As it currently stands in the second decade of the 21st Century, most of the adolescent and preadolescent boys and girls attending public schools in the United States sadly don’t grasp the meaningful value of the 12 years of free education offered to them. The most comfortable and technically modern classrooms and laboratories are, in most cases, provided by approximately 99,000 public schools in approximately 16,000 school districts across the country for the physical bodies of these, approximately, 50 million elementary, middle, and high school students. The reason I’ve said bodies, and not minds, is that around 70 percent of those millions of students don’t particularly find going to school, free of charge, mentally stimulating and educationally rewarding. These physically healthy school-age children attend school primarily because it is required by law, and when they do come to school, they park their bodies in the comfortable classroom desks, leaving their minds somewhere else, but not at school.
It’s quite thought-provoking to realize that the greater percentage of all the 18 year-old adolescents in the USA, who graduated from American high schools in 2012, actually graduated on a cumulative 10th grade-level. That’s right. From the first-grade to the twelfth-grade, American students are given the freedom to learn as much, or as little, as they have the desire to do; but as the old expression goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” For the last 40 years most high school seniors in the U.S. have been graduating on a 10th grade-level, some on a 9th grade-level. Strangely though, from 1920 until around 1969, the exact opposite occurred. For those students who attended public schools during those years, 80 percent of all elementary, junior high, and high school students did well academically, and most of them finished 12 years of education and graduated on a 12th grade-level. The dismal decline in learning that started around 1970 was evidenced by the fact that most high school graduates began needing remediation in the basic learning skills (reading, writing, and mathematics). This disturbing trend has rampantly continued to the present day, as approximately 68 percent of the total number of American high school graduates, in 2012, had to remediate the basic academic skills (reading, writing, and basic finite math), which they should have learned during the elementary and middle school years, if they wanted to qualify academically for admission at a major university. Sadly, only a staggering 32 percent of all graduating high school seniors, in 2012, qualified, at the time of graduation, to attend four-year universities.
These dismal figures are understandable only when they are viewed objectively in relationship with the concomitant variables of public education, which I have discussed in great detail in previous essays. These dependent variables are those directly, and primarily, associated with the types of parenting received by the millions of school-age children from their mothers, fathers, and alternate care-givers while at home during the years prior to 1970. In a nutshell, there has never been any reliable substitution in the public schools for the absence of nurturing, loving, caring parents, who send their children to the public schools ready and eager to learn.
From 1920 until around 1969, more parents saw the benefit of active involvement in their children’s public education than after 1969. Moreover, with the increased learning experienced by those pre-1970 public school students during their twelve years of formal education, fewer high school graduates went to college, during those years, than they did to trade schools, vocational schools, into apprenticeship programs, or into the military. At that time, many more high school seniors were graduating with thorough understanding of the basic rudiments of learning, and saw the pecuniary long-term benefit of becoming skilled carpenters, electricians, plumbers, masons, welders, machinists, and the other professions requiring hands-on training and an understanding of mathematics, mensuration, and science, than those students who came after them. That was a time when more technicians, than engineers, were needed in industry and science. It was a time when high school graduates used their 12th grade-level reading and writing skills to continue learning what they had to learn to advance in their respective fields of endeavor. Comparing then with now, the sore lack of proper parenting in American homes and families, from 1970-on, has produced millions of children totally unprepared to enter the first-grade to properly begin learning academically. If children don’t learn the skills they need to know and use in the first-grade, they will enter the second-grade not progressing in knowledge and skill, but needing to remediate what they didn’t learn in the first-grade. By the time, the unskilled student is improperly promoted to the sixth-grade, she will be working on a 3rd or 4th grade-level. By the time the same student is socially promoted to the 10th grade, she will require extensive remediation, at a greatly increased cost to the public, to properly prepare her to perform high school-level work, to read to learn the things that she does not know.
