Civil Conversation Challenge for Teenagers, Forum 4: Education
In addition to all the challenges the pandemic presents teachers, students and schools, there are a host of other education-related issues political leaders are debating: for example, taxpayer-funded vouchers to subsidize private and religious school tuition; increasing the salaries of public school teachers; and expanding charter schools. Last week, President Trump called for “patriotic education” to defend American history from “decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.” Joe Biden says he will “secure passage of gun legislation to make our students safer.”
The challenges don’t stop after high school. College is more expensive than ever before, and tens of millions of students are swimming in many thousands of dollars in debt. Students from lower-income families — and even middle-income families — are forced to choose between taking out loans or not going to college. Many are asking: Should college be free — or at least more affordable?
While our education system has been the target of reform and innovation for a long time, perhaps now — when teaching and learning are completely disrupted by the pandemic — is the best opportunity for us to reimagine our schools. What should our schools look like, if all students are to get a high-quality education?
Where to learn more:
Possible questions to address:
— Why does this topic interest you? How have your experiences shaped your opinions? What questions or concerns does this topic raise for you?
— Do you feel you are receiving a high-quality education? Why? Did you feel appropriately challenged and supported by your teachers before the pandemic? How about now? How do you think your school compares with others in your community, in terms of educational quality? What measures need to be taken to make sure more students don’t fall behind?
— How do you think the pandemic is affecting children’s ability to get a high-quality education? How is the crisis affecting your educational experience? What strengths and weaknesses do you think it is exposing about America’s schools? What ideas do you have to make sure more students don’t fall behind?
— What role do you think public education should have in our country? Do you think it’s the backbone of democracy? Is it the best path to make this country a meritocracy, where all children can have a chance at success? Is it something we should invest more in: for example, by updating older facilities, providing teachers with more resources, and paying them competitive salaries?
— Do you think charter, private and religious schools offer better opportunities for addressing the achievement gap — rather than public schools? President Trump sees “school choice,” supported by taxpayer-funded vouchers and tax credits, as the answer to what he refers to as “failing government schools.” Critics argue, however, that these school choice programs only drain funding from already financially strapped districts and schools. What do you think?
— What do you think are the country’s most pressing education issues — besides equity? Do we need smaller classes, more mental health care, more — or fewer — A.P. classes, better school facilities? Do you agree with President Trump that “left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools”? Like him, do you think American schoolchildren are in need of a new “pro-American” curriculum? Or do you think that children deserve “an honest accounting of our country’s past,” including learning about the darker chapters of American history, such as slavery and its legacy? Do you agree with Mr. Biden that gun legislation is needed to make schools safer? What education priorities would you address first if you were in a leadership position?
— What are your beliefs about college? Should everyone be able to go? Should college be free? Should some or all of Americans’ nearly $1.6 trillion in college debt be forgiven? What about the college admissions process — should it be changed? When you consider the biggest roadblocks to a more fair admissions process, do you worry that prestigious colleges like Yale University discriminate against white and Asian-American applicants — as the Trump administration asserts? Or do you worry that first-generation college students and poorer students don’t have the same access to college as wealthier students? What are your college-related priorities?
— How should we reimagine our schools so that all students receive a high-quality education? What lessons can we take away from this current crisis so we can improve our schools? What proposals and ideas do you have? How might school be better for everyone?