Government Involvement in Schools
Education is one of the universal basic needs to which every human being has a right. While most governments around the world have a system in place to ensure that all their citizens are accorded affordable education, there is a question as to just how involved the governments should be in the education process if education is to have the desired effect. One affected area of government’s involvement is the quality of the education. Quality is determined by various factors that include school attendance rates, test scores, global competitiveness, and of course, a general increase in knowledge for school goers. The government involvement’s effect on education has been a major issue of concern in the United States for several years. While most people are appreciative of the fact that the federal government is committed to providing education to its citizens, they feel that it has overstepped its mandate and is getting too involved in the education process to ensure quality. Quality, however, is not the only thing in question. Freedom too is called into question. When a government strips its school-goers of such things as privacy and practice of religion, its involvement is called into question. Indeed, there are numerous negative effects of an overly involved government in schools, and this should be checked to ensure that the U.S. education system does not fail its citizens.
Effects of Government Over-involvement
A view of the U.S. Department of Education’s website shows that the contribution made by the Federal government to elementary and secondary education was only about 10.8 percent in the 2010-2011 school year (“Federal Role in Education”). Majority of the funds came from local and private sources. While this should by no means be the determining factor as to who should control the education system, it nonetheless begs the question as to why the government fails to collaborate with other stakeholders extensively, while instead taking on an intrusive role. This intrusion can be seen in such subjects as social studies where certain restrictions see to it that students are not taught about ethnic identity and solidarity, but they are rather taught to focus on their individual selves (Jacoby). What is taught in subjects is one of the areas in which the government has overplayed its role. While the development of a national curriculum is critical, there have been instances of government’s over-involvement, such as the one mentioned above.
Another instance observed is the teaching of history in the state of Texas. Such subjects as the development of hip-hop and lynching, which historians consider part of American history, are not taught to high school students. The wording of subject matter is also suggestive and biased, with such examples as the affirmative action’s “unintended consequences” and the “unrealistic expectations” created by the civil rights movement (Jacoby). When this happens, the government is not only interfering in the education of history (or any other subject) as it is, but it also shows a reflection of the interests of a powerful minority. Obscuring of the truth by trying to promote an ideal is one of the ways in which government oversteps its mandate. This is at the risk of loss of culture, truth and identity for societies and individuals alike.
Such cases of over-involvement have led to several negative effects in the education process. To begin with, the quality of education has deteriorated, and this is especially true of public schools. Student attendance rates are low, and teacher involvement is affected (Stossel). Cases of teachers having little control of their classes, students being utterly disrespectful, drug and substance abuse, and failed classes are numerous in the public education system. A major contributing factor is the fact that public school teachers’ salaries are quite low compared to what teachers in private schools earn, leaving them unmotivated and uninspired to see to it that quality education is given. Moreover, while the public is slowly becoming aware of the state of public schools, majority of Americans still believe that their education is quite good. However, when compared to other education systems in the world, the U.S. system is wanting (Reagan).
This fact is especially worrying in today’s global economy where students are no longer only competing with those in their state or country, but with those around the world. It has been observed by observers and experts that the United States is experiencing a shortage of specialized professionals such as scientists and engineers, compared to Asia and Europe where most of these individuals are coming from (Khullar). However, it is not only in specialized subjects that the American education system is failing its students. The same applies for general and world knowledge, with very little emphasis placed on subjects about other societies in the world, especially in Asia and Africa. What this does is that it essentially locks out the student from expanding his skill into these regions, which have been shown to be expanding economically in the recent years. Attributed to this is not only the course content set out by the government, but according to Khullar, the education culture (Khullar). Education in the U.S. has become a political playing field where the current government ensures its posterity by intruding on education, as it should be, of the current generation. This culture is wrong, as it tends to serve only a small minority in pretext of serving the entire nation. Meanwhile, the students receive what they think to be quality education only to fail miserably when compared to their global counterparts.
The government’s over-involvement also produces a negative effect in relation to the people’s freedom. An interesting comparison is made between education and religion and the question asked as to whether religion is not as popular a topic of dissention as education is (“Why Shouldn’t Government be Involved in Education”). As there is a separation of religion and state, proponents of less government involvement argue that, there should be a separation of state and education. While perhaps such an extreme measure may not be favorable (there is the risk of some people opting out of education completely and becoming state dependants), involvement of government in education should indeed be checked. Of major concern is the infringement of people’s freedom of choice when it comes to the type of education they would prefer. Currently, parents and students do not receive optimum benefit from the type of schooling present in America today, which is generally designed to fit all students, leaving no room for experience of another system of education.
Additionally, negative effects are felt in relation to security. Lack of a devolved education system, one separate from the extreme control of the state, is an indirect source of increased levels of insecurity in the country, as well as a threat to national security. According to Reagan, federal control that stifles production and creativity in public schools results in a high number of high school dropouts, a figure that stands at roughly three out of every ten American students (Reagan). This has the effect of adding more strain on the government to support a badly educated population, which is itself a threat to the economic and national security of the country. In addition, high school dropouts may opt to look for alternative less-honest means. This has an effect on the security of the society and the country in general. Indeed, an education system that fails the country’s security is not doing justice to the students it is responsible for.
