This debate will focus on the pros and cons of the American education system, focusing on pre-college public schools, but not excluding other educational systems as the debate evolves. The question to start this topic off is, are you satisfied with the current method of public education? Do you think it could be improved? Why or why not?
I'll start this off. I am not satisfied with public education in America. If test scores are to be believed, America is noticeably lacking in comparison with most other developed nations (links available through google). Furthermore, something just seems missing, intellectually speaking.
If Alexander the Great, tutored by Aristotle, were to be magically transported to modern day (and could speak English!), he would very likely dominate all but the most intelligent members of society. Reading the graceful, logical flow of words from the minds of history's greatest reminds me of our current level of intellect. We are dumb -- and what's more, we're proud of it.
I think it's a problem with today's educational system. What public education seeks to do is run a 'mind farm'. It's designed to grow the maximum number, regardless of their quality -- so long as they function. To this end, they dumb down tests to multiple choice rather than essays. Rote memorization takes the place of logic. Being able to pass the next test is the only goal. In short, the system is designed to beat the system, not to work.
I also think it's a problem with curriculum. My little brother is in 6th grade. He is currently having to learn the most absurd things in science classes. No, I'm not a creationist wanting all traces of evolution thrown out of science class. I'm saying that science class, at that age, is worthless, as is social studies. Children that age do not remember those things. It possesses no shred of significance in their minds. This major problem is one of priority. Is it the school's job to get you to think? To be able to arrive at conclusions logically? Or is it the school's job to familiarize you with things in layer-after-layer of classes designed to make rote memorization successful?
See, I am not fooled. My little brother is learning about cells right now. You cannot possibly tell me he will not be covering exactly the same thing right now as he would be in high school biology class. Furthermore, you cannot possibly tell me that, should he choose to become a biologist, he would not study -- again! -- the same exact stuff. It is worthless to attempt to cram this stuff into the minds of children. No -- first we must teach children how to learn, how to think, and how to express themselves.
Lastly, it is a problem of the system's very nature. It is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. By ensuring that everyone progresses at a leisurely pace, the system knows it will net just about everyone who can be poked, prodded or dragged kicking and screaming through education. This is ridiculous. It is time to let people fail. It is time to challenge the youth of America. By appealing to the lowest common denominator, you don't ensure that everyone gets a good education, you ensure that everyone gets a bad one. The question you have to ask yourself is, is it preferable to have every student graduate a mediocre high school curriculum, soon to be forgotten in the hustle and bustle of blue collar labor? Or is it preferable to have every student earn his or her high school diploma, rather than have his or her hand held through rote memorization? Small wonder kids these days are so lacklustre about school.
As an alternative, I would propose getting back to what works: classical education. I am a big fan of classical education, but I would make some modern day changes. Classical education begins with something known as the 'trivium'. The trivium is centered around one's ability to read, reason and persuade (or as wikipedia would say, grammar, logic and rhetoric). This should be the central focus of school; with the addition of mathematics. Of course, mathematics and logic go together like physics and calculus, so that is an obvious pairing.
Progressing onward is what's known as the quadrivium, which in ancient times consisted of music theory, astronomy, geometry and arithmetic. Obviously, this would have to change, as in my proposed curriculum, mathematics was started long ago, and continues to play a major role in the proposed curriculum. I would also strike music theory and astronomy from the curriculum in favor of introductory classes and pre-professional training (remember, this is high school level). Pre-professional training would appeal to those who already know what they want to do. I would want schools to have broad pre-professional training. Those who know they want to participate in the sciences, whether applies or theoretical, should be given a basic science curriculum. Those wanting to enter law school should concentrate on rhetorical skills, and so on and so forth, as inclusive as possible. Introductory classes, along with a continuing background in the 'new trivium', would serve to open the minds of individuals to things that may hold a hidden passion for the student. Of course, some people are simply not cut out for intellectual pursuits. This should not be deemed a failure. We all have our place in society. We cannot all be engineers, or physicists, or doctors, or psychologists.
I would like to express the fact that I am not proposing to let people fall into the gutter. This is not social darwinism. A high school diploma, like currency, is only so powerful. The more there is, the less it is valued. Today, a high school diploma is worth very little. I aim to improve the quality of education in America while increasing the value of the diploma once again. Nothing more.