The Blight of U.S. Education and my Own Dilemna

I'm going to attempt to sum up a few ideas rattling around in my not quite caffeinated morning brain. My husband, whom I'm pretty sure has developed a case of chest-quaking bronchitis, woke me up at 5am from his incessant coughing. Laying in bed, but trying to sleep, my mind wandered instead to my upcoming classroom evaluation by a colleague of mine. I've been sweating (OK, let's be honest, losing sleep over) this to-be-determined, but albeit required, classroom visit. I've been belly-aching about it to anyone who will give me a millisecond, and yet, I understand why these visits are important.

Teacher quality. Failing classrooms. Budget cuts and unions. Tech overload and sensory issues. And that's mainly indicative of the U.S. public school K-12 system. After reading an NPR article about a new book by Amanda Ripley, "The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way" and watching an interview with her, I cannot help but wonder what my role is in this whole mess AND what does this mean for my own children.

And that takes me back to last week, in which I was frantically calling the "best" preschools in my city, hoping to find a place for my daughter for 2014 as well as one that, you know, might actually also be good for her. Because God-forbid we either 1. do some run of the mill preschool or wait until she can enter the state-ran Pre-K program at our local elementary. Moral of this whole story is that waiting lists for "good" preschools start at birth, cost a lot of money, and by the way, test your 2 year old for "readiness" and BS like that.

And yet, I really really want that. Why? Partly, I've seen the abhorrent state of public education firsthand. Both my own education, in which I mostly slept through high school and still earned A's, as well as the quality of students I receive at the university-level. A dear friend of mine teaches freshmen English at a local private high school and, interestingly enough, freshmen level English at the same university as me. On the first day of class, she gave both sets of freshmen a basic grammar exam. Can you guess which set passed the quiz at 100% and which group failed, nearly unanimously?

And that brings me back to my upcoming review. To be honest, I'm not sure what the benefit of it will be. If I'm a sub-par instructor, will my department actually can me, despite their near desperate need for an instructor in my area of expertise? If I'm a "good" instructor, will this be mostly a formality to initiate a university-sponsored pat on the back?

I'm not quite sure what the outcome will be, for myself or for my children. In my classroom, I strive to challenge the hell out of their critical-thinking starved brains and hope that I make some smidge of an impact. And as for my daughter? Time will tell what happens with the preschool debacle. I want to believe that I could jump on the home-school bandwagon and give her the best damn education possible. But let's be real: I'm human, I don't know everything (heaven help my children if I'm required to teach more than basic math), and I'm not sure bucking the system is the answer. Can money buy her the better education? My experience working in the private school system says yes and no. Unfortunately, I don't have a better answer at this point.

So, the overarching question of this post is: how do we create an educational model that is for everyone (and not just the societal upper-crust), but also shapes our children to think critically and be excited to learn? Any thoughts?

In the meantime, check out this Economist interview with author Amanda Ripley and let me know what you think.