Failures within Today’s American Education System The American education system has been on a gradual decline over the past several years and has become very non competitive to other nations across the world. This is quite surprising considering the fact that America has one of the most developed and strongest economies in the world yet is so far behind other countries in the education matter. One of the most recent debated issues in the U. S. Department of Education, is the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act signed by former President George W.
Bush. According to many education intellects, this act is holding America back from achieving its full potential and getting back on track with the rest of the world. Diane Ravitch, who is a historian of American education, addresses this issue in “Time to Kill ‘No Child Left Behind. ” She says, “Congress should get rid of No Child Left Behind because it is a failed law. It is dumbing down our children by focusing solely on reading and mathematics.
By ignoring everything but basic skills, it is not preparing students to compete with their peers in the highperforming nations of Asia and Europe, nor is it preparing them for citizenship in our complex society” (Ravitch). Some of the contributing factors to the failing education system can be described as far back to 1837 when the famous American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the essential influences on a man’s education in his speech “The American Scholar. ” In this speech, Emerson describes several aspects of how students should learn and these points can still relate to today’s education system.
The American education system has many lacking aspects and Emerson addresses some of these issues in his speech. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” describes the problems with today’s American education system by explaining the lack of creating wellrounded students, the confinement of classrooms, and the lack of application of studies learned. One major issue that “The American Scholar” shows is the lack of production of well-rounded students in the American education system. Students are often categorized or grouped into a specific group due to their special ‘gifts’ or ‘talents’.
Emerson addresses this specifically when he says, “Man is not farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and solider” (1). Students should not be confined to one single area of study but should be well-rounded in all areas of education in order to succeed in a career. Emerson explains this in his speech to show the importance of students becoming more versatile in their studies instead of just sticking to one particular study which will eventually lead to one single career.
In “General Education Requirements: What’s the point? ” by Catherine Seraphin, she introduces several professors who would agree that “gen ed” courses are essential to the success of students so that they are prepared for more than just one single area of study. Paul Hanstedt is an English professor and general education director at Roanoke College, and he comments on the dangers of studying one specific major or subject. He says, “The jobs we go into aren’t nearly as simple as the majors we studied preparing for them” (Seraphin).
A career requires much more than just distinct information about that particular job. Hanstedt says, “But what helps one excel in his or her field is not just the knowledge of the field itself, but the added skills developed” (Seraphin). Strictly studying one major of study or job is just sheltering students from being competitive with others in the work force. Employers are looking for people who are multitalented and resourceful in various areas of education, not just one specific one. Emerson also describes the importance of preparing students for anything they would need in the future.
Emerson says, “The priest becomes a form; the attorney, a statute-book; the mechanic, a machine; the sailor, a rope of a ship” (2). Students ought to be well-informed on all subjects and areas of academics so that they will be successful for whatever comes their way in the future. Seraphin goes on to explain why general education curriculum is so important, she says, “[general education curriculum] enables students to do: gain broad knowledge, learn intellectual and practical skills, understand cultural differences, evaluate ethical consequences, and make connections across academic disciplines. Students should not be equipped and prepared for only one certain career as this is only limiting them from other potential careers in the future. Emerson describes this when he says, “Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things” (2). Learning skills in different areas of study separated from an anticipated ‘major will create well-rounded and diverse students. Another problem the American education system suffers with, that Emerson also addresses in his 1837 speech, is the confinement of the indoors.
Students are held inside all day learning about things that are just outside their door but are denied the ability to actually go out and experience them. Emerson points out the importance of nature on people when he says, “The first in time and first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature” (2). Emerson says we can use nature to gain experience which will help us understand ourselves and our ways of thinking.
In “Ex-teacher: Students Should Not Be Confined to Classroom” by Kang Soon Chen, she interviews Mallika Vasugi, a former Physics teacher, who expresses her opinion on learning outside of the classroom. Vasugi responded to this alternate learning scenery by saying, “Teachers do not receive much support from authorities to carry out such activities. The authorities expect the classroom to be only within four walls but wherever the students are, there should be the classroom” (Chen).
Holding students inside all day while they learn from a book will not give them the most in epth and swift comprehension of the material taught. Emerson also points out how experiencing nature will allow people to make connections and understand how things came to be. Emerson says that because of nature, “The astronomer discovers that geometry, a pure abstraction of the human mind, is the measure of planetary motion. The chemist finds proportions and intelligible method throughout matter, and science is nothing but finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote parts” (3). The outdoors allow students to have a different perspective of subjects and allow them to make connections for themselves.
Experimenting in the real world rather than reading from a textbook will ultimately be much more beneficial for students as they will know how exactly to apply the information they have learned. Chen, later on, interviewed another former science teacher and she says, “Without hands-on practice, it is difficult for students to master the learning outcome in science. ” As Emerson states about the Astronomer and the Chemist, these intellects would not have the information they have without experimentation in the real world and nature.
Emerson makes it abundantly clear that experience in nature is essential for a person to not only understand a concept but in understanding their self as well. Emerson says, “So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet posses. And, in fine, the ancient precept, “Know thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study nature,” become at last one maxim” (3). Students will be able to learn indefinitely more information of their studies and themselves if they would just be allowed to go out and experience nature itself.
Finally, the last issue Emerson addresses is the lack of application of studies in the American education system. Emerson explains action as the most important factor to success. He says, “Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into truth” (6). Applying information is crucial to not only the understanding of the information but figuring out how to apply it to real life scenarios. The best way in today’s society for students to apply their education and get real world experience is through internships.
In “Internship Teaches Students How to Run a Business” by Sharon Myers, she explains the benefits of the Young Entrepreneurs Across America Internship program, she says, “The purpose of the internship program is to give students real-world experience about the pros and cons of owning a business without having to financially burden themselves with the responsibility of an independently owned small business. ” Internships are the perfect time to take information learned in class and figure out a way to implement it into real-world situations.
Applying information in the real world is much more effective and direct than simply memorizing words from a book. Emerson then says, “Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind” (6). This “inaction” brings up the idea that students cannot completely understand information if they do not experience it for themselves. Myers introduces a student named Mabry Harrison, who participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Across America Internship program, and she reports, “Harrison says she gained some invaluable insight about what it takes to be a small business owner.
She said although she is just beginning her college career, she could see herself opening her own business one day. ” Harrison learned so much through her interning experience that she would have never learned while just sitting in class. Action is the key to not only understanding information taught but making that information valuable. Students who participate in these types of application programs will stand out in the work force and make their resumes more competitive against others. It’s not what information students know that make them stand out, it’s what they do with that information is what makes them unique.
Emerson says, “It is the raw material out of which the intellect moulds her splendid product” (6). Emerson explains how experiences shape students more than anything other teaching technique in the world. Action is the most important aspect of a student’s education and this should be addressed in today’s American education system. Though Ralph Waldo Emerson gave “The American Scholar” speech back in the 1800s, many of his points that he addressed are still relevant in current issues in America today.
The American education system can learn a lot from this speech as we are in a continuous lack of well-rounded students, confining students to classrooms, and sheltering students from applying their studies. Emerson says that these failures are what is holding us back from our full potential. The American education system could benefit from these adjustments that Emerson describes in his speech and can potentially bring America back on track with the rest of the world.