落ちこぼれ “ochikobore,” which literally means to “drop out” (of school or society). So if you have a learning disability or fall behind for any reason, it’s very difficult to catch up or fit into the typical college or サラリーマン “salary man” business culture. This leads many to suicide or living a very isolated lifestyle (引きこもり "hikikomori" - more on this in another blog) if they can’t find another niche industry in which to work, such as the creative or food industries, etc. And that isn’t all bad, either. The Japanese are well known and admired for their arts and crafts and cuisine, and they take apprenticeship very seriously. When a Japanese person breaks out of the mold after the educational foundation is firmly formed, with some training and ingenuity, they can be quite successful!
Ideally, the American education system would do better going back to teaching the basics at a more accelerated rate like the Founding Fathers and Japan, but they’d have to give up all of the liberal socialist grooming and get serious about education and not indoctrination. And they’d have to go back to teaching respect and obedience with proper discipline in order to control the classroom, which lends to a healthier learning environment. On top of that, American businesses need open more apprenticeships and internships for younger people and schools need to have more work-for-credit programs so students can get started on their careers in their mid-teens and bypass college entirely, especially if it has nothing to do with the field in which they’ll eventually work.
These ideas are not foreign – America used to educate this way! So how do we get back from here? The education system needs to return to its roots and vet administrators, teachers and textbooks to make sure they go back to teaching the basics. In short, they need to get schooled on schooling again.