09/25/2014 05:23 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

U.S. Education and the S.A.T. vs. Liberty and Equality

The greatness of America is expressed in its commitment to liberty, as it has challenged the individual, and in its commitment to equality, as it has challenged us collectively.

We have seen these commitments expressed in the Revolution of 1776, in the Civil War, in settling the West, in our 19th century Industrialization, in our "give me your tired and your poor" immigration and in our total WWII mobilization that enabled the Allies to defeat Hitler and Japan.

Given the comprehensive nature of the jet age since then, our educational system has taken on an unforeseen and increasing importance. Operating without a basic philosophy built on a foundation of respect for America's commitments: (1) it has failed to respect and thus challenge the unique potential of the individual student and (2) failed to challenge our schools' efforts to successfully establish equality.

  1. Its goal to develop and evaluate all American students on the basis of a single skill -- academic proficiency -- is discriminatory and violates America's founding principle of liberty and its belief in the concept of unique potential.

    All students have unique abilities and unique learning styles. To force them through a "one size fits all" education (which values only so-called academic proficiency) disrespects them, and is bound to be resisted. The cost has been that most students do not like or trust our schools, which often brings out their worst -- apathy, dropping out, cheating, bullying, etc.

  2. We know the achievement gap between minorities and white Americans has been an unmet challenge to our schools for over a half century. Regarding segregation, in 2005, the number of Black students in White majority schools in America had fallen to levels lower than in 1968.

Also deeply troubling is the growing imbalance of wealth in America. For example, from 2008 to 2013, the top 5 percent in America increased their wealth by $11.2 trillion. However from 1998 to 2009, 80 percent of Americans lost money and in 2009, 50 percent had zero wealth.*

Since education equals opportunity, our educational system plays a strong role in this tremendous wealth imbalance -- despite efforts to the contrary -- because it unfortunately favors wealth.

The wealthy can buy the best preparation for college, but inequality within the system is deeper than that. Take, for example, the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) which is critical in college acceptance, and the hope of disadvantaged students to show their merit.

Studies have shown the SAT is directly tied to family income: Students from families with a yearly income of $20,000 score an average of 891 on the SAT, gradually rising up to students from families with a $200,000 annual income who average 1142.**

Not surprisingly, only 3 percent of students at the top 146 colleges come from families in America's bottom income quartile, and only 10% come from the bottom half.***

The SAT carries great power even into the first two years of job placement after college. Then actual job performance replaces what a college test might predict. So the SAT actually works like a placeholder in society for the rich.

Clearly, American education is a failing system; its performance has experienced over 50 years of reform with no real improvement, while falling behind the progress of other nation's systems. We tolerate it simply because we don't know of an alternative.

But today's system has no philosophical base; it simply grew out of the one-room schoolhouse designed to teach the three "Rs." Today we need a more comprehensive education that prepares our children not just intellectually, but morally, with a strong sense of self and purpose, whose character will lead their lives, their families and this nation.

We can accomplish this if we committed American education to our founding principles of liberty and the unique potential of the individual, and equality with its challenge to us collectively.

This deeper approach involving the character and personal self of each student makes parents and the family an integral part of the educational process. The student begins to trust the school and gain self-confidence, thus seeking to help other students as s/he was helped. The collective spirit of the school-community effectively addresses the equality issue. Students develop the motivation and purpose to become the best academic students they can be.

This not only bets on the best in America, but the best in people. And I have personally seen it work in different school settings over many years.