There was a time in the not so distant past that the United States ranked 1st in education no matter which country or agency was tallying the score. Now, it seems as though the only places where the U.S. scores highly in comparison to other nations is on lists published here at home. According to the US News, the United States ranks in first place in education, but that is one of the only ‘official’ publications scoring us highly.

Otherworld reports hold the United States as far down as 23rd place with most ranking the US in double digits. Not only is this indicative of an alarming turn of events in this once great nation, but it doesn’t bode well for the future either. Bearing in mind that our children are the future, it is time to take a good look at how the mighty have fallen and more importantly, what we can do as a nation to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off to get back on track again.

Now the question isn’t ‘if’ we’ve failed our children but how to re-establish an educational system geared toward focusing on that which is important in society. That would be the human element. Let’s take a look at what has gone wrong and possible ways to repair the damage that has already been done.

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How Education Systems Are Ranked

According to the World Population Review website, there is a direct correlation between a nation’s economic state and the level of education within that country. With that in mind, consider the fact that as of 2018, the United States ranked 38th in math and 24th in science. Something, then, is wrong with the theory that economic status plays a role in a nation’s standard of education. As an affluent nation, one of the richest on earth, that formula should place our students’ scores consistently in first or second place year on year. However, as you can see, that is simply not the case.

So then, you ask, what went wrong? Despite the fact that of all nations surveyed, the United States consistently held the leading edge of educational systems, our students didn’t fare well on scores. Where is the missing link in the chain? Once again, the World Population Review has the answer, and it is all wrapped up in human rights. That would be social justice in education as outlined in some of the best books written on topics like “grading for equity” and “equity and social justice” as it should be in today’s classrooms. These are areas in which we are obviously failing our students and where our teachers can make a real difference. Perhaps this is where politicians and educators need to begin their quest for a national system of education that focuses on our children, on our people, rather than on infrastructure.

Current Events Bear Witness to Ways in Which We’ve Failed Our Children

Sadly, even though our nation was built on the foundation of liberty and justice for all, there doesn’t seem to be a point in history where we can rightfully say we’ve accomplished even a modicum of social justice. Did the North win against the South in the Civil War? Did we eradicate slavery once and for all in these United States of America?

If so, why did Rosa Parks rebel against being made to sit in the back of city buses and why were people of color not allowed to eat in restaurants only open for white people? Why did Martin Luther King march in the streets as recently as the mid-20th century and why did people rally behind what was ruled the murder of George Floyd while in police custody on May 26, 2020?

There is a solution, but there doesn’t seem to be a strong enough conviction to educate our educators. We need a stronger conviction in matters of justice in which there is an emphasis on equal access to privileges, opportunities, wealth and even professions. Teaching for social justice and diversity needs to be at the center of an educational approach that will help our nation better understand how all this correlates to higher education.

At the center should be transparency in a historical and current position on social inequities that have held large segments of our population back. Without diversity at the core, there is no room for growth among all factions of the population and they wonder why we are consistently falling behind in national scores? Inclusion must be a social justice at the heart of the United States educational system. We must also encourage social wellbeing if we hope to give all students a will to succeed.

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Response to Social Injustices Manifesting in Violence

But having said all the above, racial injustices are not the only ills within our society. When it comes to social justice, we also need to take another look at the number of school shootings. This year alone there have been 27 of the 119 within the past four years. While there may not be a direct relationship between those mass murders and our educational system, the connection can still be found.

Some see it as another symptom of the tension between the haves and the have nots. Then there are those who recognize an illness permeating our society in which there are not enough services and treatments for those suffering from mental illness. It is our duty as parents, legislators and educators to provide a safe and secure environment for our children in which to learn.

With so many acts of mass violence taking place on school campuses, it would seem as though government should budget for and provide security for students. The answer is not a simple one but there must be a way to protect our students so that these acts of mass violence, mass hysteria, mass evils, cannot be allowed to take place ever again.

