A Minor Rant on the Plight of Public Education

Something troubles me deeply.  To what extent are we, as teachers, solely to blame for students not understanding concepts, procedures, or topics?  Or are we one reason, albeit an important one, among a host of other factors that impact student learning to include the educational system, itself, and other environmental, social, economic, physical, psychological, emotional and intellectual influences?  The scientist, engineer, intellectual, and pragmatist in me believes it must be the latter; even the soft-hearted, compassionate soul in me who answered the call to teach believes so.  Furthermore, I believe that while our influence as a teacher is significant, in the classroom, and somewhat outside of the classroom, taken in its entirety, teacher influence plays a bit role for those who enter the classroom with significant difficulties:

  • bringing the necessary prerequisite knowledge, preparation, or understanding of earlier lessons with them, for a variety of reasons valid and not so valid;
  • staying actively engaged in the learning process, both in and out of the classroom; or,
  • seeking support when needed.

There is only so much one person can do among a roomful of very active adolescents.  And all the bromides that have evolved over the decades to placate teachers on one hand, or impugn them on the other, do not capture the reality of the challenge of teaching, and in truth do great harm to our nation as they diminish the severity of the challenge placed at teachers’ feet, and deflect focus on solutions that may yield more positive results for our society, albeit at considerable upfront cost.  Yet, like any decision-making process, the opportunity costs, or the costs of inaction, never factor into the economic analyses.  Where will this great nation of ours be if we continue to miss the mark preparing citizens for a productive life as contributors to society?  Rather than be mislead by academics who believe all must understand conic sections to go to college, why not revamp the entire system from beginning to end?  Augment the abilities of our great teachers with the technological prowess of adaptive, diagnostic software systems that enable learning challenges to be overcome and not perpetuated.  Invest in the future of our citizenry, rather than oil futures, or the next great initial public offering.

The madness of millionaires and billionaires maximizing their portfolios and bank accounts must stop and be replaced by those same people recognizing their moral, and patriotic, obligation to ensure our nation continues as a haven for all seeking freedom, and not just those seeking financial freedom.  Many of our nation’s great leaders of yesteryear would turn in their grave if they witnessed today’s self-absorbed, holier than thou politicians, CEOs, and über wealthy willing to sacrifice a nation of people as long as their own loved ones are well-educated and able to live without fear of whether they may lose their job, life savings, or home.

These comments are not to diminish my passion for helping each one of my students learn all they can this year, and every year they are in my charge.  However, they reflect my intention to reject the ignorant efforts of so many today who believe they know what ails public education without having the experience, insight, or intellectual capacity to understand the true circumstances facing teachers today.  I know of what I write.  I was one of the ignorant just a few years ago.  Now, having walked a mile in the shoes of a teacher, I know better.


I made the following comment in reply to a follower’s comment on an earlier post.  This sparked my minor rant, which plays itself out above and below.


Agreed that they [students] misunderstand subtraction. To what extent its the fault of an earlier teacher [for not teaching them the concept], versus a variety of other factors complicates how best to resolve the issue.  There are degrees of understanding and abilities in all people, students and teachers alike, even with what seems like the simplest of things, in this case, subtraction.

The most learned of teachers may have difficulties imparting deep understanding to all students, especially when the time allocated to cover a list of concepts is not matched to the time it takes for any student to learn the concepts. I believe this is the fundamental problem in education today.

We expect anyone and everyone to learn at the same, or very nearly same, pace irrespective of individual differences. On its face, this is ridiculous, since adults are unable to master hardly anything (of challenge) at the same rate. Why in heaven’s sake do we expect young children and adolescents to do so?  The only reason that makes sense, at least when taken in historical perspective, is the necessity to educate as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible.  The resultant educational system satisfied that goal in some ways by rapidly increasing the number of citizens with a high school education. However, it was not designed to maximize learning for all, which at the time may not have even been something discernible as a need.

Today, with the advent of advanced software, we have the means to craft learning solutions that can be highly individualized. However, it has significant upfront and ongoing costs. As the Tea Party and other tax averse factions rally against taxation, they prohibit additional investments necessary to bring our education system into the 21st century. So, we are stuck with a nearly impossible task of educating an amazingly diverse student population, regardless of their preparedness, or even desire, to learn what society deems necessary, all the while those who could help improve the situation remain self-absorbed in their personal affairs, and not that of our great nation.

This upsets me greatly.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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3 Responses to A Minor Rant on the Plight of Public Education

  1. Jim says:

    Dave – Throughout the entire 100,000 year history of the human species almost all people at almost all times and places have been self-absorbed in their personal affairs. This isn’t going to change.


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