When I was in 5th grade, a long, long time ago (in Switzerland), our teacher sported a Hitlerian moustache and acted the same way; he wanted absolute silence, he forbade any kind of spontaneous reaction (including laughter), and demanded perfect posture in our extremely uncomfortable school desks. Needless to say, my grades and my learning suffered greatly, as I came to the conclusion that school was worse than a root canal. Luckily for me, my next year improved greatly with a teacher who cared and who established immediate communication with my parents.
Various editorials comment acerbically on the poor quality of American Education; according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), we rank in the middle of the table when it comes to reading, math and science. As a teacher for more than 20 years, I have seen my share of mediocrity and excellence in the classroom. We don't have, as a nation, the remarkable scores of Finland, the number 1 in international education, or compare to Japan, one of the top 5. The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, figuratively pulled his hairs from his cranium and said that this ranking was a wake-up call for America. President Obama exclaimed that serious reforms were needed in education. I say "Phooey!", politicians have always decried our failing public learning system and some even raved about the "absolute" need to privatize all schools.
As I signalled in the first paragraph, a caring teacher is worth a lot more than an erudite uncaring one. We have a lot of compassionate mentors in the public school system and the results are much better than what cold statistics show. If half a year is dedicated to studying to the test, much will be lost in maths, in reading comprehension, and in science, areas that usually fare worse than social studies. We must go back to the concept that the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. We teach most of the year to the test instead of to the student; that has to stop. A student must of course reach a basic level of skills in the three Rs, but once this is accomplished, education in high school should be tailored to individuals needs and natural talents. Music, drawing, auto repair, hair styling, carpentry and manual vocations in general, singing, dancing, acting (too little of this wonderful art), painting, and so on, are just as important as reading and adding.
Our public system is not a failure simply because of some limited statistics by OECD. We are the most powerful nation on earth, we have the most productive workers, we lead the world in technology, in scientific research, we have the best universities, the most democratic system among the most important nations, our military has no equal, we invented Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, HP, Twitter, the light bulb, the radio, the transistor, we walked on the moon and we give more money to poor developing nations than anybody else.
All of this was done with a "mediocre" public education??