Education or Lack Thereof America is getting Dumber

There’s a growing problem with America’s youth. Underage and binge drinking, violent crimes, bullying, depression, teen suicide, peer pressure, and low test scores are only a handful of things that teens deal with today. So where does this problem start? Is it simple teen rebellion? Or is it that they never learned any better?

The Problem

According to a study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one-third of 4th graders experience pressure to drink alcohol from their peers. By the time they reach 6th grade, more than half of the students have been pressured to drink. Eighty percent of students have used alcohol by the time they are high school seniors. In college, 40% of young adults are binge drinkers (Wikipedia defines “binge drinking” as “five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women per occasion”).

Drinking can lead to fatal accidents – 60% of teenage fatalities in car accidents are due to drunk driving. It can also lead to physical and psychological problems such as alcohol poisoning, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety.

Another problem with teens is crime. School shootings and fights recorded on video and posted on YouTube are two issues that are prevalent in the news recently. But most crimes don’t get as much national attention. Fights and theft leave thousands of children and young adults in juvenile detention, and if the crime is serious enough, prison.

Perhaps not as violent, but certainly a serious and common problem with school-age kids is bullying. According to an article published on ERIC Digest, 15% of students have either been bullied or have bullied another student. Bullying can consist of mental or physical abuse. The victims are usually weaker than the bully and have low self-esteem. Bullying occurs most often in middle school and junior high, but is still present in elementary school and high school. Often times, children who bully other kids during school experience legal or criminal problems as adults. Children who have been bullied are more likely to experience depression.

Teen depression is rampant in America. One in eight teens have struggled with depression at one point or another, but only 30% receive treatment. This is a major contributor to the high suicide rate in teens. Suicide was the third leading cause of death among young adults in 2001.

One serious issue that is almost clich is peer pressure. The phrase is commonly used in regards to underage drinking, sex, and drug use. Surely it is a main factor in all of these things, but it also contributes to almost every aspect of a students’ life. What to wear, what music to listen to, and what to do on the weekends are all decided by what peers are doing. It’s a constant struggle to impress peers and be accepted.

With all of these problems, it’s no surprise that public school students report low test scores. Students are more concerned with being cool and not getting beat up; education gets lost in the shuffle. In 2005, only 30% of 4th graders tested as “proficient” in math and reading. The same was true of 8th graders. By 12th grade, 16% were proficient in math and 40% were proficient in reading. The United States is ranked 24th out of 29 countries in math scores and 15th out of 29 in reading.

How can all of this be true for a country that pumps billions of dollars into its public school system? Sometimes it’s not about money.

The Cause

Kids are so young when they start school. They get on their first bus at age 6 sometimes younger. This is a crucial time in their life for development. They’re learning a lot their ABC’s, social skills, and the difference between right and wrong. At this important time, they leave the one-on-one attention of their parents for the divided attention of a teacher.

I’m not saying it’s the teacher’s fault he has a lot to look after and takes on a great responsibility. The average teacher-student ratio in primary schools in America is 1-16. This is a good ratio, but is it good enough for 6-year-olds? Can one person be expected to mold the minds of 16 kids and keep them from eating glue and cutting each others’ hair? Amidst the chaos, things get overlooked.

Children, without constant guidance from parents and teachers, are left to learn from their peers. Not only do they learn what sneakers and video games are cool, but they also learn about sex, drugs, and other things they’re too young to understand. Some boy hears about sex from his older brother and proceeds to tell everyone about it in his first grade class the next day. In a sense, these children are being raised by their peers instead of being raised by their parents. They develop a dependency and need to please their peers which leads to dangerous choices later on in the child’s school years.

The Solution

So how do we solve this problem? The ideal solution would be to have parents educate their children themselves when parents are the peers, kids strive to please them and follow their example. However, this of course doesn’t work for everyone. Most parents need to work to support the family and understandably don’t have time to ensure that their children learn everything that the state requires. And free education for every citizen is an amazing privilege we have as Americans the public school system shouldn’t be thrown out. But I suggest a revision of the public education system.

First, I propose that the parents be informed of the dangers of peer pressure. They need to have open communication with their children so their kids can feel comfortable telling them if they’re being bullied or pressured to drink alcohol. They need to know that the school their child attends has thousands of kids to look after the parents can’t wait to receive a phone call from the office to get involved.

Second, I think parents should be required to volunteer a certain number of hours at the school their child attends. Whether it’s helping in class, being on lunch duty, or organizing a school dance, they will get more familiar with their children’s friends and the other parents. By being more involved in school life, they’re more able to tell when their child is struggling. Also, having more adults around will keep the children in check and give the teachers the opportunity to teach instead of keeping their students under control.

Thirdand perhaps the most positive remedyolder students should be encouraged to interact with the younger students. The older children are examples for their younger peers. When you give responsibility and leadership to these kids, they have more purpose and direction. They know that what they do matters. It also creates a more familial atmosphere for the students, which I think is very important.

There’s no denying that school-age kids have a rough time. By alleviating their 12 plus years of education from peer pressure, bullying, depression, and more, we let them focus on what really matters their education and development of their character. There’s a lot of work to do. But if it means better education and a safer and more nurturing environment for our students, how can we not help?