My Turn, Evelyn Uddin-khan: Education and the future of American literacy   

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Education is at the crossroads of America’s future. There is just too much politics in education and too little concern for the intellectual health of our children.

John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Dr. Dewey was one of America’s greatest philosophers.

We can look at the future by looking at what is happening at the present time in American education and draw our conclusions.

Teachers are leaving the school systems nationwide in large numbers. Yes, most of them are underpaid, but under appreciated or not, for the love of teaching they used to return to their classrooms every morning.

School systems are facing money problems all over this country. For such a rich nation that can afford billions of dollars for military hardware, it seems a disgrace that our kids must take the fall.

In recent times, thanks to politics and parental concerns, parents and politicians can just walk into schools and classrooms and take teachers to task for what is said or taught in schools.

In the “old days,” nine or 10 years ago, such a phenomenon did not exist. Now we have so many experts challenging the role of teachers and what is taught, that actual teaching is difficult to define.

Teaching history is, of course, a big no-no. Can we change history? Not possible. The French Revolution did happen. The American Civil War did happen. African slaves did arrive on the eastern shores of this country.

How about Christopher Columbus discovering America? Or Spain spreading Catholicism in Central and South America? Are we one day going to say that Russia did not invade Ukraine?

History is history. It already happened. We cannot fix it. Let us accept it and pray that some things never happen again, and teach history for what it is — an occurrence of the past — good or bad.

We should not be telling our children what to read, but encourage them to read the genre of their choice. Books are the foundation of their intellectual curiosity. How many parents know what transpires between their children and their cell phones?

Harold Bloom said, “We live in an age of visual overstimulation. … the pernicious screens … television, movies, computers, BlackBerrys … they destroy the ability to read well!” (Time, May 11, 2015) So much for modern technology.

A conversation with one of today’s high school or college graduates will prove their lack of knowledge on any given subject — health care, literature, climate change — check it out.

What is at stake right now is the lack of substance in American education and the future impact it will have on literacy and the intellectual freedom and development we once enjoyed.

Knowledge is no longer appreciated or respected for its own sake.

Alan Bloom, in 1987, published “The Closing of The American Mind.” That book is probably more relevant today than it was back then. One thought from Dr. Bloom’s book is that American education “undermines critical thinking and eliminates the point of view that defines cultures.”

In Bloom’s Taxonomy, he says the purpose of education is to “evaluate, create, analyze, apply, understand, remember, knowledge…” etc. Is this the norm today? No!

Critical thinking is no longer applicable in today’s culture. Most people now have fingertip information on their little hand-held memory boxes, held in their hands 24/7

So, where are we heading on our present course in American education? It is a downward spiral. Our children and grandchildren are going to inherit an America where education has little or no value. They may be literate to a certain degree, but will they be able to analyze the written words?

What we need to do is put education back into the classroom. Let teachers teach. They have
done a splendid job for hundreds of years, why stop them now? Give them the books and supplies they need. Repair their buildings. Keep assassins out of schools. Oh! And give teachers the salary and respect they deserve.

Parents and politicians must remember that intellectual literacy starts in the classroom with an educated, dedicated teacher.

And remember, every one of us has a teacher we remember fondly from our school days who helped to shape our future.

Evelyn Uddin-khan moved to Salisbury in 2018 after living in the New York City area for most of her life. She taught in public schools and for a community college in the New York City area.