Full Circle Back to Social Justice in the Classroom

You don’t need to look long or hard to see how even our teachers are failing our children. In 2019, that year mentioned above that began our count on mass shootings, a teacher was charged with a social ill still permeating our society. In listing all those pioneers on the forefront of seeking justice for racial injustices you might think the ‘war’ had been won.

This is definitely not the case when a teacher of fifth grade students held a mock auction of slaves in the course of one of their classes. While the intention may have been honorable to teach the horrors of days gone by, students were beyond horrified. It was an insensitive act on that teacher’s part and that is the kind of lesson in a classroom that should never be allowed to take place.

One other incident should be mentioned here. Within the same timeframe, a high school teacher in Sacramento, California pulled her eyes to slits meaning to indicate people of Asian descent as yet another act of racial bias. This took place during a Zoom online class and is yet another act perpetrated by an educator who should have known better.

Bullying Gone Viral

Many parents believe that these kinds of behaviors among educators are some of the reason why there is a preponderance of bullying among students today. Blaming social media can only go so far. Social media is not the medium through which our kids have learned to pick on those less fortunate than themselves. The mere act alone of an educator making fun of people of Asian descent may give rise to students thinking it’s acceptable to mock kids with learning or physical disabilities.

The whole idea of promoting social justice within our classrooms today is to do away with the mindset that tells us it’s okay to poke fun at those who are different than we are. This is what DEI training is all about and why it should be mandatory among today’s educators. While many teachers graduated prior to DEI courses, they might be made to take that as part of their state or county required recertification classes. Teachers need to take a certain number of ongoing ed classes so there is no reason why DEI cannot be mandated if it wasn’t included in their original certification requirements.

Back to Basics

Now that a few of the evils permeating our society have been called out as the ultimate reasons for a decline in our educational system in the United States, maybe it’s time to look at how to raise up a generation of students who are well-grounded in DEI. From their earliest days in school, children should be taught the basics of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Many teachers have a handle on this concept and are working with very young students in pre-school. With concepts such as “sharing is caring” young children begin learning about what it means to be kind and compassionate. If this mindset is carried through all grades, there may come a day when our educational standard is once again something to be proud of.

At this point in time, however, we are failing our children and those being left behind are often the ones who are being marginalized. It’s sad to see that so many children have promise that is not being nurtured due to a lack of inclusion.

With that being said, it is also necessary to find ways to include them without calling out their differences. Well-meaning teachers have also been ‘guilty’ of just that. In an effort to bring children of color or ethnic differences into the group, it has been done in such a way as to call attention to their color, ethnic traditions and differences in language.

You Know What They Say About Good Intentions!

Let’s look at one more example of a good intention gone awry. In recent years there have been attempts to mandate transgender bathrooms in public places, but sadly efforts brought about heated controversy between political elements on the right and left. It was a well-meaning attempt at one of the precepts of DEI, but in giving so much press to the issue, a war broke out among various factions that resulted in a great deal of hate being spewed back and forth on social media.

This is why there needs to be formal training in methodology as well as theory. Sometimes it’s better to leave things unsaid as much as possible. There are those who feel that it would have created much less drama if transgender bathrooms were simply transitioned or built new without all the publicity. Bear in mind that there will always be those who thrive on causing drama.

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A Word to the Wise

It can’t be said often enough that the buck stops here. It is up to teachers and parents to raise up a generation that embraces diversity and welcomes those with differences into the fold. If you are an educator who has not had formal training in social justice, now would be the time to pursue classes that prepare you for a world in which you are the impetus for change.

Not only will you be a teacher who leads your students to a better set of social skills, but you will also be leading them toward a better educational system. Nothing is learned in a vacuum which means that every voice matters. Every student has something to bring to the table and by including each child in the conversation, new facts and concepts are easier to learn and share.

It is all too easy to make many of those same mistakes that teachers have been accused of over the years, not out of ill-intent but rather due to lacking the skills needed to make all students feel wanted and needed. This was never something taught in education classes in previous generations so the concepts may be new to you.

By using your recertification credits to study social justice, you will be doing more than growing in your profession. You will be a vital link in building a new society in which truly, no child will ever be left behind again.

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