Our nation’s schools are in crisis. The statistics are sobering. One in ten preschoolers has had suicidal thoughts. Doctors are increasingly seeing children in early elementary school suffering from migraine headaches and ulcers, and many physicians see a clear connection to school performance pressure. A third of our adolescents report feeling depressed or overwhelmed because of stress, and their single biggest source of stress is school, according to the American Psychological Association. Highly achieving teens are starting to refer to themselves as ‘’robo-students:’’ students set on auto-pilot, going through the motions, getting high grades and test scores, but not actually learning or retaining the classroom material.
How did we get to this point in educating our youth? I believe we can trace it back at least three-and-a-half decades to 1983, when our then U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel Bell released a report entitled ‘’A Nation at Risk,’’ where he accused American schools of being eroded by a ‘’rising tide of mediocrity.’’ This report helped to stimulate a powerful campaign to reform our nation’s schools. Over the next three decades, politicians, CEOs of large corporations, and state and federal bureaucrats pushed hard for education reforms by organizing educational ‘’summits,’’ passing laws, developing uniform academic standards, and overseeing the standardized testing program that would ascertain whether or not our nation was achieving its goals. Yet despite these efforts, the academic achievement of American youngsters remains far below that of many industrialized nations around the world. Instead, we’ve managed to create unmanageable stress for our children and adolescents by emphasizing academics and testing at the expense of the arts, physical education, social studies, and other programs more conducive to students’ optimal mental and emotional health.
Rather than pressuring students with more ‘’rigorous’’ standards, tests, and programs, I believe that we need a radically different approach to education reform. Rather than trusting our children’s educational future to politicians, corporation executives, and educational bureaucrats, I believe we should turn to our culture’s most innovative and renowned thinkers, and no one has been more innovative and renowned than the physicist Albert Einstein who changed our conception of the universe. Einstein had a lot to say about education during his life. Here are 12 interventions that I believe Einstein would endorse, were he to be asked to reform the U.S. schools:
Some might suggest that Einstein’s pronouncements and these twelve steps toward revitalizing our schools are far too idealistic to stand any chance of being implemented in our schools. However, many schools across the country and around the world are already doing these things, demonstrating that they can be and are anchored in reality. What’s needed is the will to make these changes, the courage to stand up for what is right in educating our youth, and the ingenuity in finding ways to make significant transformations in our schools despite the obstacles and roadblocks that stand in the way. We owe it to our children and teens to give them the very best that education has to offer so that they can realize their full potential and ultimately transform the world around them. I think that Einstein would agree.
For more about what Einstein would do to reform our schools, and the 12 ways to revitalize the U.S. Education System,read my book If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education (Praeger Publishing, 2019).