Nowadays, education is considered a controversial issue, as there are many thoughts regarding the mechanism of its purpose, functions, advantages, and drawbacks. The matter is that it has an obvious influence on the people’s conception of the world, convictions, and further actions. As compulsory education starts at school, it is important to consider its indispensable role in the children’s development. Therefore, the purpose of this research paper is to shed light on the specific issue in education that results in the significant challenges for the teachers. The American school became an object for the modern research due to various problems that affect it. There exist different conflicting views concerning the indispensable role of the school and special educational needs that arise from this point. Although schools may preserve an educational function, they stimulate a particular code of behavior or social role; thus, they preclude the critical thinking and self-determination of children, creating special needs in education and challenging the teacher’s role. Consequently, the school changes into a laboratory where the experiments on the young minds are held.
Special Education Issues in the American Context
Concerning the current state of education in America, it is affected by various problems. Michael Moore (2013) and John Taylor Gatto (2013) dwell upon these issues and reject the American education in terms of its endless failures and intentions to bring about the particular consequences. Michael Moore (2013), who rather stands out for harsh criticism, does not disguise his attitude towards the schools and schooling in general. In fact, he describes the current state of American education as a menace to modern society, whom he calls an idiot nation. It concerns the fact that the education bureaucrats and political leaders do nothing in order to improve the process of studying causing the general decline of the educational system.
First, one should consider the state of schools and learning material. In fact, it ought to be said that many U.S. schools are in a terrible condition. The enrollments are bigger than they should be, so the classes are usually held in the hallways or overcrowded classrooms. There is no equipment and material to study, as there are no libraries that can provide children with the necessary books (all of them are usually very old and worn). Michael Moore (2013) also emphasizes the problem of the teachers, as they have become a punching bag for the politicians. Many people believe that the teachers are the ones to be blamed for the problems in education. However, the educational faculties fail as well; they do not require learning any foreign language, taking courses in Shakespeare, and studying the American history. Nowadays, it looks like a dystopian education.
Another evident problem regards marketing, as schools have become its main target. It means that big companies sponsor educational materials in exchange for consuming their products, which usually cause different health problems. Companies also conduct a market research in the classrooms during school hours and provide children with different advertising staff instead of allowing them to focus on studying.
Children, as they go to school, have their own expectations concerning the environment that stimulates thought and speech. Nevertheless, they are forced into the educational routines that cause boredom and kill inspiration. Therefore, even the teachers have become the experts in prolixity as they are also the products of the same mandatory school programs that annoy their students. Recently, the question of whether there is a way out arises has become burning. The teachers should bring reality to the classroom and encourage children toward discovering in the processes that are not dull, but interesting and fascinating. The main challenge for the teachers to manifest themselves is in the need to find out the approaches that will stimulate the children’s creative thinking.
The Pitfalls of the Merit Pay for Teachers: Legal Issues and Challenges
Bearing in mind the previous points, one ought to consider the legal issues that have presupposed the above-mentioned failures in education. Lately, there has been an increase in attention to the merit pay and performance appraisal for teachers as the U. S. government was interested in enacting a law and implementing a new system of improving the education. This official regulation concerns certain bonuses for teachers whose students earn higher test scores. The matter is that the experts treat this point differently, and there are no clear-cut conclusions whether such a system should be introduced into the American education or not. The scholars from all over the world did their best to prove the rationale behind this project. Nevertheless, there are still endless disagreements on the topic. Although the merit pay system is said to improve the American education in public schools, it has obvious disadvantages, and that is why it does not work in the American society.
Not surprisingly, the merit pay and performance appraisal have become a matter of continuing and intense speculations. Numerous teaching experiments were conducted in different countries in oder to determine whether teachers are prone to change and improve their teaching methods when being encouraged by additional bonuses or not. The financial aspect here is the most ambiguous one as the experts differ in their consideration about the impact of money on the teachers’ productivity. In general, the aim of the merit pay system was to encourage the American teachers to adopt and develop such teaching methods that will benefit the students and consequently increase their income.
What is more, there are different assumptions of whether the system would work out in the American society and influence the mentality of the American teachers or not. The most thought-provoking aspect regarding this matter concerns the subject of the effects that the incentive payment system has on the teachers and their students. The government is eager to implement it in the American education, as most officials believe that the teachers do not use their full potential due to the reason that their profession is poorly paid for. Therefore, they have arrived at the conclusion that the money can somehow improve the situation, and more teachers will join and remain in the profession; however, it is not as simple as that.
