American Culture is to Blame for Bad Schools

Filed Under: Life, School

Education and learning are two things we value in this household.

We also value things like bacon, really good coffee and hours and hours of sleep but believe that last one is kind of like a leprechaun – mythical.

Sunday morning was a lazy morning.

We had planned on getting random groceries and then going to the creek/park that’s behind our apartment but the weather seemed to have other ideas since the day was dark, grey and cold, with the occasional raindrop.

The TV had been turned to some random cartoon and right before we went to get a shower, I made the mistake of switching the channel to some random news station.

I don’t remember what the show was or who the woman was who was speaking since I was trying to herd two kids into the bathroom. The important part is what she was talking about: broad-sweeping changes to the federal education system. I heard a couple of snippets and most of them involved pouring a lot of money into the system but I don’t remember enough to share here and those snippets aren’t what’s (really) important anyway.

What’s important is it got Tucker and me talking about education and what we think’s wrong with the educational system. The funny/absurd part about this is we were discussing the woes of our country whilst showering.

I’ll take adult conversation whenever and wherever I can get it.

A couple of moments in the conversation stand out to me and be glad I’m writing this the day after since the conversation stretched on for about an hour and I was all riled up and stuff.

  1. We spend more money on education per child, as a country, than any other country but our kids are far from the highest performing kids.
  2. We, on a whole, appear to value celebrity and sports stars more than we value smart folks.
  3. Throwing more money and creating more “mandates” won’t fix an already broken system.
  4. You can’t fix education until you change what the kids get at home and what the kids’ parents value.
  5. In order to change what kids’ parents value, you have to dramatically change what Americans put a premium on – from entertainment and frivolity to intelligence and hard work.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you place high – attainable – expectations on your children, they will strive to reach those goals. When you set the bar too low – or don’t set it at all – what do you think you’re going to get?

You will have the occasional child who accomplishes amazing things in spite of their parents. And, conversely, you will have kids who, no matter what their parents do, are still going to do poorly in school. But expecting nothing but the minimum requirements, praising athletic achievement over grades and expecting your government to fix an issue that can only be fixed at home aren’t the expectations I’m talking about.

What sucks is I don’t have any real solutions but sure do have a lot of complaints and people could say I’m part of the problem with all my complaining and finger pointing. But ultimately, Tucker and I are only responsible for our two kids and the standards we set for them.

Will we encourage our kids to participate in sports if they want? You bet but they also will participate in non-sports activities. If I have it my way, both of them will take music lessons and if grades start to fall then all things not directly relating to classwork will be killed.

Cause that’s how we roll.

I’m curious about  what your thoughts are on US public education.

What would fix it? Is American “culture” really to blame or is it something that’s easier to fix? Do you think the need for more money is the issue or should we be spending those dollars smarter?

Links for further reading. If they’re old, that’s because that was the best I could find.



  1. Ok, I’ve had this discussion many, many times with various people. My take on it:

    A> Our schools are UNDERFUNDED. Teaching is one of the most important, and worst compensated, professions. Therefore the people smart enough to be of any value to our classrooms won’t do it, because they can’t live on what they make.

    B> And this goes directly to “A”. Our classes are too big, we’ve got children as young as 6 in classes that are starting to resemble an English 401 class. Children don’t have the attention span, or discipline, to survive in an environment where a teacher is struggling to spend 15 minutes with each child. The younger they are, the more they need more individualized attention. It’s why home-schooled children do *WAY* better on standardized testing that kids from the school system.

    That’s enough of my ranting for now.
    .-= ShredderFeeder´s last blog ..On Piss-Poor Support… =-.

  2. Oh – but homeschooled kids tend to suck at doing things like interacting and working with peers.

    I know that from experience. (not just my own – my son has a friend who is a former homestudent – just doesn’t ‘get’ interpersonal relationships)
    .-= ShredderFeeder´s last blog ..On Piss-Poor Support… =-.

