The Race to First Place: Reinventing Education

Americans used to be number one. Americans used to wave a big foam finger – a middle finger – at the rest of the world. America used to offer their citizens the best freedom, protection, education, and job opportunities in the world. America used to be a world superpower.

Today, we are no longer any of those things. Other countries laugh at us. We pretend to have more freedom, better education, better safety, and more jobs than we actually do. We pretend that we are still smarter than every other country, yet these countries have surpassed us in almost every area. Instead of more freedom, we have more laws, regulations, and government control than many other countries. Instead of having the best job opportunities, our unemployment has soared, and our graduation and test scores have sunk significantly.

The best method for us to regain this former glory lies in allowing students more opportunities. Instead of further cutbacks, we need to invest in the next generation of Americans. Tougher graduation requirements, progressive classrooms, and an emphasis on world study are the keys to improving our educational system, and our country as a byproduct. A 2015 high school classroom should not have four walls and a desk, but should be an immersion into real-world situations. Exposure to realistic situations provides our students with the knowledge and experience to better handle the real problems of the world.

We have all seen the inside of a classroom, but a rare few have ever been able to travel. Most of us have never been pushed beyond our comfort zone, or beyond our city limits. Culture-shock comes with a high-schooler’s first minimum-wage job, when they realize they have to work over an hour to buy lunch. We are lacking a worldly perspective. American families are now moving to other countries so their children can learn foreign languages early-on. Bilingualism, a high comfort level with foreigners, and knowledge of economic and political systems is essential to becoming strong in the international market. With the increase of globalization in every career path, students must learn how to operate in a global environment.

In my version of world study, we would require students to spend at least one year outside of the classroom. The options could be unlimited: internships, civil service, serving in the armed forces, volunteering for non-profit organizations, participating in student ambassador or exchange programs. There are thousands of opportunities for world education outside of the classroom that students desperately need.

For instance, imagine you are starting your senior year of high school and your primary interest is in Psychiatry. Your school Guidance Counselor finds you an entry-level position at a mental institution in Dubai. Here, you live and observe a year of real-world counseling sessions, medical prescriptions, administrative tasks, and diagnostics. You spend a few months working in each area of the organization, from “janitor” to “doctor.” You have all your expenses paid, with a massive entry on your resume and a wealth of intimate knowledge of the industry to start your career with. In addition, you are immersed in another culture. You learn Hindi, live with a host family, eat strange foods, and associate closely with foreigners. This association develops an empathy and an understanding of the cultures of another area of the world, something that is lacking in our current humanistic society.

Moreover, students will have a risk-free trial period before they have to commit to a degree and career in a field that they are not prepared to undertake. Perhaps a student is unsure about pursuing a specific career. Their “Placement Counselor” would assign them a rotation of several varied opportunities. They’d spend twelve weeks in Hong Kong, learning Chinese. Then, they would be training seeing-eye dogs for the blind, or sharpening pencils at a law firm. Next, they’d be on the campaign trail for the next Governor of Oklahoma, or going through Basic Training at an army facility. They would be free to explore a wide range of career options, gaining experience and becoming inspired by professionals.

Furthermore, as I work towards my degree, the fear of “reality” has been paralyzing. I haven’t declared my major yet, because I’m not certain I can succeed outside of the haven of academia. I have never experienced more than minimum-wage jobs, college textbooks, and the feeling of “home.” I wish that I had been given the opportunity to explore my options as a younger student, before I had to become responsible for my expenses and employment.

However, who wants to spend taxpayer money to send High School seniors to backpack through Europe for a year? Should we raise taxes yet again to incorporate more advanced educational programs? If we cannot implement this into every high school in the nation, which one should we start with? Just the schools with rich parents? There are plenty of ethical and financial considerations that make these programs unrealistic.

On the other hand, collaboration with the private sector and with the educational and economic systems of other countries can be beneficial to both sides. Trading students and interns can bring English-speakers into foreign areas, and our students will have a better learning environment. In addition, offering options such as civil service and working for government programs within the U.S. will save money as well.

Adding this requirement to the end of our national high school curriculum not only boosts our country’s status as a world leader in education, but it is also a better option for students. Having a chance to try something new, and fail at it, is an essential ingredient for kids to grow into responsible, mature adults. This will save students time and money that they might invest into a college degree that they may never use.

The ability to operate in the international landscape is a skill that educators should be making a priority. Progressive methods of education, such as a real-world classroom, will put us back on the map in the ever-changing world.

Finally, as students learn more about the world, they learn more about themselves. Let’s give our students a safe place to grow, fail, and learn the important things that can never be taught in a classroom. Let’s put America back in first place.

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