A headline in the December 2013 issue of The Atlantic claimed that American schools compared to the rest of the worldthe members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)were “expensive, unequal, bad at math.” Their conclusion was based upon American student performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012. Far East countries such as China, Korea, and Japan were top performers, while most European and Scandinavian countries ranked higher than the U.S. as well. Even the country’s former Cold War competitor, the Russian Federation, ranked higher than the United States in the assessment.
At the same time, Universitas 21, a global network of research-intensive universities, ranked the American higher education systemits colleges and universitiesas the best in the world in 2014, a rank it has retained for years. It is also the reason that foreign students flock to the United States from around the globe.
So what is the truth about the American school system? Is it a success or a failure? What should we expect from our schools, and how can we improve them?
History of Public Education in the United States
Contrary to popular belief, the right to an “education” is not mentioned in the Constitution. In the early years of the republic, public education was considered important to the nation’s progress as evidenced by the granting of more than 77 million acres of public domain to the individual states for the support of public schools. At the same time, the responsibility for education was delegated to state and local governments. The Federal Government was not heavily involved in the administration of public education until the end of the Civil War, establishing the original Office of Education in 1867.
It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that the Federal Government assumed a dominant position in the administration of education, primarily stimulated by racial discrimination. A second driver for the Federal Government’s increased role was the perceived failure of the state-run schools, especially in science and math, compared to national rivals. The passage of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was in direct response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik as a consequence of the general perception that “American schools and colleges were not producing the quantity and quality of scientific and technical specialists necessary to keep pace with the Soviet Union.”
As a consequence, the first federal student loans capitalized with U.S. Treasury funds for college students in science, math, and foreign languages were instituted. Since that time, financial assistance has alternated between direct loans capitalized with U.S. Treasury funds and loans from private parties secured by federal guarantees.
This article first appeared on Forbes.com on February 19, 2014.
If a person’s lifetime was equated to the four seasons of a year, the time following retirement would be the equivalent of autumn. It’s when nature slows down, takes a breath, and appreciates the accomplishments of spring and summer. People generally reach this season in their 60s and 70s, some with trepidation preparing for their remaining years. Many mourn the passage of youth and resent the next generation taking their place in the sun while others, like the poet W.B. Yeats did, choose to “take up life in both hands and care more for the fruit than the flower” in the years following retirement.
Retirement means, for the first time in decades, you have the luxury of worrying only about yourself and possibly your spouse. A new life beckons, pregnant with opportunities and challenges. Unlike your youth, you’ve gained experience and wisdom as well as the confidence that comes from having survived the obstacles and setbacks of starting a family, raising children, and building and maintaining a career. You are free and now face a whole new life full of adventures just waiting to happen.
The End of Accumulation
Youth and middle age are spent chasing dreams, accepting responsibilities, and amassing assets – psychological and physical. If you’ve been diligent and lucky, you’ve accumulated financial wealth in the form of an IRA, 401k, stocks, bonds, and savings. Your employer might have provided additional assets in the form of company stock, a pension, or a profit-sharing account. You may own tangible assets like real estate, art, and collectibles and you’ve also acquired automobiles, furniture, tools, gadgets, heirlooms, and knick-knacks over your lifetime – most of which are rarely used or even remembered.
As Dr. Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well,” stated in a 2012 New York Times article, “The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident, and generally in accord with reality.” Unfortunately, many parents in their attempts to give their children self-esteem and psychological security overly praise their children and celebrate the completion of tasks that are ordinary and easy, effectively rewarding them for mediocre efforts. As a consequence, children develop a false sense of self-confidence and achievement, a facade of self-esteem that crumbles when they are challenged as teenagers and college students with potentially devastating consequences.
Teaching a child to succeed and achieve the potential of which they are capable is not just a matter of positive reinforcement, but includes giving them the tools to understand and appreciate the reality of genuine achievement. Parents need to realize that self-esteem does not lead to accomplishment, but that accomplishment leads to self-esteem. Children who understand that instances of adversity and stress are inevitable in every person’s life are going to become emotionally and socially intelligent adults who can recover from disappointments and move on with their lives.
For most people, the ability to retire early is a result of choices made in their early working years plus the choices about the desired lifestyle they hope to enjoy after ceasing employment. The combination of the cost of the lifestyle you desire and the years remaining after you stop working drives the amount of investment capital you need in order to maintain the lifestyle you want.
The age at which you can enjoy freedom from full-time employment with some degree of security is dependent upon the following life choices: