Controversial Issues in Education

There is no dearth of controversial issues in education. From the debates on efficacy of standardized testing to including sex education in schools, controversies are an integral part of any educational system. Discussed below are some burning issues in the U.S. educational system.
OpinionFront Staff
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
"Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost."
Thomas J. Watson Jr.
The education system of the United States of America has been frequented by controversies since the time it was established. Initially, education was confined to the stronger sex, with women getting this right after a significant period of struggle, albeit in separate colleges. Even then, there was a debate whether gender should be a constraint to the differential treatment in learning. It was only in the year 1972 when Title IX of the Education Amendments was passed, which stated that discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program is strictly prohibited by federal law.
Not only gender discrimination, there are various issues that have surrounded the right to receive equal and progressive education of the citizens of the United States. And yes, there are many laws formulated to protect U.S. students, and govern the practices followed by nation's educational institutions. However, in the midst of all these precautionary and disciplinary actions, there are still innumerable controversial issues that haunt today's educational system. The following section throws light on some of these debatable aspects.
The educational system in the United States is one of the most powerful in the entire world. And it's obvious that with power, arguments and disputations are bound to come along. Although, there can be an exhaustive list of associated controversies, some of the most discussed issues in the circle have been discussed as follows.
Prayers in Public Schools
All public schools in the United States are prohibited to make religious prayers mandatory, in compliance with the first provision of the First Amendment, a.k.a., the Establishment Clause. It states that any government institution is prohibited to establish any religion. However, contradicting that is the second provision of the amendment―the Free Exercise Clause―which states that citizens have the "right to practice their religion as they please, as long as the practice does not run afoul of a "public morals" or a "compelling" governmental interest," as explains the United States Courts.
Parents who don't believe in the existence of any deity have been against recitation of Bible hymns in public schools, and several cases have gone to the courtrooms. However, the issue still remains unresolved.
Sex Education
School authorities, health care institutions, and parents have all been confused and divided when it comes to sex education. Should kids be presented the facts as they are, or should sex education be completely avoided? The biggest dilemma in this respect is if sex education is the responsibility of school, or should parents take the charge?
With the rise in teenage pregnancies and risks of STDs, a small number of U.S. schools had administered distribution of condoms in schools during the 1990s. However, the controversy that surrounded this measure was whether this step would prevent teenage pregnancies and STDs, or would it encourage teens to become sexually active? Issues related to sex continue to be one of the most debatable issues in education all across the globe.
Corporal Punishment
Interestingly, it is the state government that rules the policies regarding corporal punishments in school―the federal government has no law stating the same. As a result, each state has different guidelines when it comes to this issue.
While some states, particularly those in Southern U.S., consider punishments such as spanking to be quite okay in schools, as they serve well to instantaneously correct undisciplined behavior without any extreme action, in certain states, this form of punishment is completely banned in public schools. Those who oppose corporal punishment in schools do so on the grounds of the physical and mental trauma that may harm the child's psyche and development. Also, unfortunately, these measures are sometimes used unfairly towards certain students who belong to a specific minority or racial group.
Gun Control
The debate on gun control in school premises became all the more heated up after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place in Newtown, Connecticut. This incident is considered to be the most "deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history," as stated in Wikipedia.
Post the massacre, many states in the country revised their policies of gun control. In fact, many states came up with the provisions to allow teachers to carry guns to school, with the school administrator's consent. Also, many schools have implemented teacher's training to use guns and thereby defend school children and themselves under such threats. However, many have voiced concern that the presence of guns in school could be potentially dangerous, especially if in control of inexperienced hands.
Online Education
It is evident that technological growth is bound to influence the teaching techniques in educational institutions. We can already see the emergence of non-traditional concepts such as flipped schools, Massive Opening Online Courses (MOOCs), etc., where online education plays a substantial role than the traditional face-to-face student-teacher interaction. Although this new wave of learning has shown positive results when it comes to the participation of students, a debate still exists.
Those who oppose this method of learning argue that a personal interaction, which lacks in online courses, is the key element to build a student-teacher bond that plays a crucial role in the whole teaching process. Without the physical presence of a tutor, it would be difficult for students to clear the basic understanding, or clarify the complexities of a particular subject.
Content of Textbooks
There has always been an unending debate on the content of textbooks used in public schools, especially from the viewpoint of Creationism vs Evolution. There are numerous cases where parents have reached courtrooms just because the textbooks of their children questioned their religious/scientific beliefs.
While there have been endless efforts to bring about a balance in the texts included in the school curriculum, because the two aspects (religion and science) are bound to be contradictory to each other, the controversy remains to be very much around.
Teachers' Assessment and Evaluation
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009, which is considered as a major milestone on America's road to recovery, also emphasizes on the reformation of the education system in the country. One aspect of this act is to ensure that all schools have qualified and efficacious teachers, and that their efficiency is evaluated on a regular basis.
The controversy lies not in the intention but the implementation of this task. Many suggest that the ideal way of evaluation is to assess the results of a teacher's current students, and compare them with the previous results of the same students, or with other students belonging to the same grade. However, the question is whether this method would give a fair idea regarding the teacher's potential, as the students he/she is teaching may also include those who are weak in studies, or are low-performing.
School Uniform and Clothing
Even school uniforms have been the subject of controversies! Although they're a norm in most countries, there are various pros and cons of this subject that have been debated all across the globe. Speaking of the United States, the main challenge lies in establishing norms that give students the right to dress as per their individuality. Of course, there are restrictions to ensure that children don't wear something sexually or socially provocative.
A major part of the controversy lies in the subject of cross-gender dressing. While the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment protects all U.S. citizens from discrimination based on gender, not all schools have been open in this respect. Then again, the basic issue of whether all schools should implement standardized uniforms to avoid these conflicts, still remains unresolved.
Common Core State Standards
This federal initiation has been surrounded with both supporters and criticizers all across the nation. The Common Core State Standards are established for all K-12 students, determining the criteria for what each student must know in order to be promoted to the next grade or graduate from high school. The subjects involved are English language arts and mathematics. The main objective is to regulate a uniform standard nationwide, so that all students are equally groomed to enter college programs and employment.
Those in favor appreciate this endeavor and consider it as a substantial step to improve the country's education system entirely. However, there are many who state that this initiation would suppress creativity and emphasize more on uniformity when it comes to the learning styles. Also, there cannot be a 'one-size-fits-all' because each state comprises different cultural and learning values.
Students with Special Needs
Students with special needs and/or learning disabilities need special care and attention―and mostly, some additional facilities―to make the learning experience easier for them. The 2004 Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives right to all students with special needs to get education in public schools that are well-equipped to handle the special requirements they need. Also, if the child is unable to blend in the common classroom, a special arrangement may also be made. However, problems arise when all the parties involved, fail to come to a common conclusion.
While parents argue that being in the midst of regular children would serve the purpose of allowing their child to learn in a normal environment, there are concerns if the teacher qualified to handle regular students would do a justifiable job in handling and accommodating the special needs of that perticular child. Oftentimes, the administration is accused of not investing enough in resources to bring about an apt environment for such students, thereby making parents wonder if integration is in fact an ideal option for their child. Also, if students with learning disabilities are favored in any way, there is huge cry of unfair competition by mainstream students.
Racial Discrimination
According to the U.S. Education Department's 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection, African-American students are punished and/or expelled at a triple rate, when compared to white students. Also, most students belonging to the minority group fail to get access to institutions with experienced teachers, and are more often stuck at educational facilities that don't even have licensed tutors. These, along with many other factors, have resulted in an increased percentage of school dropouts among minority students.
Although racial discrimination is considered to be unlawful in the country, there are still various districts in the nation where race-based segregation is clearly evident. Racism still continues to be a sensitive issue, where any kind of state intervention will only worsen the fragility of the issue.
Abandoning Letter Grading System
The United States has always graded their students as per the letter grading system ranging from A to F. However, there has been a debate on this issue, where many consider this grading system to be inefficient in tracking the actual progress of students. It lacks accuracy and an in-depth understanding of the actual position of a student in a specific subject.
Many authorities have proposed adapting a more detailed report card in place of alphabetical grades, so as to overcome this loophole. However, there are others who state that this archaic system needs no reformation at all. Also, understanding grades seem much easier to many parents than detailed reports, and yes, grades have more or less become 'the' terminology to express results. Nonetheless, whether or not this reformation is accepted by the nation, it continues to be one of the most controversial topics on this list.
As we had mentioned earlier, the issues that come under this subject are endless. And while we have explained just a couple of them, that doesn't negate the importance of the others. Some more heated issues in the education system include animal dissection, home-schooling, bilingual education, high stakes testing, etc. While experts can have many debates in an attempt to end the endless controversies that keep popping up off and on, the truth is that it is unlikely for these issues to reach a satiable conclusion.
With each and every person involved in the educational system, having his/her own set of believes and staunch opinions about one or more facets, it is highly possible that with the increase in more educational reformations, the number of these issues will only rise. Nonetheless, the best we can do is accept, adapt, or choose the side that suits our needs in the best possible manner.