By Chris Barts
There is a plague sweeping our globe. It is felt in the schools and in the streets, in the libraries and in the workplace. Its effects are subtle yet profound, secretive yet blatant. It cannot be measured in body counts, as that is but one of its many results. It cannot be uncovered by any gross physical examination, but its marks are all too clear. It is the plague of under-education, and it is taking the world by storm.
The effects of under-education are numerous, too numerous to be listed in the brief space I have here, but can be summed up in a few words: harm to living things, humans foremost, resulting from ignorance that one is doing harm. A prime example of this is the drug problem. Everyday, millions of people from all walks of life do irreparable harm to themselves and others, often ignorant of the consequences of their actions. They steal, lie to themselves and others, and commit other crimes against morality and the common good simply because they are ignorant of their problem, and of how to help themselves. Education changes that, if pursued in a timely fashion.
However, education itself is facing a problem. This problem, simply stated is a shortage of teachers. The reasons are painfully simple: Most teachers were hired in the 1950s, also when most of the schools were built, because that is when the baby boom occurred and the demand for teachers was greatest. After 40 years of teaching, they are reaching retirement age in droves, leaving a huge gap new hiring simply is not filling. This is even worse of a problem than it otherwise might be because of the subjects hit hardest.
Those subjects are mathematics and science, which are, in the opinion of this author, the two most important subjects that can be taught once reading is mastered because they require independent critical thought and foster self-confidence as most of the lessons learned are learned alone. The gaps are occurring there because of simple economic reasons: private sector jobs which require math and science skills pay much more than do the public school teaching positions. This is an inexcusable, but inescapable, reality.
The problems this shortage will cause are obvious and terrible. The lack of teachers specialized to those subjects will force less qualified teachers to spread themselves even thinner than they already are to teach these advanced and vitally important subjects. This will contribute to stress and class overcrowding, as the schools will have to fit more teaching and students into fewer class periods. Stress among teachers leads to resignations and strikes, both of which exacerbate the problem at hand. Stress among students leads to crime, alienation from parents, and, among the most severely unbalanced, violent crimes such as school shootings.
The one way I can see to alleviate this problem is to increase the pay of teachers to competitive levels by increasing the taxes. This may cause minor economic disturbances in the short term, but that will be nothing compared to the cost of this problem in the long term. In the end, it will be education about the problem and how to solve it that will improve the condition.