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by Matt
Rated: E · Essay · Philosophy · #2264612
My personal take on my very limited knowledge surrounding educational philosophy.
         The current state of schools and education in the United States is unsustainable. Many schools reflect Althusser's ideas of schools being centers of control and subordination rather than centers of learning. Indeed, it is not uncommon for students to describe K-12 education as boring, monotonous, and even useless in some cases. By including ideas presented by Dewey, a stronger, more effective education system could exist for American students.
         The nature of school in the United States is one of necessity. While this might be obvious and even encouraged, school is necessary for the wrong reasons. The goal of education in the United States is to prepare students for the workforce and not to encourage learning or cognitive growth in students. This structure is similar to Plato's ideas of education: the Republic plays a direct role in education, with the philosopher-kings being the primary goal. In the instance of public school, every single student, with some degree of variety, is required to take the same specific classes at each grade level. This framework ensures that every student is treated equally in terms of material, and that each student has the same base of knowledge. For instance, recent decades in public schools show a push towards STEM-related fields, thereby increasing the number of students in STEM-specific classes. This is similar to The Republic and its push for philosopher-kings. Problems arise however when schools realize that treating students equally is not the same as treating them with equity. This nature assumes that every student is the same with regard to cognitive function and thinking patterns. With developments in fields such as psychology, concepts such as neural plasticity and learning windows are now relevant to education and serve to disprove this notion that all students function essentially the same way. Scientists and researchers now understand that every student is, quite literally, unique to all other students. This means that every student learns differently: through hands-on experience, discussion-based lessons, technology-supplemented lessons, or traditional style exams. This idea fits well with Book VII of The Republic when Plato says "Then education is concerned with doing this very thing, this turning around." Here, Plato is describing that one learns by "Turning around" towards truth, but that some people are limited in how much they can turn. With the one-size-fits-all style of teaching, students that don't fit the learning style often cannot reach their potential in school at no fault of their own: their brains may literally work differently. This push for students into STEM classes means that those who don't excel in this style of teaching will be left on the sidelines and will be deemed as lower priority students. More resources are dedicated to students that show promise for future jobs; consequently, those that do not pursue STEM or other similar fields suffer in their education and are less likely to succeed outside of school.
         Coupled with this idea of necessity, the K-12 educational framework, while it varies from state to state, functions in a way that pushes students towards graduation for the sake of graduation and not for the sake of learning. Standardized testing acts as a benchmark system to help indicate which schools are performing well or not. While effective in theory, standardized testing scores often determine a school's access to federal or state funding. This is a conflict of interest in education: if a school receives funding based on high scores, then the school will teach its curriculum in a way that guarantees high scores from its students. It may follow then that the school will devote extensive resources towards its student body in order to achieve this. These resources can take the form of newer technology, updated textbooks, interactive and engaging classrooms such as labs, and field trips. In actuality, however, public schools often cannot afford such amenities for students because they have not yet received the necessary funding. Instead, schools may lower requirements for passing standardized tests so that funds may be granted. Indeed, many standardized tests such as Texas's STAAR test have relatively low scores required for passing. This allows for a higher passing rate on tests, but it comes at the cost of the students' education. This poses a fundamental problem of schooling: students are a school's source of income. If students determine funding for a particular school, it is in the school's interest to constantly bring in more students. This is problematic because the focus is on the students as a statistic, not the students' education. As long as the school system is constantly filtering children through at an arbitrarily acceptable rate, funds are awarded. If this system was flipped in that funding was awarded to schools no matter their status or statistics of graduation, then schools could receive constant funding that could be directly invested into the student body. Not only would funds be more readily available, but schools would not have to resort to shortcuts in students' education.
         This idea of pushing kids towards graduation and not towards education is also evident to the students themselves. Especially starting in middle school and high school, kids begin to understand their place in the school system. Differences in funding between STEM classes and humanities classes become obvious as students progress through grade levels. Standardized tests, traditional lecture-style classes, and limited social interaction all become the essence of a majority of public school students' lives. In this way, schools begin to reflect Althusser's ideas of schools being a "Ideological State Apparatus." Their lives become unstimulating daily routines, leaving little room for a desire to learn. Through this undesirable environment, schools teach their students to submit to the authority of the school, and subsequently students will go on to behave similarly in the workforce.
         These problems within K-12 education also create problems for further education. College and university-level education requires students to have a strong foundation for subjects in their chosen major. This presents a couple of problems, one of them being that students from schools that have a heavy emphasis on standardized testing may not possess the base of knowledge or skills necessary for success in college. This is analogous to throwing a child into a diving pool right after they have learned how to doggy paddle in the shallow practice pool. If students did not take accelerated courses such as AP classes in high school, then the college educational experience will be quite a culture shock. Study habits and time management are keystones for success in college, yet they are often not taught to kids in public schools. College courses demand a level of work that many students are simply not prepared for. Another problem comes from the sudden freedom of choice that students experience in college. If students have not had the opportunity to choose their classes in previous schools, then they will have a harder time deciding what major to choose. Students may not know what major they want to pursue when first enrolling in college because they have never had the opportunity to decide or contemplate classes that they might enjoy, yet they are forced to make a decision before officially starting their college career. If a student decides that their area of study is uninteresting and switches their major, then all of the time and money spent on their classes thus far will have been wasted and they will have to start over.
          Considering the state of schools in the United States and the ideas presented by Dewey, perhaps an improved educational system would involve more student agency within school, particularly in K-12 public schools. Dewey believes that a proper education involves both traditional and progressive forms of learning. The possibility for students to choose their classes allows them to pick which experiences they want, and the process of choosing is an experience in itself. Through this interaction of choice, students better learn where their passions lie and what they might want to do as a profession. Some may argue that students should not determine their own curriculum as they do not understand what they need to know, especially at young ages. With this in mind, perhaps a gradual, methodical process of student involvement in curriculum that starts in elementary school or perhaps just after elementary school could prove beneficial for students. By allowing children to begin making decisions about their education at younger ages, they learn what they enjoy, what they don't enjoy, and more importantly, they feel like they have some control over their education. If students can play a role in their own education, then they will have a desire to learn and progress in their education. School will become a rewarding progression of experiences instead of a lifeless, mandatory sludge.

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