Consequently, this educational reform strategy entailed numerous arguments for and against it. Nancy Protheroe (2011) approaches the topic from the perspective that blames the teachers for who they are, claiming that they are “holding back because they are not being paid for the extra efforts” (p. 31). The problem was that the researches had showed that the merit pay system had no effects on the students’ progress due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the incentives were poorly designed. Secondly, the teachers made little effort to bring changes into the ambivalent process of teaching and learning. Eventually, the teachers who did their utmost can be marked with the fact that their effectiveness was not increased. Nevertheless, the article by Protheroe is rather modest and does not really present an accurate point of view.
Still, some other authors and experts advanced their opinions on the issue. Al Ramirez (2010) intended to show various drawbacks of the merit pay strategy and concluded that such a plan goes wrong or misfires. His theory is supported by the logical framing and facts. Ramirez considers the problem distinguishing the other merit pay systems in the law, engineering, and accounting. Additionally, he determines the factors that influence both the teacher and students’ progress.
When asked to take on a merit-pay system, as a rule, the teachers point to the fact that they have no control over who is assigned to their classes. Every experienced teacher knows that the groups of students vary in their ability and motivation from year to year. Each class presents its own set of challenges, and this variation exists across the schools and districts (Ramirez, 2010, p. 56).
Therefore, the author states, “Merit pay misses the boat entirely because good teaching is not about money” (p. 57). The obvious disadvantage results from the test-oriented approach, by means of which, the scholars want to determine the overall students’ performance.
Test-oriented Approaches on the Global Perspective
It would be reasonable to remark that the test-oriented approach to education fails, and it can be considered through the prism of contrast between the U.S. education reforms and the Finnish education system. The matter is that the Finnish approach is popular all over the world because of the students and teachers’ achievements in the process of learning. It remains the best one according to the PISA results. The interesting point here is that the Finnish education is based on a system that is completely different from the American one due to a number of significant reforms that were introduced in order to improve the education in the country. The officials did their best to present “a radically different model of educational reform – based on a balanced curriculum and professionalization, not testing” (Abrahams, 2011, n.p.).
Abrahams, in his comparative and contrasting article, lays an emphasis on the drawbacks of testing and advantages of the other methods of teaching and evaluation:
Not only do Finnish educational authorities provide students with far more recess than their U.S. counterparts—75 minutes a day in Finnish elementary schools versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.—but they also mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learning by doing, rigorous standards for teacher certiﬁcation, higher teacher pay, and attractive working conditions. This is a far cry from the U.S. concentration on testing in reading and math since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002 […]. (n. p.)
Therefore, one may see that testing does not develop any skills at all; it is just a way of evaluation, though not an effective one. Moreover, it remains an obstacle to the better standards of education in the US.
Suffice to say, the reforms concerning the American education should be scrutinized in order to introduce deeper changes that will have effective results. The public school education should be built from the scratch, and all the system should be re-considered and re-examined. One has to bear in mind that the teachers are not the only ones accountable for the students’ achievement, and compensations or bonuses for the better results will not lead to better knowledge. Ramirez was quite right in his conclusion:
Effective schools are made up of a complex array of qualities and characteristics. They are hard to create and maintain, but easy to destroy. Such schools are wonderful places to be a teacher and a student, and comforting places for parents to send their children. These schools serve their communities and their nation well. Effective schools are not built on a foundation of greed. What policymakers don’t seem to understand is that adults in these schools are motivated by something far more important than money – a purpose beyond themselves. (2010, p. 58)
Therefore, it is evident that the wage plus-bonus system fails in the teaching environment and is an unforeseen pitfall that may cause undesirable consequences.
The Submergence of Individualities
Coming back to the main problem of the essay, the children learn to submerge their individualities. According to Mencken H. L., an influential American journalist, the aim of the schools in the US is to reduce as much individuality as possible, and train a standardized society. John Taylor Gatto (2013) also pays special attention to the educational downside of the schools. He makes a distinction between education and schooling; the latter one tends to have non-educational purpose and is not considered an education at all. As a matter of fact, Gatto (2013) compares it to the military state of Prussia and claims that the educational system has been intentionally designed to produce mediocre intellects and hamstring the inner life of students. The children seem to be divided by subject, age-grading, as well as different ranking tests. According to Gatto (2013), the real aim of the modern schooling preserves some functions, such as adaptive, integrating, diagnostic, directive, differentiating, selective, and propaedeutic one. In turn, they deal with developing the fixed habits of reaction to authority, making children as alike as possible, determining social role of the students, sorting them by role, and training. It is the obvious aim of compulsory education or schooling.
