Filling the gaps in American education
By Sophie Heinsohn
Education has always been considered the great equalizer in the United States, and an important aspect of our egalitarian and individualistic culture. When our community is educated, its members are better prepared to support themselves and find higher-paying jobs. Educational opportunities can help lower the number of people needing financial assistance, which has the added benefit of ensuring that people are taken care of without this task falling to the government. And an educated population is able to utilize analytics and logic in all areas of their lives, including in their responsibility to their country as informed voters.
And yet we cannot help but be aware of the myriad issues facing students today from grade school through university level.
In a May of 2021 Mercury article, I voiced my concerns about political parties and how they are dividing us we a nation. Too often, there are only two solutions to an issue presented, and both fall short. Educational policy is often caught in these crosshairs, with the added entity of the union.
This is cause for two major concerns: how the education of our children will impact their ultimate ability to thrive in the future, and their ability to contribute to the continued success of our democratic republic. We are faced with the question, though, of how to address these concerns. Money is thrown at the school systems, but has it really solved the problems?
President Biden recently indicated that our ability to be competitive with China would be indicated by our willingness to update our education system. According to World Population Review, the U.S. ranks 38th in math and 24th in science in testing. According to the “hidden curriculum” theory of William Strong, professor at Utah State University, tests are ostensibly used to motivate students to learn; however, a testing situation may feel more like punishment than an honor, besides the lack of true learning that comes from learning only for grading. Should it come as any surprise then, that students from the U.S. score as low as they do?
But if education is so important and public schools are overfunded but underserving, what can we do? I am not an advocate of dumping more federal money, or control, into more areas of our lives, so this is where I see opportunity for those who do not wish to see the federal government grow to take on the responsibility of educating our future generations.
A book by Steve Monsma, Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy, provides an important reminder: Providing alternatives or supplements to public schooling is not always feasible for lower-wage or are single-parent families. How, then, do we have less government unless we are willing to privately, whether individually or through nonprofit and business organizations, fill the gap?
I believe this is an important question to ask in all aspects of our lives, but it is certainly a potent one for this discussion. To ensure better education for all students, we must look to provide feasible opportunities outside of government-funded, public schools. Grants and scholarships for students to attend private schools or homeschool are a couple of options. Teacher’s salaries for private schools can be covered by donations.
These are financial solutions, but volunteering time, or what political scientist Robert Putnam referred to as social capital, is another option — for example, someone who is retired tutoring an at-risk student, taking on a position as a mentor and even providing after-school supervision to take pressure off working parents. These kinds of situations would further strengthen economic opportunities for these children and help them to grow as future voters and leaders of the nation tasked with upholding the American experiment.
I do not want to pretend that there is a simple or singular fix to the problems of the education system. I do believe that education is vital for the liberty, independence and ultimate success of future generations and the future U.S. For centuries, America has been a blessing to her citizens and the world. No, we are not perfect, but that is not the expectation that we should have. When we constantly strive to be better, we will have a great impact. We must know our history, another reason education is so vital, and emulate the good while learning and growing from the bad.
If we start investing in and strengthening the education system, it can have great results. There are many issues to be tackled, more than I could mention here, but when we teach for students to learn, provide better and more available opportunities outside of public and government-funded schools, and unite to find solutions, we can take great steps for the future.
I think of the famous words of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Since freedom is only one generation away from extinction, let us ask what we can do for our country, handing our children not only freedom but the educational tools to protect it, and not by using the nine most feared words in the English language.
Both liberals and conservatives believe that education is important, but they often see the way to get there differently. I believe that we can honor the need for quality education by working together to provide a better system that is available not because of the will of the government but because of the will of the people. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “America is another name for opportunity.”
Hailing from Charleston originally, Sophie Heinsohn has lived up and down the Eastern Seaboard, which fostered an interest in history and its present-day cultural implications. With a bachelor’s degree in government from Liberty University, Sophie is now pursuing a master’s in writing and looks forward to merging these passions in the future.