Now there is a disturbing notion among public school students, which has become more of a mindset, that, if you don’t learn what you need to learn in high school, you can learn it in college. Today when you ask the average high school junior (an eleventh-grader) what he, or she, wants to do after high school, that 17 year-old will invariably reply, “I’m going to college.” This is an especially troubling response coming from students who have managed to only maintain (C-) averages throughout eleven years of public education, who have spent more time not doing homework, than doing homework, not studying, than studying, and not applying themselves to the task of learning. At the present time, thousands of young people who have joined the U.S. military, after performing dismally in high school, are given military training on a 9th -to-10th grade-level, and then encouraged to take, supposedly, college-level courses online, while getting college-credit for their middle school-level military training. Do you see something very wrong occurring here? Unless an aspiring student has prepared in public school to obtain higher (than secondary) education at a college or university, in a particular academic discipline (such as engineering, mathematics, physics, English, a foreign language, or social science), the true purpose of the university is ultimately wasted on such an unprepared person. Students who cannot proficiently perform genuine 12th grade high school-level work will not be capable of performing genuine college-level work, unless the work, they presume is college-level, has been substantially watered-down.
Today it seems that everyone graduating from a high school is going to college, and this highly-disordered trend is producing some very troubling educational illusions that falsely proclaim that people who do poorly in high school can take online college courses, pass open-book examinations that are not proctored, and, after a period of time, receive a piece of paper declaring the person a college graduate. There are also some disturbing financial issues directly connected to the foregoing facts that defy logic. If an 18 year-old cannot perform college-level work after completing twelve years of public schooling, what is a university saying when it confers on that person an online college degree, in an academic discipline, four years later? If a student cannot achieve, at least, a (B) grade in an academic course in a traditional college classroom, how, in the name of sophistry, can that same person derive a true equivalent grade of (B) in an online academic course where the academic requirements are seriously diluted, and there is no personal interaction with students or instructor? Why, pray tell, can’t an American attend law school online and then be permitted to sit for a state bar examination? Why won’t accredited medical schools accept online premed degrees from students seeking entrance? Why aren’t there any online ABA-approved law schools, and accredited medical schools? The answers to the three foregoing questions are pretty self-evident. Would you want a lawyer representing you, or a doctor treating you, who got a professional degree online? But who knows? If the future of American education digresses as much in the next 20 years as it has in the past 50 years, pre-law and pre-med students sorely lacking in rudimentary skills may, in 2033, be permitted to obtain watered-down professional law (J.D.) and medical (M.D.) degrees online. God forbid!
Young people, between the ages of 19 and 29, are acquiring outrageous educational debts for college and graduate school degrees that aren’t worth the money they are paying to get them. Online colleges, and those that offer a system of one college course per-month are as sorely lacking in academic substance, as those courses offered online. Why? It has been thoroughly proven over time, in European and American university education, that the average undergraduate student cannot derive the same heuristic understanding of an academic course, such as U.S. history prior to 1865, in four weeks, as that derived through classroom attendance in academic semesters or quarters. Moreover, universities that offer academic degrees based upon such systems actually charge more for those courses than traditional universities.
What I firmly think is that academic commercialism, the presumed buying and selling of education, has public school and college academia in its pecuniary and pragmatic grasp. Most high schools routinely consider their sports programs as “money making” (commercial) endeavors, and pave the way for their winning teams with highly-paid coaches (usually much better compensated than regular teachers), who encourage their middle school and high school athletes to spend more time preparing for athletic scholarships than arduously studying for scholastic achievement and academic scholarships. High school coaches, much like university coaches, are professionals paid top-money for producing winning football, baseball, and track teams. Sports-minded fathers and mothers of sons and daughters who show athletic prowess early in life frequently dominate their children’s lives, emphasizing the importance of athletic achievement over scholastic achievement. The crux of what I’m saying is that sports should remain sports and not be transformed into commercial, pending professional, activities. Children should be more encouraged to excel in their studies during their 12 years of public education, than being superb athletes. If tax money is to be invested into the public school systems around the nation, let the money be used enlarging libraries and for better-equipped laboratories, and highly trained teachers. Like I’ve said before, classrooms that are attractively adorned with expensive electronic gadgetry, such as laptop computers and digital computer displays are certainly state-of-the-art. But unless there are students, prepared to learn, sitting in those classrooms with eager minds attuned to the lessons the teachers are endeavoring to teach, the lessons will ultimately fall on deaf ears and no learning will occur. Overall, I tend to think that state school systems are more routinely concerned with spending money to modernize classrooms and school campuses, than in promoting better parenting for better prepared students. I can’t remember when last I saw a sign or billboard, upon entering a town or city, along with the Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, and the merchants’ association signs, boldly proclaming such things as “We support our parents in preparing eager students for our public schools,” or “Our students do their homework in our town!” or “Have YOU done your assigned homework for tomorrow?” I mean, you regularly see posters and billboards talking about high school sports boosters and the popular school athletic teams, but you don’t see any conspicuous signs about boosting knowledge, learning, and school grades in the public schools. Why aren’t signs regaling academic learning and achievement as popular to Americans as signs promoting the winning of high school and middle school football games?