    • Teaching should be one of those things little kids answer with when an uninspired adult asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

      The way to insure that little kids say, “I want to be a teacher!” is to pay teachers more and make it harder for people to become teachers. If you make something exclusive then more people will want to join that exclusive “club”.

      But if you click on the last link I include for future reading and then click on Indicator D3, you’ll see American teachers are paid $35,907 at entry level and the OECD average is $28,687 and the EU 19 is $28,518.

      So they’re paying their teachers less but their kids are doing better than our kids. WFT?

      That goes to my spend current dollars “smarter” thing.

      While I 100% believe teachers should be paid more and class sizes should be smaller, surely the way we’re spending the already allocated funds is screwed up.

      Something’s broken and it’s gotta be fixed.

      I’ve seen [via Twitter] tons of people who have chosen to homeschool because they’re not satisfied with their school system.

      You cite homeschooled kids not getting “interpersonal relationships” and all I can base my experience on is a set of cousins I have who were homeschooled from grades 3-9.

      They didn’t act like “normal” kids their age. They acted like hard-thinking little adults. While their “normal” friends were concerned with what was on TV – me included – they were worried with the economy and science and String theory.

      So I wonder, are the homeschooled kids just weird, or are the public schooled kids just not being taught what’s important?

    • Isn’t being a kid important? Or do you think that children should be little grown-ups?

      The kids I spoke of in my first reply are like that. To the extent that they don’t understand how to have fun in any way, shape, or form.

      That is as much a life-skill as anything else. We are after all human, not little robot adding machines.

      You know, I’m curious as to whether despite the low teacher salaries they still manage to have smaller class-sizes. This would easily explain the differential in teachers salaries vs. performance. And the main reason for that is that there, teaching is a noble profession.

      Here it’s all about money, and if you can’t make a million $$ doing it, it’s not worth doing.

      Some day we *MIGHT* learn that money isn’t everything. Whether or not we’ll still be a country at that point, that’s a different matter altogether. We can’t sustain our current system, we’re turning out generations of complete idiots. Book-smart kids who can’t put a coherent thought together, or kids who can remember names and dates but don’t understand logic and problem-solving.

      I’ve seen the text-books today, they’re a fucking joke, and it amazes me any kid gets less than a passing grade. They lay it out for them. All they have to do is retain it until the test and they’re DONE.
      .-= ShredderFeeder´s last blog ..On Piss-Poor Support… =-.

    • Let’s look at Finland – an oft forgotten country.

      They pay their teachers $28,201 starting out. They have 19.8 kids/teacher and the highest top performers in Science among 15 yr old “top performers”.

      The US pays their teachers $35,807 starting out. We have a 23.6 kids/teacher and we rank 7.7 or 7.5 depending on which number you use on top performers in Science among 15 yr old “top performers”.

      That tells me $ isn’t everything in that culture and yet they still manage to produce kids who crush our kids when it comes to science.

      Granted, that’s just one indicator I examined, but I hate Excel and I had 3 tabs of Excel running and it’s late.

      As far as play goes, I’m a big fan of Dr. Maria Montessori.

      Play is essential and kids learn best by playing and by applying what they’ve learned during that “play”.

      Deep thought and reflection is essential to a well developed and intellectually active human. HOWEVER, a person who only concerns themselves with intellectual is doomed to be an outcast – no matter the setting.

    • You’re *EXACTLY* right. Money isn’t everything in Finland. They have actual values. Those values allow people to take the pay-cut and teach for a living because it’s what they want to do.

      A few numbers. Based on one million students.

      US 23.6 students/teacher @ #35,807 per year =

      42372 Teachers making a total of 1.517 Billion dollars/year
      Finland 19.8 students/teacher @ $28,201 per year =

      50505 Teachers making a total of 1.171 Billion dollars/year

      So because of their cultural differences, they manage to do a better job for less money.

