For many decades now, education has been used as a political football by people seeking public office at both the state and federal levels to advance their political and personal agendas. During John F. Kennedy’s presidency, for example, he warned us that the Russians would beat us to the moon if we didn’t improve our education system. Of course, we all know how that turned out. Neil Armstrong’s historic walk occurred within the decade and not only did the Russians not beat us, they haven’t sniffed the moon some fifty years later. So, President Kennedy’s alarm was manufactured and his hyperbole was pretty much what we have come to expect from our political leaders.
Until the 1990’s, political pronouncements about education were little more than sport. During their campaign speeches, with appropriately furrowed brows meant to convince us how serious they were about their concerns and their ability to address them, candidates consistently rang the alarm about the decrepit state of our public education system. Of course, the irony is that they did this at a time when the United States housed the most educated work force and was the most powerful economic machine in the world. How did they reconcile that fact? Well, they just ignored it, of course.
Then, in the early ‘90’s our politicians raised the stakes. Instead of being content with writing catchy little speeches meant to scare us to death, they decided to hijack public education by creating laws and policies that were based on myths about how children become educated. It was during that decade that our national obsession with testing began in earnest. Unfortunately, that obsession continues to this day.
For 25 years now, politicians have written laws as if we are educated in a vacuum, that education occurs only in schools, and that the only way we can decide if a person is educated is if he/she earns “passing” scores on a bunch of state mandated academic tests. Of course, nothing about that is true, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing with their foolishness.
The fact is, education is a lifelong experience that occurs more outside of a classroom than inside, and there is so much more to being educated and achieving success than passing tests. If test scores and grades were all that mattered, every straight A student would rule the world and every C and D student would be mired in mediocrity or worse. But, that’s not how it works, is it?
So, what does it mean to be well educated, anyway?
If you are the youngster who lives on a farm and who rises before dawn every day to tend to the livestock, you are well educated, because you have learned the value of hard work, discipline, and accepting responsibility.
If you are the five-year-old who walks into his kindergarten class already knowing his letters, colors, and numbers and who treats his peers kindly and his teacher respectfully, you are academically and behaviorally well educated.
If you are the youngster who sits quietly and politely with your parents in a restaurant and who isn’t disrupting the dinner conversation of everyone sitting around you, you are appropriately disciplined and socially well educated.
If you are the young adult who spends Saturday mornings working in a soup kitchen to help your fellow man through the trials and tribulations of his life, you are a kind, compassionate, well-educated human being.
If you are the future doctor who passionately sits in an advanced placement high school biology class intently studying the intricacies of molecular science, you are well educated academically, but you are also well-educated on the importance of dedication, perseverance, and goal setting.
If you can listen to the evening news and, by applying the most basic logic, discern between fact and “fake news” when informing your personal opinions, you are well educated.
If you are the employee who has learned to work cooperatively with your peers to achieve a common goal for the good of the organization, you are well educated.
If you are an athlete who understands the importance of teamwork, dedication, and sacrificing yourself for the good of others, you are well educated.
If you are the parent who loves, nurtures, and provides for every need of your children and who ensures that you provide the environment in which they can thrive, you are well educated.
If you are the person who understands your country’s history well enough to not silently stand by and watch our leaders make the same mistakes over and over and over again, you are well educated.
The list is endless and there are no tests to measure many of these keys to success. But, our politicians are not swayed by the facts.
Take a moment and Google “Attributes of successful people,” and you will see that I am not just making this stuff up. You will not find references to test scores or state-controlled academic standards as keys to success. Instead, you will find attributes like those I’ve listed above (and many more). They are listed because we know they contribute as much to an individual’s success as his or her academic achievement, yet, our lawmakers conveniently ignore this most basic fact when they create their mandates. Even worse, we allow them to get away with it.
Why do we do that?
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.