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Thursday, January 06, 2005

 

The Fissures in Americas Education System

As with most issues that are part of Americana, education is a very difficult thing to quantify. What should be focused on? What should be ignored? I’ll leave most of that for others. What I’ll focus on this week is where reality checks and just plain common sense need to be inserted.

Common sense is not so common. Voltaire


Integrated class rooms:
The logic and sentiment behind these is that they do help with socialization. The belief is that if you can get children to realize that even though other kids may be more advanced in a subject than they are, they will be better able to understand other people. Which is an idea with merit, in some cases. However, having sixth graders who breeze through Shakespeare shackled to the pace of the children who are reading at grade level, much less the ones who still struggle with “Little Golden Books”? It makes no sense, and is a lose – lose situation for the children, the students and America as a whole.

  • The kids working at the highest proficiency rates get bored and either become disinterested in education and cause problems or begin slacking off and become mediocre.
  • The kids in the middle who might only need a bit of attention be it someone to restate an oddly phrased sentence, or just a definition of an unfamiliar word will not get the right level of attention most often.
  • The children with serious problems either actual disabilities (and no I won’t use the term ‘differently abled’) or who have been poorly educated thus far, end up either monopolizing the attention of the teacher through genuine need, through frustration because the teacher is paying attention to the other children trying to get the lesson across to as many children as possible.

Not good for anyone involved.

Next is the lack of integrated teaching. If one teacher is teaching a class all their lessons, why don’t they do sensible things with their time? Instead of assigning one project for composition that is nothing more than make work, and another for history or literature/reading, make the paper the child hands in count for both grades and allow the child to focus more time and energy on the assignment instead of fragmenting their attention to do a lesser job on more work. This will also allow teachers, and parents to give better feedback on each assignment as the teacher will spend less time grading papers.

The above two would work greatly towards helping the third problem. Homework overload. I know of children who are good students who test out at well above grade level but are still spending four, five and six hours a night doing homework. Homework is supposed reinforce the classroom lesson, not the other way around. It should also be meaning full to the lessons, and tests on a consistent basis. Having the children (or adults for that matter) read something that is never going to be touched on is asinine, and demonstrates that there are assignments and assignments.

Certainly, the most controversial is politics in the classroom. They don’t belong there. Whether it’s college professors who constantly prattle on about the idiocy of one religion or another, or school boards being pressured into putting labels on books that say things like “Evolution is just a theory.”, because some group of ‘concerned parents’ are worried their children might see some other view of the world. I’ve seen a few science text books that state evolution is a theory. It is however backed by research, further it is presented as theory. Outside of a Religions focused course, there is not much place for religious discourse in public schools unless it falls into the realm of historical or literary analysis perspective. Passing along the values of a family or religious institution are the jobs of those two social edifices, not the public schools. This does extend to the area of sexual education. I personally wish that it were (physically) safe for society as a whole to leave this topic strictly to parents. Unfortunately, it is not. Some religions are virulently against pre-marital sex. Which is fine; but expecting people to abstain from sex simply because it displeases you is at best naïve, and at worst a colossal megalomania. People behave in a contrary manner all the time. Sex education classes should present all the issues with having sex, for which ever configuration of participants. They should also present the real dangers of disease, pregnancy, and death along with the measures one can take against the repercussions. Presenting “Abstinence only” or “Just pregnancy prevention” is silly, absurd and a disservice to the children as well as a waste of tax payer money.

Expectations. Despite nearly every parents avowed belief that their little angel is the brightest, most talented child on the face of the planet: this just can’t be true in all or even most cases. Changing curriculums so that more children get high grades is vulgar, not all children are capable of earning a slot on the Deans List. It’s a simple and unavoidable fact of life that not only are some people smarter than others are, some people work hard to make up for the intelligence gap.

Finally, there is the matter of presentation. A teacher job is to get the information across to the children as fully as possible. To do this they should engage the children in their lesson. Pure lectures are fine for college level chemistry classes, but to get the message across to a younger audience so that they retain the information past when ever the test is requires more. This means teachers will occasionally have to make jokes, possibly even of themselves, they will have to be creative and reach out to and get to know their students as much as possible.

Despite the serious faults I see in the American education system, we have a huge well of strength in the field. Despite huge inflows of immigrants, and transient students we have a literacy rate of ninety seven percent. That’s over ninety seven percent and our education system is open to anyone without discrimination. We have men, women and children coming from all over the world to use our education system. Some of them stay here and settle permanently, some of them go home with very good memories of their time in America and that is public relations you just can’t buy.

The Casual Observer, future educator.

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