Commentary by James Turnage
Once a nation which valued education above all else, the United States is failing our next generation of Americans. The United States ranks 14th in the world in overall education. I graduated from elementary school in 1960; school days were longer and we were required to have a satisfactory general knowledge with emphasis on mathematics, reading, and basic science. This is not the case today; education in America should be more inclusive.
The United States is ranked 31st in math, 21st in reading skills, and 24th in Science. Where American children fail most is in the subject of civics. Several years ago a reporter was on a university campus. He asked questions of the students as they passed by his position. One question was; ‘can you tell me one state which borders on this state?’ Only one out of ten gave him the correct answer. Another question was; ‘who is next in line for the presidency after the president and vice-president?’ One in twenty knew that it was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I doubt one in one-hundred would know who was fourth.
Arizona has added a requirement to their educational system. Students must pass a U.S. citizenship exam to graduate. High School students must correctly answer a minimum of 60 out of 100 questions.
Educational professionals call it a first step, but simply memorizing facts is not enough. There needs to be classroom discussion involving our founding fathers, the Constitution, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and all major events which shaped our nation and the world.
How do we do this? Instead of continued theories and complicated ideas involving new forms of the educational system, we should make one simple change; learn from the past.
Our school days should be longer; every nation in the world which is ahead of us in education has longer school days; some even require attendance for one-half day every other Saturday.
Emphasis must remain on core subjects; mathematics, reading, and science; but we must also return to teaching history.
I don’t know a single student who enjoyed memorizing dates and names, but as I’ve grown older, I am pleased that we had to learn about the events which created the world we live in today. We all should know how past events shaped the good and the bad in our society.
It has long been a fact that we should study the past so we don’t make the same mistakes.
Some say that many of the events in our history books fifty years ago were distorted; that some of our heroes were highly flawed, and their biographies glamorized. This hasn’t changed when considering current events, but we must have some knowledge of where we were, and where we are now.
Arizona is moving in the right direction, but there should be much more. The upcoming generation should have an understanding of our check and balance system, and what each of our three branches of government is responsible for. They should at least read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They must be fully aware of why their parents discuss and criticize Democrats or Republicans, understanding what they mean when they say our government is broken and that Washington doesn’t work.
Education should be more inclusive and our children must work harder. I told my children that my job was to work and make money to care for the family; theirs was to go to school and achieve academic success.
I may not be 100 percent right; but I’m not wrong.
By James Turnage