      We raise our kids to be greedy then can’t figure out why none of them want to be teachers. So we have to pay more, so we can hire fewer, so our kids get screwed by teachers who don’t really want to be there and teach our kids that teaching is a chore, and not a joy.

      Then add to that that everyone bitches about the school systems but not a damned one of us want to vote for a tax increase to make it better. (Stafford County Virginia is a PRIME example of that) but then business owners in the area can’t understand why our schools have only a 50-75% graduation rate, and even those are mostly idiots.

      Our culture is what is BROKEN….possibly beyond repair.
      .-= ShredderFeeder´s last blog ..On Piss-Poor Support… =-.

    • So maybe it is American culture that’s to blame?

      I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to work hard to make a lot of money. Some will. Some won’t.

      That’s the American Dream – “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

      Some define happiness differently.

      For some, happiness is having a million dollars. For others, it’s having a roof over their head – no matter what that roof looks like.

      The idea our public education system is broken beyond belief is a very depressing thing to consider if the cause of the break is American culture and it’s broken beyond repair.

    • The problem is what we teach our kids.

      Happiness = Money

      nevermind fulfillment, nevermind doing a *REAL* good in the world. make lots of money and you’ll be happy.

      The reason for this? We have a consumption based economy. Our economy only works when we’re spending money. So to teach our kids how to be good consumers is the only way we can continue to exist as we do.

      Make more money, spend more money, etc.

      Well guess what. That only works in the short-term. it’s not sustainable, and if we keep teaching our children this, we as a country, as a society, and as a race are doomed.
      .-= ShredderFeeder´s last blog ..On Piss-Poor Support… =-.

  3. First Off,

    Amy, thank you for the request for my humble opinion.

    Now, let’s qualify “ME”.

    Mom was a career teacher. Dad was on an hour or so short of his degree when yours truly showed up. He went to work instead.

    Point of fact, and this will color anything I have to say. I gave up on public education a long time ago after an incident in my oldest son’s school.

    Teachers are out numbered: True
    Teachers are underpaid: Probably Not. Entry level is $38K? More than a Cop.
    Teacher Want more money: All of us do, they need to produce a better product than they do.

    I’ve noticed that once a teacher reaches a certain stage in their career they (most of them) stop trying.

    My mother never did. She was the same fire breathing “YOU will LEARN if I have to drill a hole in your head and pour it in” teacher she started out as. For some reason we stop demanding excellence from the teacher and more important from the school, but we demand more and more from our kids…

    Teachers are protected by something like the “race card”.

    NEVER speak badly about teachers, it’s not right… Frankly, from my experience, teachers, for the most part, suck. They reach a certain point and can not be fired, disciplined or reassigned just because they fail miserably at their job. They have to to something SERIOUS, (and get caught or reported for it) like have sex with a kid, get caught smoking dope, etc. They just don’t have to try and can mark time until they retire on a nice pension then move on to what ever it is they really wanted to do with their lives.

    There is NO excuse to not try, and this is what many of them do.

    Our kids were in the Mesa AZ school systems. At the time, it was one of the bottom ranked in the nation. As you might imagine we were not all that happy with what we were seeing and began to look for answers.

    The state of Arizona realizes it’s poor ranking in the education of American kids and allows for other options.

    We turned to the Charter system and got immediate results. The kid’s grades came up, their habits and behavior got better and all in all they became more productive Americans. I just don’t have any other way to state it.

    Let me explain why I think this was. In AZ the charter system is basically a “public” funded school with a private and specific curriculum. As long as it meets the basics of the states standards they keep their funding. Parents are very often VERY involved and help form the “flavor” of the school.

    We went though 3 (and only 3) schools. Some parents go through a lot more before they find what they want.

    The first school was a school that focused on the Arts, very important to my wife and myself and to the kids. Problem? To Liberal.

    The second school was extremely conservative and seem to be working well, then we found that because they kids were not members of the church that the founders and most of the other kids were… well its not to hard to figure.

    The third and final was to the right of center, was TOUGH on grades, very small sports programs and took no CRAP, at all.


