The Broken Classroom

The current state of the US education system exposes deeper social problems

One can list many problems in modern education: lack of funding, poor teaching, and brainwashed and distracted students addicted to their cell phones. And America is, of course, at the forefront of all this, especially regarding the unhealthy school environment. Bullying is an everyday reality in many American schools, but what is most shocking is that it escalates into shootings more often. The trend, unfortunately, spreads to other countries around the world, but the US is the absolute leader in school gun violence.

It looks like the current condition of American society contradicts the very foundations of this country and its traditions, such as the right of the individual to bear arms. And each American school today faces such a conflict between customs and modernity. 

There is much talk nowadays about the changing ethical norms. Still, we see almost a complete absence of any moral element in school education, with students disoriented, full of anger and repressed feelings. Are we talking about a healthy society when a 6-year-old brings a gun to school and shoots a teacher (presumably intentionally)? 

Sadly, this happened in Virginia this winter (thank God Abigail Zwerner, a 25-year-old teacher, survived, and this little boy has another chance in the future). Or yet another example from the school life of the 6-year-olds at Plainview South Elementary School in Texas, children made their classmate girl perform sex and made a video. 

Teachers are running away from schools because there are cuts in funding, and the situation is far from under control. "There's kind of a trend away from discipline, from standard punishments, consequences, and behaviour is worsening across the country, and it's affecting everything else in education, including teacher morale", says a Fox News informant educator.  

But okay, feelings aside, let us first look at the rankings and compare test scores. What are American students capable of doing compared to other developed countries? According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures the educational attainment of 15-year-olds, American teens have consistently performed below the average of their peers since 2000. 

The latest PISA report shows that US students ranked only 22nd when China topped the list. It was a pinch of salt and caused immediate criticism from the US. But look, this is objective data, and this figure sums up the results of several tests in reading, math, and science. American students are pretty good at reading, where they did quite well but poorly in math and science.

Internal testing by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed last October that math and reading scores had declined since the pandemic. But the 2023 May report found that some students were beginning to make gains in math and reading again. Unfortunately, you can't keep up with two hares! 

Success in math has led people to decline in grades in history and social studies. According to the results, at least a third of 14-year-olds do not understand how government works or what its functions are. Some teens have no clue about the historical background of the country.

Going back to the international PISA report, curiously, it says: "Students in the United States reported significantly more competition than co-operation amongst their schoolmates to a greater degree than students in any other country/economy" participating in PISA. 

Competition and lack of support in the classroom can affect the main problem that young people struggle with in American schools — bullying, psychological and physical violence, and an explosion of repressed aggression. This system does not teach children to cooperate; instead, it convinces the young man that we live in a jungle, where homo homini lupus est ("Man is a wolf to man").

This existential desert, created by the whole system of American school education, is well illustrated in Gus Van Sant's provocative film Elephant (2003), based on the events of the horrific Columbine school shooting of 1999. The film received critical acclaim and won the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. 

The picture shows the perspective of the daily experiences of depressed minors psychologically abandoned by parents and educators at school. Twenty years after the release of the classical movie, the overall condition of American schools only worsened, and mass shootings became a pandemic.

The Columbine massacre set the stage for a horrific series of similar events that have increased yearly in America since 1999. In 2022, there were 46 school shootings in the US, which means there was a shooting almost once a week. For comparison, from 2011 to 2014, one school shooting happened only once in 64 days, a shocking number. 

Some of the shootings are initiated by the adults, who return to their school for some strange revenge (like the bloodiest event of this year that occurred in March in Nashville, where a 28-year-old former student killed three 9-year-olds and three members of staff). But in many cases, they are the kids targeting the administration (like the 17-year-old boy Austin Lyle from Denver) or each other (like 14-year-old James Austin Hancock wounded two students his age in 2016). 

The aggravation of school shootings eventually led to a reasonable assumption that it was not the children who were to blame but the adults associated with them and perhaps the education system itself. The reports show that in 76% of school attacks, the guns were taken by them from the home of a parent or close relative. Cases are filed against parents: over the past few years, about seven criminal cases have been initiated against parents of children who brought a gun to school and fired with it. 

Let's make America great again. Well, maybe we can start with something achievable instead. Why won't someone choose another motto for one's presidential campaign: "Please, at least make our schools safe again!". This would have made sense.   

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