A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

America’s public education system has been completely gutted.  As it stands, it is but a shell of what it used to be.  This act of domestic terrorism is guaranteed to produce a nation of nitwits; because you can’t cut programs, eliminate staff, increase class sizes and expect to cultivate a bunch of geniuses.

Speaking of geniuses… President Bush was the brainchild behind the “No Child Left Behind Act,” but guess what?  No child got ahead!  President Obama was the driving force behind “Race to the Top,” but guess what?  It’s a slippery slope!

Exactly what is “Race to the Top?”  It’s a fund consisting of 4.35 billion in federal stimulus money.  It requires that states enact education reform in order to compete for grant money.  In essence, “Race to the Top” is nothing but a strong-arm tactic designed to: weaken teachers’ unions.  Implement pension reform.  Eliminate teacher-tenure. Do away with the seniority process.  And, lastly, to get states to raise the maximum number of charter schools.  Why?  Because those teachers are mostly non-union.  In critiquing President Obama’s education policy, it becomes crystal clear that “Race to the Top” is more like “Roll to the Bottom.”

Let’s take a gander at America’s report card.  Based on National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, 68% of 8th-graders scored below proficient in math, and 69% scored below proficient in reading.  Further, out of 30 developed countries, U.S. students ranked 21st in science literacy, and 25th in math literacy.  Also, according to the 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index, when comparing higher education enrollment, the U.S. ranked sixth, following behind South Korea, Finland, and Greece. I’m no rocket scientist, but it seems  America is not only suffering a financial meltdown, but an academic one as well.

With no foreseeable “change” in the forecast, people have begun labeling this generation the “lost generation.”  The possibility of them racing to the top is next to nil.  They face so many uphill battles in life that many of them have completely “checked out.” when it comes to academics.  Part of the problem is that they have too many distractions.  Today’s students are dealing with everything from peer pressure, to gangs and bullying.  Another thing affecting their school performance is that they are totally preoccupied with technology.

Technology is both friend and foe.  Here’s the skinny on how it can become a distraction.  Tech companies produce every type of gizmo that you can imagine.  Consumers respond like giddy little kids in a candy store.  They relish their new purchases.  The young and the old alike; they tweet, text, chat, and play video games ad nauseam.  If they’re not “sexting,” they’re busy surfing the World Wide Web.  It must be addictive because they browse the Internet like junkies looking for a fix.  They post up on Facebook as if the real world doesn’t exist.  This is the life they lead, and it is counterproductive to the process of learning.

A recent poll in Time magazine asked the question, “What will improve student performance the most?”  Of those polled, 52% responded by saying more involved parents.  This is a clear indication that some parents need to step up and take care of their responsibilities.  Maybe then they would have more time to help with their child’s homework, or attend PTA meetings.  The reality, however, is that a large demographic will not be stepping up anytime soon.  The fact is, many of these parents are locked up.  The California Research Bureau has estimated that over 10% of California’s children have a parent in the criminal justice system.  This may explain why some parents are unavailable, and why some children are performing poorly.

Back in the 70s when I was growing up, the prevailing notion was that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  This was back when we still had a strong sense of unity.  Fast forwarding to the present, it is plain to see that we are no longer unified.  The cause of our divide can be traced back to materialism, narcissism and jealousy.  As for family structure, it has been whittled down to nothing more than a facade.

In less than half a century the average American family has gone from functioning, to highly dysfunctional.  For some kids, the only thing they know about “family structure” is that it sounds like the name of a street gang or a Rap group.  In hindsight, what put the American psyche in such a generational choke hold?  How did every other household become a broken home?

The breakdown in America’s family structure likely began in the 60s, back around the time when black folks were fighting for freedom, and white women were burning their bras in support of feminism.  Since that time, we know that unemployment, poverty, drug abuse, crime, and the incarceration rate have all gone up.  Consequently, 35% of all African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 are now either on probation, parole, or incarcerated.  Ladies and gentlemen: this is how every other household becomes a broken home!

The school children of today are not only dealing with a multitude of socioeconomic issues, but familial ones as well.  The divorce rate is at an all time high; and where you find divorce, you find dysfunction.  Also, according to the National Urban League 2010 Equality Index, 32% of white mothers, and 51% of the African American mothers that live below the poverty level are single parents.  If you factor all of this in along with the high incarceration rate, you begin to see how every other household becomes a broken home.

For all the struggling and striving that we do, the only thing that managed to drop over the past 50 years was America’s IQ level.  Many of the children that are coming out of these broken homes are putting education on the back burner.  In cities like Oakland, California the high school dropout rate is higher than 40%.  We have to find a way to fix this, because we surely can’t depend on the government to clean up their own mess.  At this juncture we have to find a way to do for self.  Here in the 21st century, where technology is at our fingertips and information is just a click away, we should not be begging folks to educate us, we should be educating ourselves!

We must never forget that education begins at home.  If you have time to dillydally around in cyberspace, then you have time to seek wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  In the spirit of self-determination, it is imperative that each one teaches one, and that no mind goes to waste.  When all is said and done, we are the chaperones of this so-called “lost generation,” and we cannot expect them to “race to the top” if we have not prepared them to go the distance.

(c) Tim Young

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