    At the first school an instruction was given to one of my children, by US. This instruction was countermanded by some snotty little 22 year old teacher… well she thought it was. She also made the mistake of putting her hands on one of my kids without cause.

    We got her fired. We also got ask to find a new school. (We were NOT very nice about this whole thing and we already had a new school in mind)

    Yes, FIRED. Because in a Charter, you will TEACH and TEACH as the school decides you do or you will BE FIRED…

    Bloody AMAZING how much better the teachers are in a charter school. And the really interesting part? Teachers that want to TEACH, stand in line to get these jobs.

    To those that teach and teach with ALL THEY HAVE, Thanks, from the bottom of my American Heart.
    For those that teach because its a bullet proof job and retirement is coming, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your…

    The Incident that happened at the public school is a long story but has to do with gangs and the administration’s refusal to address it.

    This may be seen as pretty general, it could be seen as rambling. Shrug.

  4. Amy, thoroughly enjoyed this post and the Shredderfeeder comments. I’m a rabid PTO member and believe the schools are underfunded. Cost have risen in all other government functions – the cost of education is rising too. But, society does not value our public education system. So maybe it is to blame. They take away the bargaining rights of teachers, complain about a tax burden they feel is undeserving because of under performance. We will pay dearly for the govt disservice to properly educate our children.

    No child wants to really work at anything. No child wants to clean their room or do their homework or memorize times tables. It takes an adult to demand a child’s best. A child can progress greatly when a teacher demands their best work each and every day. Even when home-life is shitty, a child can learn. When BOTH families and teachers demand a child’s best work, you create a beautiful citizen. But, it is not easy. Adults must step up and do their best work. Funny, I get paid well to do my best work. Parents must also step up too.

    I have no answer. Each school, community and school system is different. What I do see that works is when a school comes together as a community and parents and teachers work to see all children, even those who are underprivileged at home, do their best work at school. It is happening in public schools all over the country. It is happening in mine in Tennessee. Sadly you hear more about the bad than the good. Yes, kids who graduate from public school also go on to Harvard and Yale. I know some. But, I know more that drop out.

    More needs to be said about what is working to empower others to seed success, promote engaged parents, teachers and administrators and make public education relevant again.

  5. I don’t claim to have the answers but agree that in many districts the system is completely broken. We undervalue education in this country, which is precisely why other countries are pulling ahead of us in terms of business efficiencies and innovation.


  1. Amy Tucker says:

    I just wrote this: Is American Culture to Blame for Bad Schools? http://ow.ly/16Ordl

  2. RightGirl says:

    RT @Tastelikecrazy: I just wrote this: Is American Culture to Blame for Bad Schools? http://ow.ly/16Ordl

  3. Nannette says:

    RT @RightGirl: RT @Tastelikecrazy: I just wrote this: Is American Culture to Blame for Bad Schools? http://ow.ly/16Ordl

  4. RT @RightGirl RT @Tastelikecrazy: I just wrote this: Is American Culture to Blame for Bad Schools? http://ow.ly/16Ordl
    | good article

  5. […] Is American Culture to Blame for Bad Schools? (tastelikecrazy.com) […]

  6. Amy Tucker says:

    I wrote this yesterday -> Is American Culture to Blame for Bad Schools? http://ow.ly/1mQRs

  7. Amy Tucker says:

    @ShredderFeeder Dude…I left you a comment on http://su.pr/9Urex2

  8. Amy Tucker says:

    Any homeschooling parents wanna weigh in? http://su.pr/9Urex2

  9. @Tastelikecrazy Replied back to your reply to my reply. 😉 http://su.pr/9Urex2

  10. Amy Tucker says:

    @ShredderFeeder and I am having a debate about public education. Wanna join? http://bit.ly/cDTyCr

  11. back atcha. 😉 RT @Tastelikecrazy: @ShredderFeeder and I am having a debate about public education. Wanna join? http://bit.ly/cDTyCr

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