How the school systems are failing our students


In previous weeks, I shared some personal stories, both positive and negative, about being Underpaid, and how it has affected both my wife's and my jobs. This week, I would like to take a more in-depth look at the root of many employment problems; education; more specifically, the severe lack of proper preparation that the American school system gives us for the real world.

I'm sure we've all been there at least once; you're sitting in your Earth Science class, ignoring the sedimentary rock chart in front of you, wondering how in the hell knowing the difference between slate and granite will help you get a job as a video game developer.

Rock Chart

Now, obviously there is a small degree of necessity for a broad curriculum during our formative years, many High School students have no idea what sort of career they want to pursue, for that matter, a huge percentage of college freshman don't even have any clue.

On the opposite side of things, a large percentage of students change their major at least once over the course of their academic careers. I for one enrolled in community college as a with a Major in Journalism and a Minor in Creative Writing before changing my major to Cinema Studies about halfway into my first semester, Two years later, I transferred to a University as a Theater Major where I spent three years before burning out and dropping out. Almost ten years later, I'm 35 years old and in the process of enrolling as a Social Work major. Needless to say, sometimes our interests and our goals can go through a major change even later in life.

So what could be done to better prepare students for the future?

For starters, moving away from the heavy workloads that can not only leave students overwhelmed but cause teachers to become bitter. Teaching has become a bit of a thankless job over the years, as educators are forced to spend more and more of their free time and their personal funds in order to meet the needs of their pupils.

Second, finding a way to shorten the average amount of time that is spent focusing on school might help. The average school day in the United States is about 6.7 hours according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and then kids have to go and do their homework and study for regular tests. The National Education Association recommends 10-20 minutes per night for a student in First Grade, with a 10 minute increase per grade level; this means that a High School senior might spend a little more than two hours a night doing homework after spending nearly 7 hours in school; while simultaneously trying to balance friends, relationships, extra-curricular such as sports teams and clubs, and even a part-time job. And then parents wonder why kids can get so easily stressed and burnt out.

Rock Chart

As the year's progress and college become the focus, courses, of course, get harder, but the curriculum usually becomes much more focused. Assuming a student has a clear idea of what they want to pursue, and don't end up changing their majors; there is a certain relief as we can sit down and plan our course load, and better, limiting ourselves to an average of 4 or 5 subjects per semester (as opposed to the usual 6-7 of grade school). But still, there is the oft-returned problem with having to take classes that may not have any relevance to the chosen career path. I remember sitting through hours of math and foreign language classes in college wondering what use these lessons would serve to me when I was writing the book that would earn me my eventual Pulitzer Prize.

Like many others, I worked my way through college; performing whatever random retail job I needed to in order to have a footing on the real world once my education was complete (if our schools are ever truly complete). I spent most of those years working in a bookstore and enjoyed the work and my coworkers for the most part, but I was never fully satisfied, never felt like I was utilizing my full potential. When I dropped out of school, I lost a lot of my ambition and found myself wandering from company to company, pushing myself to do the best I could at any position without actually having to do a real amount of work. This lack of care, as you can imagine, became obvious the longer I worked at each location, and eventually, I would decide it was time to move on (if my boss didn’t make that decision for me first).

It wasn't until I found my current position until I felt like I was doing something that truly challenged me, and with that challenge, became some passion for my job, and finally, I was a part of a team that valued me as much as I valued them. Still, I knew there was something missing, which led me to my current place of looking into getting back into school; that is, assuming I can get approved for financial aid and start rebuilding against the ridiculous amount that I already owe to the Department of Education.

Which brings us to the biggest issue in our educational system; the exorbitant cost of attending college has put a huge percentage of students into a financial hole that is nearly impossible to claw out of. According to the cost calculator for Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, the estimated cost for a first-semester student is $18,000 before any grants or loans are applied. If the average community college student spends two years to obtain their associate's degree before moving onto a University, that's an estimated cost of $72,000 to attend a local school that doesn’t even offer on-campus housing. Based on these numbers, it's easy to assume that the average student can accrue at least $175,000, plus an even more ridiculous interest rate, just by earning their bachelor's degree.

If you're not lucky enough to either earn scholarships and grants or otherwise pay for your full education without borrowing; by the time you leave college, you'll be drowning in massive debt. With any luck, you can find a decent enough job, in your field and everything will work as you follow the 'American Dream.' However, according to a 2014 article in the Washington Post, only about 27% of college graduates were working in a field even closely related to their degree. This is a shocking, and even more depressing percentage, which further makes one wonder how much a college education really benefits the average employee.

Rock Chart

Education can be a vital part of the foundation for building our adult lives. But sadly, for one reason or another, if that foundation isn’t strong enough, it can crumble; leaving us with little to build upon. Without such stability, it can be challenging to start towards a worthwhile career that not only satisfies emotionally; but also financially, leaving us unfulfilled, miserable, and of course, underpaid.

What do you think about the current state of education? Do you think the school systems are not truly preparing students to be successful in the real world? Do you think college is worth the cost? What changes would you make to the education system if you could? Let us know down in the comments, we'd love to hear your thoughts.