Apathy has its root word in Apathes, meaning “without feeling.” Now, what can you correlate apathy with in modern society? Social media, politics, perhaps even news reporting? While I could agree with some of those words, one specific word I correlate apathy with is school. Schools in America are often lauded for their underperformance on the international level, both academically and financially. For a disproportionate amount of money spent on American public education ($115.71 Billion as their budget in 2023’s Budget Report, which you can view on USAspending.gov), American education scores at a national level have stagnated since 1971-73. As reported by The Nation’s Report Card (NRC), a congressionally mandated assessment by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), takes yearly reports and studies of the United States national test scores and averages them out into a simple point scale, with it being from 0-500 points. The NRC has measured that, since 1971, American reading scores have only improved by about 10 points on this scale. This means that scores have practically remained the same since 1971 in reading, but this issue is also prevalent in math scores, with a similar trend being present. Meanwhile, the budget of the Department of Education (DOE) has swelled from $7 Billion in 1980 to the current 2023 fiscal budget of $115.71 Billion. This swelling in budget correlates with an explosion in migration to the United States, causing the population to explode to its current 331.9 Million residents-however, we cannot ignore how massive this increase in spending actually is. With the invention of modern, affordable computer technology, and improvements in global connectivity, the budget of the DOE still continues to soar year after year. The US DOE is one of the largest in the world, only behind the United Kingdom, Israel, Chile, and Norway (in percentage of their national GDPs, according to the NCES). Despite this large size and constant expansion in funds to the DOE, education scores have barely improved amongst American students, and many students dislike the modern public education system.
As one Key West High School (KWHS) Junior, Alan Domagala stated, when asked what he thought of the American Public Education system, “I mean, of course, they need all that funding for new technology. But I think more could be done with their funding, and maybe not all of it is going where they (the government) say it’s going.” He was also asked what he thought about the treatment of American students compared to International students (specifically students in Scandinavia). He replied, “I think the education system needs to be more focused on at-home issues, so they know what is going on at home and how to handle it.” I share the same opinion, and infact, depression rates in the US due to the COVID-19 Pandemic have skyrocketed since 2019. As written by the Lancet Regional Health organization in this report (The Lancet), US depression rates jumped from 27.8% in 2020 to 32.8% in 2021. This was mostly due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and as noted in the report, major driving factors of depression rates were being unmarried and having low income. Many cases of depression in young adults/teenagers go unreported, and if reported, they are sometimes ignored. While mental health services have greatly improved since the years of institutionalizing mental health patients, they are still heavily inadequate at home and at school. Schools, in my opinion, should focus more on improving students’ home lives instead of focusing on grades and education rates. As I have heard from several of my own teachers, students are often ignored, and schools are concerned about their grades. For instance, I heard a rumor from one of my teachers that KWHS Administration heavily curved midterm grades for the 2022-2023 school year because of how bad they were-which would have meant the school would likely lose funding. Infact, KWHS has already dropped from an ‘A’ rated school nationally to a ‘B’ rated school. It seems that the attitude of modern American public education is focused around grades and income, rather than their students and their concerns. I believe that, unless American public education rids itself of its apathetic treatment of students and learning, it will continue to stagnate and eventually drop below other countries. Apathy is the name of the game in public education, and I hope that changes.