Get Ready For Back-To-School Challenge
Once again, time has marched inexorably onward and we face the start of another fall season. The official segment of the year that begins with the autumnal equinox is almost a month after the date of the newspaper in which this editorial appears, but even now signs that summer is winding down and that fall is rapidly approaching are everywhere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. The days are getting shorter, and day and night are approximately equal in length. We are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway and meanwhile, south of the equator, spring begins. Everywhere, back-to-school sale signs remind us that another round of high-intensity shopping for school supplies of every conceivable design for every conceivable use has begun.
As every school-age child in Queens is well aware, across the borough schools both public and private will open on September 6. A flurry of back-to-school shopping is underway. Frantic parents are perusing lists of required materials posted in stationery aisles and grilling children as to which kind of crayon and pad of construction paper they need to put in their backpacks.
Amid all these harried preparations it is easy to forget the reason for all this agita: free public education, the great gift the Founding Fathers and their successors gave to America’s children. In many other countries, including some we consider “First World”, the education children receive is not free, nor is it compulsory. If a parent can afford to foot the cost of an education for a child, well and good. If not, the child is more or less on his or her own. Many go into their parents’ small businesses or join an aimless tide of human detritus on the mean streets. Their lives are essentially over before they can begin. In yet other countries, children, especially girls, have to fight to go to school. They are attacked, beaten, acid is thrown on them, their schools are set afire—the list of indignities is nearly endless. The truly sad part is that the reactionaries who fight so hard against educating women fail to realize that educated women—and men—are major contributors to their communities’ economies. The small businesses they open and maintain add to the cash flow and economic stability in their villages and ultimately their countries.
We have different problems besetting the state of education in America, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas. American students exhibit lower scores on standardized tests in STEM areas, a situation that has been true for generations. In 1964, American students placed 11th out of 12th in the First International Math Study and in 2009, had math scores placing them 25th out of 34 countries in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. The outlook would appear to be bleak, indeed, until one considers the unavoidable evidence that for years the United States has led the world in Nobel Prizes. This country is widely recognized as the indisputable leader in higher education and scientific output. American students may not test well, but performance in the real world demonstrates that the education they receive produces the actual winners.
The encouraging news that American students rank among the finest in the world in STEM subject areas demonstrates that graduates of American educational institutions have no cause to be ashamed of the knowledge they accrued in however many years of study they engaged, from high school diplomas to postdoctoral studies. The news, however welcome it may be, though, also demonstrates that students entering classrooms this year, from prekindergarten on, must be ready to do their absolute best in every subject area in which they find themselves enrolled. An educated populace can meet any challenge life sends its way. We are more than ready. Let this be the year we set out to achieve our utmost best in whatever area of study we engage and let us proceed to do just that. Good luck—luck we earned by hard work and serious attention—to us all.