The essence of this essay has, so far, concerned the great value of a true 12-year public education, and how much such an education has been devalued in the minds of approximately 68 percent of the 50 million students attending the nation’s public schools. I will say, quite frankly, that any normal high-school sophomore, with the genuine ability to read, write, and perform mathematics on a true 10th grade-level, may use those abilities effectively during the last two years of high school to actually go beyond a 12th grade-level education. University study is, but, a natural extension of the academic subjects studied in high school through applied research, which is only the applied ability to read, write, and better understand those subjects as working disciplines. A normal high school library contains college-level reading material in the humanities, arts, and sciences, and, while still in high school, a student may acquire college-level knowledge and abilities by independently reading and learning beyond the required grade-level curriculum. Such advanced learning depends entirely upon how well preadolescent boys and girls are nurtured, and prepared for learning at home by parents, in order for them to perceive public education as a free high-value investment in time and human energy. It depends upon how hungry students are for knowledge, and upon how thirsty they are to wisely use that acquired knowledge for their benefit.
My mother, Dessie, had only six years of formal education acquired between 1916 and 1922 in a one-room school house in rural East Texas. With the rudimentary skills to read, write, and perform mathematics that she acquired, and mastered, during those six years, she read many books and abundantly wrote grammatically correct English prose well beyond a high school level. With that acquired knowledge and ability, my mother taught me to read before I was five years of age. And so I read voraciously and entered the first-grade reading pretty well. As I attended Dixie Elementary School, Boulter Junior High School, and John Tyler High School, in Tyler, Texas, I took very seriously the academic work that I was tasked to learn and perform, and when I graduated from high school, in 1970, I had attained an ability to read on a college-level, the ability to write on a college-level, and the ability to do math on a college-level. With these abilities, I ultimately took A.A., B.A., and M.A. degrees from Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler. But while at John Tyler High School, I had the wonderful opportunity to read a vast number of intriguing books, and to write a vast number of detailed essays and research papers, and to take classes that were college-level in social science, history, English, and math for electronics. Undoubtedly, the abilities that I demonstrated in high school were derived directly from the preparatory work that I arduously performed in elementary and junior high schools. And it was because of my dear mother, who nurtured and encouraged me, studied with me, and helped me to understand the things I didn’t know throughout my twelve years of learning, that I was able to achieve an education that someone, not having such a loving and caring parent, would probably not be able to obtain. Yet, it goes much, much further than the receipt of advanced degrees. There is so much, yet, to learn, and so little time in which to learn it. With well honed academic skills, personal learning never stops. Wise human beings learn to read well, so that they may continue to read to learn throughout their lives, and to write histories, essays, and treatises which will add dimensions of worth to their extended knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Earthly learning only ends with one’s own death.
In the final analysis, a short account of one of the ancient philosopher Socrates’ experiences as an Athenian teacher would appropriately sum-up this essay. On one occasion, Socrates was confronted by a persistent student who desperately wanted the philosopher to teach him life’s true meaning. So Socrates took the Greek teenager down to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and led him out into chest-deep water. Then he abruptly grabbed the youth and held his head under water until he was about drowning. Then Socrates pulled the boy from the water and dragged him to the shore. The boy, gasping for breath, opened his eyes and looked into Socrates face above him.
“Why did you try to drown me, Socrates?” The boy asked, to which Socrates replied.
“My young friend, when you want to learn as badly as you wanted to breathe, at the moment you thought you were drowning, then, and only then, can I teach you the things you want to know.”