It’s good to be back after a few weeks on the road. I knew my trip to Kansas would provide fodder for the blog.
First, I’ll admit it: I am a latte-drinking, coastal-living (until recently), blue-state elitist. But every time I go on an obligatory trip to the “heartland” (and obligatory is the only reason I’d ever go), damn if something doesn’t just reinforce the stereotype.
But this isn’t really a rant about Kansas — it’s about something that is desperately wrong with our country. Kansas merely provided me the most outrageous example possible. I couldn’t make this up and tell it with a straight face.
Have you ever heard the statistic that 80% of American adults can’t identify the US on a world map? Well get a load of this:
I stopped at a gas station in Dodge City to get some cold drinks for the family. A friendly local (cowboy hat and all) started talking to me about the weather, then asked if I was from around there (I so obviously wasn’t). Here is the exact transcript of what followed:
Me: No. My husband is from here, but we live in Nevada now.
Him: (With a look of utter blankness) Where’s that?
Me: (trying to control my expression of shock) Next to California.
Him: (blank look)
Me: It’s just east of California……Between California and Utah…?
Him: Is that near Alberta, Canada?
And so on until my drinks were thankfully poured and lidded and I escaped.
It was clear this guy not only did not know where Nevada was, but that he’d never even heard of it! How is it that an adult in our country can be completely ignorant of our own states? I shudder to think what his “knowledge” of the rest of the world might be.
This encounter and my experiences as a parent, shared by many other parents I know, illustrate how broken our country’s educational system is. Studies have shown for years that the US is slipping behind other Western industrialized countries, in all subject areas. If this trend continues, what will the outcome be when our poorly educated children rise to power as adults? Where will the US lie in the international arena?
I remember my childhood education quite clearly. I was one of those braniac nerd kids, who was pretty bored with the drivel the public school system was serving up. However, I was allowed to work at my own level — by being provided more advanced-level math worksheets, joining a higher grade for reading/English time, etc. Such measures kept me challenged enough that I remained engaged in the educational process.
But these steps aren’t being taken today. As I watch my older daughter — every bit as much a brainiac nerd as I — enter the school system, I am dismayed and worried. No Child Left Behind is a sad misnomer, because while it helps (I presume) kids at the lower end of the spectrum, the bright, overachieving kids are suffering. They are unchallenged, and teachers are so pressured to meet standards that they are virtually unable to provide extra material for these kids. And thinking outside the box to provide some creative solutions is inconceivable. So, I am left with a first grader who, at the start of the year, knew everything she was supposed to know by the END. I informed the teachers of this within the first month, but my concerns went ignored (as they did all year). And this is supposedly one of the best schools in our district!
In talking with other parents around the country, it is obvious that this problem is universal. And that’s a problem for everyone – parent or not. We talk on this site about how we, as government employees, serve as leaders. We need to provide leadership for educational reform, before all our children — and the country — are left behind.