Finally, government over-involvement in education has a negative effect in relation to religion and its endorsement – or lack thereof. Because the state has no right to endorse a religion over another, government schools are not allowed to present lessons in the context of any religion. While the intentions behind this may be noble, the results of putting intrusive restrictions on the teaching of religion are not. Religion has always played a major part in the development of world history. The renaissance, the Crusades, the holocaust, the birth of America, and indeed many other historical events all have religion as a major contributing factor. History is stripped of its meaning when such restrictions are placed by the government on the teaching of religion. The government has gone to extremes to keep religion out of schools, and while this may seem as the best way to ensure tolerance, it in fact, has the opposite effect. Students do not learn how to be tolerant of others’ religious beliefs because these are not taught in schools, while other individuals’ differences are not given the same treatment. By putting such restrictions on teaching about world religions, there is the risk that religion is seen as inconsequential, separable from other aspects of life, an enemy of the state, historically insignificant, and sometimes, dangerous to democracy (“Why Shouldn’t Government be Involved in Education”). Indeed, there are other ways to address the issue of religion in education, and other issues discussed above, without the government’s extreme involvement in schooling.
The first possible solution to the negative effects of an over-involved government in education is less intrusion and involvement. By July 2011, the government had already slated various schools for sale to charter operators (Damon). This is aimed at the gradual dismantling of public education, which is however, not in order to control the problems discussed above. Funding is the main cause of this sell-off of schools. While this may have a positive effect on the quality of education given in schools, an even more profound disadvantage looms: decrease in literacy levels due to affordability issues. This is therefore a problematic approach to take in addressing of government involvement in schools. Free public education is vital to the country’s economic and social development and eliminating it is not the way to go. One of the ways that less government involvement in schooling can be achieved is through separation, even if not extreme, of school and state.
Proponents of this solution cite the success that separation of state and religion has had in ensuring religious tolerance and pluralism. In this context of part separation, the government would only play the role of facilitator and regulator of different school systems without endorsing any one in particular (Kelly 174). This would give parents and students an opportunity to exercise their freedom of choice. While it is appreciated that a country relies on its education for prosperity more than it does on religion, its involvement in education should still be limited. Freedom of choice ensures that there is less bias and instances of subjectivity in relation to what is taught in schools. In addition, separation of school and state would see increased instances of school systems tailor made to suit not only personal preference but also market, economy and additional influencing factors. Moreover, subjects such as history and religion would be taught without there being restrictions as to what is included and what is omitted; there would be less instances of obscuring of facts in an effort to propagate a minority’s interests.
Another possible solution to the problem of government involvement in schooling is regulation of the role of government-formed committees. According to Herndon, leaving government-run committees to determine what is written in textbooks, as well as the education practices to be used results in the education being monolithic and narrowly focused (Herndon). In addition, the classroom teacher is no longer in charge thereby resulting in a situation where each individual student’s abilities and difficulties are not adequately addressed. Classroom teachers who operate under committee-run systems are also less innovative, creative and inspired with some finding no satisfaction in their work, which is turn affects the quality of education given to the students. By limiting committee involvement in the education system, which is meant to direct what is taught and how it is taught, better individual-suited schooling would be the result. Committee involvement can be limited by formation of a body where the teachers themselves come together to give suggestions on possible policies and changes that should be taken into practice, as well as what they and other major stakeholders would deem relevant (Herndon). By doing this, the morale of the teachers would be improved, as would their creativity in delivery systems, all aimed at improving the quality of education received by students.
Finally, the problem of government over-involvement in schooling can be solved through focusing on the students by drawing education away from the political playing field. This can be done by setting up of an institution or other tools that are involved in education-policy making and regulation, separate from the direct influence of the political field. This would work somewhat like a public company where the key aspects of education governing, such as funding, policies and so on are addressed without interfering in what happens in the classrooms (Peterson). This would ensure that the management of funds and the decision as to what is taught are kept separate with each body required to perform its mandate without interfering with the other’s, and without passing blame to the other. By doing this, equality, rather than equity would the focus.
As has been discussed, there are many instances of government over-involvement in schooling. While the government should play the central role in delivery and regulation of practices in the education field, it should consider being less involved in the education process to ensure that the quality of education delivered is the best. Additionally, less government involvement would give parents and students freedom to choose what kind of schooling they would prefer to experience, as happens in relation to religion. Granted, the issue cannot be solved overnight, and the result would still face some form of opposition no matter how all-inclusive it strives to be. However, only through taking into consideration these first steps can the problems associated with an over-involved government be addressed.
Damon, Andre. “The Assault on Public Education in America.” World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 2 July 2011. Web. 06 July 2011.
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Jacoby, Jeff. “Keep Government out of the Schools – The Boston Globe.” The Boston Globe. Globe Newspaper Company, 30 May 2010. Web. 07 July 2011.
Kelly, James. “Looking Back, Thinking Ahead.” Building a 21st Century U.S. Education System. Ed. Bob Wehling. National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 2007. 171-77. Print.
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Stossel, John. “John Stossel’s ‘Stupid in America’ – ABC News.” ABCNews.com: Daily News, Breaking News and ABC News Video Broadcasts – ABC News. 13 Jan. 2008. Web. 06 July 2011.
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