Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Laura “Bedrock” Bedrossian.
On Oct. 8, a headline in USA Today caught my attention (and the attention of one Mr. Steve Cody. Thanks, Steve) in a bad way: U.S. adults lag behind counterparts overseas in skills.
The article covered the first-ever international comparison on education of 23 industrialized nations of people between the ages of 16-65 years old—and the results for Americans between are nothing short of embarrassing. The country, my country, and the age group I fall in, falls below international averages in every sector.
The oldest Americans in the sample (those between 55 and 65) turned in a higher-than-average performance in reading. In math, those same test takers were even with the 7% international average. Not too shabby.
The problem, however, is apparently with the youngest sampling that dragged down the average for the country in nearly every subject.
What happened? With all of the speeches from various politicians, I assumed that education was one of our top priorities. Clearly this is not true given these scores, the number of budget cuts at schools across the nation, truancy rates, etc.
I’m not going to pretend to know the answers, but I have some ideas, and I think one of the main issues is an interest in education. As a Millennial I look to the generation before me and that of my grandparents’ generation as I think of these issues.
My father’s parents lived through the Great Depression and knew what it was like when school wasn’t something that everyone got to go to. It was a privilege. My grandfather graduated from high school, while my grandmother and her siblings could only make it to the end of elementary school before they had to go to work instead. Education was always important to my grandparents to the point of near obsession. My grandfather in particular was pretty tough on his own kids when it came to school—to the point where they grew to resent him.
Growing up my parents—particularly my father—weren’t too strict with me in terms of school. I always had good grades and loved going to school (full disclosure: I was/am a nerd and wanted to do well). I tend to think he was more lax because of how his parents pushed him. I think he wanted to avoid the same resentment from his own children. I can’t help but wonder if that is a similar sentiment of people in that era and if this generation produced many others like my father, who was just happy that I went to school and was generally a good kid. He didn’t care if I were always on the honor roll. Could this be a trend for Boomers and how they raised Millennials? Maybe. Maybe not.
There are so many factors that go into education, so it seems almost impossible to pinpoint the issue—teachers, parents/guardians, socioeconomic status, etc.
I think (hope) education is still important to people, but wonder if the country as a whole has taken it for granted. Is it taken for granted that we all have the right to go to school until we hit grade 12? Is it taken for granted that, if you want to, there are ways to make sure you get a college degree?
On the news, I’ve heard anchors say, “Well, kids must be happy, it’s a snow day! No school!” Should they be happy? Is it helping these scores and the general interest in learning to be planting seeds that school is a chore?
There seems to be a lack of thirst for knowledge. Not across the board, but it’s certainly enough where we’re clearly performing at low levels. We should be embarrassed. We should be talking to kids and ourselves and asking what else we can be learning.
It might take a bit of a culture shift to get people to start encouraging people to read more and want to learn—again, not that there aren’t many people who do this, but I really don’t think it’s widespread enough.
I definitely recommend the book I Am Malala to be reminded about how education in other countries isn’t taken for granted, and in fact, people are fighting to be educated. I don’t think it will take much, but the country just needs a nudge to remember how important it is to continue learning at all stages of life. Perhaps Millenials and the generations to follow will become inspired to learn more and we will see our scores and hunger for knowledge improve once again. The fact that we need intelligent people in the workforce to stay competitive in a global economy should scare people into making this shift on their own, but maybe they haven’t wanted to read/learn anything on that topic yet.