U.S. Education is Like…

…a small town that starts to boom.  Let’s name this thriving town “Ruinam”.  Construction starts all over Ruinam for quick results of a city, but with no civil engineering.  Soon, there’s poorly planned buildings and public transportation, confusing streets, traffic congestion, etc. which then results in accidents, angry people, poor quality of life due to irritability, etc…

So what can be done to help Ruinam?  The Mayor meets with officials to brainstorm.  He even asks the civilians to make them feel like their opinions matter, but when it comes down to it, it all depends on government funded money regardless of what the civilians want… Nevertheless, many different approaches are implemented: closing certain streets, redirecting traffic, building new bridges, and lots and lots of talk.  Nothing seems to help.  The people of Ruinam are still irritable, accidents are not dwindling, and businesses aren’t doing well.

The government starts to step in and tells Ruinam’s Mayor that if the city does not improve, that they will stop giving the city money.  The Mayor starts to panic and instead of fixing the fundamental problems such as the streets, signs, bridges, and buildings, he needs something to help… and fast!  “There’s no time for the core underlying problems, I need the people to be happy so that the government is happy and will continue to support Ruinam financially,” he thinks.

New Plan: Free movie tickets are handed out to anyone that uses the crosswalks correctly for a week and $20 gift certificates to downtown restaurants are awarded to anyone that doesn’t honk, flick someone off, or get in a fight for a week.  The Mayor’s thinking behind this is that the people will start to behave better even if the city is a mess AND they’ll be happier because they’re getting free stuff.

A few days go by and people seem to be trying out the new guidelines in order to get some free coupons…  Seems harmless… People are using the crosswalks correctly, waiting for the green light and getting movie tickets.  People are behaving and getting some money for dinner.  Things seem to be going smoothly.  The Mayor is happy.  But, yup, you guessed it: this isn’t going to last.  Soon, people start to complain:

-“Why did Alan get a movie ticket when he crossed when the light was red all week?!”
“Well, he’s a slow learner, he’s still following directions by using the cross walk…”
“So I can cross when the light is red and get a movie ticket?”
“No, you know better…”

-“Why did Buddy get a movie ticket AND free popcorn when he’s been J-walking the whole week?!”
“well he just used the crosswalk correctly for the first time, so he gets the ticket – the free popcorn is his reward because it was his first time using it correctly.”
-“I didn’t get free popcorn the first time I used it correctly a week ago.  So I didn’t have to be waiting for these stupid green lights and late for work all week, and on the last day, use it correctly ONCE and get the same reward?!”
“Well, um… We appreciate you using the crosswalk all week.  Thank you.”

The people seemed happy for awhile, but the people who followed directions the whole time got less than the people that didn’t care at all.  Chaos broke loose.

The Mayor doesn’t know what to do.  He’s really scared now.  In panic mode, he starts handing out free movie tickets to people that use the crosswalk correctly EVERY TIME instead of just once a week to keep the peace and not have them complain.  “The government can’t know how bad this is! Here, here… whatever you want… just shut up and be happy!”

The result is a city of people that seem “happy” but only got that way because of all the complaining and finger pointing.  Is that really happiness?  Is the system really fair and beneficial?

Relating to our fictional city [for those of you that did not understand this analogy], is American Education.  Schools need money from the government.  This money is based on test scores.  Fundamental problems can’t be fixed, there’s no time… so just reward students for what they should have been doing in the first place – giving out free extra credit points, homework passes, etc.  When that doesn’t work anymore or when students/parents complain because of special treatment of another student, administration will do anything to just shut the parents up.

The result is an educational system that seems “good” but is only “good” on paper and is due only to all the complaints and finger pointing.  Is that really education?  Is this system really fair and beneficial?

What’s the best solution for either scenario?  Probably the most drastic but the only that will actually work: nuke it and start over… from the bottom up.


  1. We say in Italian that “the fish stinks from the head”. I spent 35 years teaching in New York and loved the students, the challenges, my colleagues but NOT the politics. If parents and administrators would stay out of our way, teachers could get a lot more done. Most administrators I know went into administration because they couldn’t handle the stress of the classroom or just didn’t like dealing with the kids every day. I think 99% of my colleagues were dedicated, hard-working, well-trained and the administration should have been focusing on the 1% that needed help. Poor support for new teachers, lack of coordination and leadership, outdated materials, dangerous working conditions, a constant stream of “new” ideas (insisted upon by superintendents and later abandoned when they don’t work), wasting time at faculty meetings discussing minutia while big issues are dealt with by the top few who have been out of touch with students for so long, no “voice” given to the faculty – the list goes on and on. It’s amazing that young people today even WANT to go into teaching. God bless them!

  2. Love traveling round the world and running into young people like you coming up with new ideas to meet the new, brave world. Can’t get over when I meet a woman of 28 who has lived and worked on 3 continents since college. Gives me hope for the future of America, that we will have focused adults running the world (and running the greed out of Washington)!

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