What’s the formula for getting the very best students in the world?
Great students are a great thing to have in a democracy, because the democratic process requires an educated populace in order to function well. How can people be expected to research candidates and issues and then make informed decisions, without possessing advanced reading and critical thinking skills?
Great students are also a great thing to have in nations wishing to compete economically—not to mention militarily—on the world stage. How can a nation compete without having, within it, many individuals with expertise in STEM and other scholarly fields?
But the United States has been struggling, compared with other major democracies, to provide its young people with great educations. According to Jared Diamond in his fabulously rich (in facts and ideas!) book Upheaval, education is one of the major areas of crisis facing the United States today.
As usual, Diamond’s argument and conclusions are complex. As I explained in my first and second blog posts about this book, there is no way that I can summarize any of his arguments in a single blog post, without leaving out a lot.
But I can give you one tiny piece of his argument. Here’s a single sentence from the portion of the book that deals with American education:
“In South Korea, Finland, Germany, and other democracies, the teaching profession attracts the very best students, because teachers there are highly paid and enjoy high social status, which leads to low job turnover of teachers.”
How do you get the very best students? Ensure that the very best students become teachers. And ensure that those teachers stay in the profession.
How do you do that? Pay teachers as if they were highly skilled experts that individuals and nations rely upon for their very survival: as, indeed, they are! Doctors and teachers are equally essential components of a highly functioning society. The former profession keeps people physically and emotionally alive and well-functioning. The latter profession keeps people intellectually, socially, and occupationally alive and well-functioning. Why, then, aren’t teachers paid as much as doctors in the U.S.?
(I must also include spiritual leaders in this schema. This profession keeps people spiritually alive and well-functioning. See this infographic for a breakdown of the six dimensions of wellness promoted by the National Wellness Institute—fully half of which are fostered by teachers!)
Diamond explains that, in many nations, the teaching profession is highly competitive. In these nations, only the highest performing secondary and university students are admitted to the teaching profession. Meanwhile, he writes, “nearly half of American teachers come from the bottom third of their classes.”
As a former high school English teacher, I am hardly unbiased here. Indeed, this has been a soapbox issue of mine for years. But my experience in the profession gives me insight on this topic. Yep—Diamond’s analysis rings true, when I compare it to my experience in American public schools.
I left the classroom for many reasons, not least of which included my introversion, personal and mental health issues, and yearning to be a writer. But also significant in my decision to leave the classroom were monumental problems endemic to American public education. Many schools are insufficiently funded. Many teachers are insufficiently paid. I saw and experienced the effects of these problems firsthand, when I worked in public schools in five states, over the course of seven years.
Funding all schools sufficiently, and paying teachers as highly skilled experts, are essential to keeping America strong: democratically, economically, militarily, scientifically, and in many other ways. The issue of guns or butter is a false dichotomy. The guns are literally dependent on the butter!
I read yesterday that there’s been a run on guns lately, as people fear violence in the upcoming election.
How about we, instead, run for the butter?