Americans place great emphasis on education as a means to mold one's future. Common belief is that through education, the general public gains skills to build a productive life, opinions to improve society, and knowledge to enable participation in democratic government. However, reality as expressed by academic study and collective experience departs from these closely guarded beliefs - in the last two decades or more - goods production has remained flat, society has become more divisive, and the American public elected Donald Trump as President. And still the populace cries for more money to be poured into education.
As it was packaged and sold to the Millennial generation by their parents, career success was outstandingly simple: graduate from high school knowing math and English, earn an undergraduate degree (from any college), and one would be able to live a plush life. This promise was never founded in any actual or scientific reality and it left most Millennial children (1) without practical life or career skills, or (2) with enormous debt and limited employment opportunities. The idealistic focus on theoretical learning left an entire adult generation largely incapable of understanding their physical environment or performing physical labor without extensive training outside of the elementary and secondary systems. Therefore, our society created a robust service industry to fill the general void of practical skills, train skilled workers, and create jobs for the soon-to-be underclassed. Millennials are the first generation in recorded history to be worse off than their parents.
Under the guise of multiculturalism, education for the Millennial student made being offended into a right of passage into “proper” society. Children were exposed to what should properly be regarded as Orwellian “doublethink”... That is, they were required to square the idea that everyone is the same (or capable of the same) with ever more categorical division of people into various genders and gender identities, ethnicities, religions, and economic statuses. Each athlete received the same participation trophy, regardless their contribution. Each class was filled with a gradient of gifted and failing students, then taught at the median level. Each application for schools, activities, colleges and jobs required reporting for ethnicity and gender. Each sport must admit boys and girls under federal Title IX (an unrealized ideal). Colleges were handed rules and quotas based on race under affirmative action.
Each child became keenly aware of their own caste in American society, and the caste of each or their peers. It became not just acceptable, but mandatory, that one be offended on behalf of those castes below his own - even if the supposedly offended person was unbothered. Conceptual understanding of racism and prejudice gave way to anti-discrimination, zero-tolerance, and micro-aggression. A whole generation of adolescents and young adults had a veil of division placed between themselves and each other person around them - ever aware of the various details that made them different. Through this educational paradigm, Millennials learned how to be American… and being American morphed from an inclusive “melting pot” of culture into an array of exclusive and isolated individuals further enabled by technology which all but eliminated the need for face-to-face socializing.
Education is inherently political - it teaches the youth in a society the rules of that society. Education in communist Russia is vastly different from education in democratic Tennessee, which is still departed from education in the collectivist indigenous schools of northern Michigan. The aforementioned shaping of perception in American schools has translated into political action. Vicious fights have surfaced over the right for two people to have a relationship (gay marriage), one's perceived religion (brutalizing Muslims and Sikhs), and enforcement of laws (Ferguson) to name a few. In all such cases the exacerbating thread which caused political turmoil was an “us versus them” narrative layered upon tragic experience - we have created generations of divisiveness. Even more recently this perversion of the political system by our failed education has manifest with fervent animosity toward immigrants. As a candidate, Donald Trump capitalized on the shift in social rules, dividing races, classes, and residency status in a way no previous would-be president would dare. And the public - recognizing this language of division from their elementary, secondary, and college instructors - found the rhetoric familiar enough to cast a vote to elect him to their highest office.
Millennials have now begun to occupy elected offices in positions of nationwide influence. Many still have full faith in the existing system of education. However, as their parents have gained age and wisdom to reflect on their choices and offer advice as they hand over the keys to the kingdom, some Millennials have discovered the folly of the previous generation. Those insightful upcoming influencers are trying to put on the brakes and change the socio-political education machine into which we require parents to throw their children, promising they will emerge knowing how to be good Americans.
Money will not change teaching. “Free college for all” will not change teaching. Recognizing that the person who fixes your car or makes sure you have electricity is just as valuable as the desk-jockey that draws the bridge you drive on… that will start to change teaching. Recognizing that while everyone should have the same opportunities, not everyone is capable of (or wants to) taking advantage of them will start to change teaching. Recognizing that merit has meaning, and that each person is capable of achieving greatness in different ways, will build great momentum in resolving the harm done to the Millennial generation.
In the end, what follows from these needs is that the industrial-educational machine must be dismantled, and education must be individualized to support each person's skills.