Monday, 03 September 2007, 0:18:46 EDT
By now you have probably seen the video of Miss South Carolina 2007 responding to the question "Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?" Clearly she wasn't prepared for the question. But even when given the opportunity to answer it again the following day, her response still doesn't address the problem, in my opinion.
The simple truth is that our public school system is worthless. We teach test taking skills, not actual knowledge. I know there are good teachers in the public school system, and they love it when a bright student comes along. But, for the most part, they have become jaded by the system and treat their job as nothing more than that — a day job. So when their administrators tell them "We have to raise test scores by 10% this year. Emphasize these skills in your lessons," they just sigh and comply. Thus, they end up teaching fictitious skills like "cross multiplication." (As an aside, here is one where a teacher asks why cross multiplying works. Truly sad. At least the responder gives a better explanation than the one in the previous link.)
It is my opinion that we should stop teaching kids methods to pass standardized tests, and instead teach them the actual material. If the kids understand the material, the test should not be a problem. But for that to happen, the teachers, students, and parents would have to actually put in some effort. I guess that is just asking too much.