Gatto (2013) argues that compulsory schooling can effectively prevent students from becoming independent thinkers. Nonetheless, he provides a sober look at the point, which means that the author is impartial about the deteriorating processes in the American education and believes that all the people are to be blamed. In some cases, he is hesitant about his own speculations concerning the root of the problem, but he believes that the schools coin their long-term and cellblock position. On the contrary, Michael Moore (2013) is radically disposed of and blames the authorities. There is also a popular thought or general idea about the worthlessness of the compulsory public school education, because of the many conflicts that exist there. It is not a secret that some famous people, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin, never graduated from school, as well as some of the popular writers Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, and Will Durant.
The cause of the problem is not yet clear. Some scholars blame politicians; some people are picking on teachers while some of them are still hesitant. It is crucial to realize that the whole educational system fails and the best solution would be to build it from a scratch. As for students, they can resist mandatory education, teaching themselves to be the leaders and developing critical thinking. The authorities have to give autonomy to the students and encourage the best qualities of youthfulness, such as curiosity and adventure. They ought to come up with a more viable approach to education that will be based on the creative tasks and will lack structural issues, so that the children could take an education rather than merely receive a schooling treatment. Moreover, the US has to borrow some ideas from the effective systems of other countries, where the international rankings are considerably high – Canada, Finland, Japan, and South Korea. As nowadays, the expectations for good education have increased, the authorities, parents, and teachers are potentially responsible for the educational breakdown. It may be explained by the fact that the former generations put pressure on the latter ones, so as to achieve the desired effect of creating the nation of mediocre people, and parents, whose children are treated badly, do nothing but observe.
The Challenging Nature of the Solutions
In order to prevent educational subservience, the schools should design the new methods of teaching that will leap forward the desires of becoming a leader. Firstly, marketing and its destructive nature should be banned at schools, as they have nothing to do with teaching and learning. Secondly, the students should not be divided by races and social classes. In addition, when it comes to the possible solution to this matter, one may speak of the American unexceptionalism. The authorities have to understand that their country is in need of better secondary education, as the modern one has a number of disadvantages and fails to respond to the people’s needs. The obvious solution to this problem concerns the technical requirements for teaching. In fact, there exists a knowledge-based approach that is quite a useful one in terms of educational value. A teacher has to possess the three kinds of knowledge: substantive, pedagogical, and pedagogical content. A substantive one concerns the particular skills in the subject while pedagogical demands the awareness of the ways to teach. The pedagogical content knowledge consists in the students’ understanding of the subject and responding to the different mistakes. These components are the key points to the success in teaching. Unfortunately, the American education lacks such professionals. Therefore, the teachers should be trained in a proper way, so as not to be able to experiment on the young minds at schools.
The Trademark of Freedom
Although the American education fails in certain fields, there are some advantages, concerning the fact that it is praised and accepted by other countries. Firstly, the U.S. education has the trademark of freedom that means that it provides pupils/ students with an opportunity to make decisions about what courses to attend or choices to make. In such a manner, students follow their own ways of learning the material. Secondly, many private schools provide children with quality education and comfortable conditions for studying. In addition, the obvious advantage of the American education regards the standardized testing that is the fair evaluation of the students’ knowledge. The student can prepare and get a good mark. However, the most vivid priority of the American education may be given to the universities that are popular all over the world. They provide their students with numerous opportunities: one can see many countries by means of traveling. Studying in the US is beneficial due to a number of reasons. Firstly, there is a diversity of colleges and universities that give good high education. Secondly, an interesting lifestyle should also be mentioned. Although there are some benefits of the public school education, one cannot forget about all the drawbacks. The matter is that the authorities have to do something in order to improve the situation, so that nobody would make endless experimentations on the children’s minds. Therefore, a child’s code of behavior or social role cannot be obtruded, as it is up to nature to decide.
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To put it plainly, the main drawbacks of the school education consist in imposing a regime that destroys the children’s self-determination and critical thinking. Such a regime should be abandoned, and new methods are to be introduced. Therefore, nowadays, the school education in particular is an object of a heated debate. This paper has put an emphasis on the special issue concerning schooling, narrowing the research to the American context. It brought into focus the legal issue of merit pays for teachers, reviewing the nature of the challenges that encounter teachers in their work. In this context, the schools proved to become the laboratories for experimentations that hinder the children’s development.