The American Education System: “F” is for Failing
The way we educate our children has a fundamental problem - it is detached from reality. What they really need is “a school for life” - real tools for real life
The American public education system is responsible for 90% of our most precious resource: our children. They are our hope for the future, and we must prepare them for the challenges of an increasingly complex world. So far, we have failed miserably at this task.
While we focus on developing skills like math and reading to prepare our children for the competitive job market, we have forgotten all about teaching them the basic life skills. As a result, teen suicide rates are on the rise, depression is an epidemic, and far too many youngsters turn to alcohol or drugs to numb themselves to the pain of their daily existence.
A survey of 16 to 25-year-olds by the Prince’s Trust in Britain found that one in ten young people believed life was not worth living or was meaningless. The poll of over 2,000 showed that more than a quarter felt depressed. Almost half said they were regularly stressed and many did not have anything to look forward to. The trust, which aims to help vulnerable young people, said its study revealed an increasingly vulnerable generation.
So, maybe it is time for us to rethink what our children need to learn?
A School for Life
In a recent report to the UK government, advisor Sir Jim Rose recommended that in order to solve these problems, the British primary schools should start teaching kids more about essential life skills. He proposed instituting a curriculum that would prepare children for life by providing them with the "personal, social and emotional qualities essential to their health, well-being and life as a responsible citizen in the 21st Century." Such a curriculum would include lessons about emotional well-being and social skills.
Sir Rose's report is a good summary of the problem with our education system, and a good indication of what our children our lacking. Maybe other countries should also consider a similar approach and start teaching children content they can actually apply to the world they enter once they leave the classroom.
Instead of spending hours upon hours drilling our children on knowledge that is almost entirely erased from their heads the moment they leave the classroom, schools should be explaining the nature of the world we are living in. From the earliest years, children should learn about the tight connections and interdependencies that exist between people today, and that the desire to benefit at the expense of others (egoism) is the main reason for our suffering. This will make youth see that the short-lived enjoyment they acquire at someone else’s expense is actually harmful to them, because the harm they cause someone else boomerangs right back at them. At the same time, we should show them how nature’s balanced relationships of mutual love and respect lead to harmony, enabling the existence of life.
More than Good Grades
If we give our children such knowledge - a real tool for real life, then they will leave school with more than good grades and successful exams. They will understand life and the world around them, and will have no reason to be violent, sink into depression or turn to alcohol or drugs. In addition, their frustration with the pointless and irrelevant education system will be replaced with the feeling that they truly benefit from the things they learn.
A child who understands himself and the world around him learns to look at reality differently. He is truly "ready for life in the 21st century." He understands that he lives in an interconnected, globalized world, knows that the reason for all the bad things he sees around him is the human ego, and recognizes that this is what must be corrected to achieve happiness.
A New Approach
We don't need any revolutionary reforms in order to provide our children with this key to life. All we need are a few specific changes in subjects that are already part of the curriculum. Here are a few examples:
The Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and others)
These subjects explain the natural systems that surround us, providing abundant examples of interconnected systems that work properly. But rather than having to mindlessly memorize the parts and workings of cells just to forget them a week after the exam, students could be shown how these natural systems relate to their lives: to ensure prosperity and success, a human society should behave just as the cells in an organism (or any other system in nature). The cells are interdependent and interconnected, and they work together in reciprocity. The members of society are very much like the cells, where a person who cares only for himself, and not about the rest of “the human organism,” becomes “cancerous” and eventually destroys everyone, including himself.
History and Social Studies
History and Social Studies provide an excellent opportunity to examine the course of human development and to see how it has been affected by egoism. Society’s evolution from the family unit, to clans, then towns and cities, then to nations, and finally – to today’s “small global village,” was driven by people’s ever-increasing desires to gain and develop. However, the same desires have brought about all the wars and tyrannies throughout history. Such classes can become a great platform for showing how one’s egoistic nature can be used constructively – for the benefit of society, or destructively – for satisfying one’s narrow self-centered interests and thus to society’s detriment.
Group games can be used to give kids a deeper understanding of the advantages of cooperation and reciprocal work.
Beyond the Traditional Subjects
In order to give our children a solid foundation for coping with the complexities of life in the modern world, there is one more subject that needs to be introduced into the curriculum: “Being Human.” This class – sure to become children’s favorite – will engage in the questions that really bother our children, such as, “Why should we go to school in the first place? Why should we study? Why should we get married and have our own children later on in life?” Or more generally, “What do we need all of this for?”
And for the more inquiring students, teachers can provide answers to questions that leave most parents scratching their heads; meaningful questions like, “Who am I?” and, “What is my purpose in life?”
The subject matter of this class, based on the ancient wisdom of Kabbalah, will answer these difficult questions by speaking to children simply and explaining the source of the desires and thoughts that come to them. This class will help the child understand and reveal more about himself and his purpose as a human being, supplementing the knowledge he acquires in the other classes.