Erik McClure

The Educational Imbroglio


im·bro·glio noun 1. an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation.

Across the country, there is a heated debate over our educational system. Unfortunately, it’s a lot like watching members of the flat earth society argue about whose theory is right - there is no right answer, because everyone is wrong.

The most recent and perhaps egregious example of this is a breathtakingly misguided article by Kevin G. Welner, who is the director of the National Education Policy center, which is absolutely terrifying. He is attempting to discredit the idea of “tracking”, wherein low-performing students are separated from higher achieving students, because obviously you can’t teach kids who “get it” the same way as kids who are struggling. Unfortunately, the entire conclusion rests on a logical fallacy. He says, and I quote:

“When children fall behind academically, we have a choice. We can choose to sort them into less demanding classes where they will fall further behind, or we can choose to include them in classes that maintain high expectations.”
This is a false dichotomy, since there are many other choices. We can sort them into a class with the same expectations, but an alternative teaching method. Sort them into a class that actually pays attention to the concepts that are giving them trouble. The idea is to help children who have fallen behind catch up with their peers, not throw them in a room and forget about them. Schools that simply lower their expectations of poorly performing students are doing it wrong. Furthermore, trying to argue that something can’t work because no one’s doing it properly is another logical fallacy.

There’s also a persistent argument against charter schools, which claims that the money spent on charter schools should instead be used to improve public schools instead. This is laughable, because public schools receive funding based on test scores. So, all the money would be spent improving test scores instead of actually teaching children anything. Charter schools are important because they aren’t bounded by these nonsensical restrictions and thus are free to experiment with alternative teaching styles. Throwing money at our public schools will only shore up a method of teaching that’s fundamentally broken. It’s like trying to fix the plumbing after the roof caved in - it’s completely missing the point.

To make matters worse, there’s also a war on free time. Recess is being cut in favor of increased instruction time, while educators cite minuscule increases in test scores as proof that this “works”. If by “works”, you mean it succeeds in cramming more useless junk into kids heads, then sure, it’s “working”. However, if you want kids to actually learn instead of memorize pointless facts that they will immediately forget, you have to give them time to process concepts. Their brains need rest, not more work. Bodybuilders don’t lift weights as long as they can every single day; they lift weights every other day and only for a few hours or so, because the muscle needs time to recover.

This, however, is an issue with a society that thinks hard work means working yourself to exhaustion. This is incredibly short-sighted and in direct opposition to plenty of evidence that points to rest being a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. It can be your job, or school, or a hobby, it doesn’t matter. Humans do not function effectively when forced to focus on one thing for hours at a time. The only reason we attempt to do this is because we used to work in factories, but nowadays we have robots. Modern jobs are all about thinking creatively, which cannot be forced. You can’t force yourself to understand a concept. It’s like trying to force a broken leg to heal faster by going for a jog. You must give kids time absorb concepts instead of trying to cram it down their throats. They need to understand what they are learning, not memorize formulas.

Mainstream education doesn’t take this seriously. There are plenty of experiments that have effectively taught children advanced concepts with radically different teaching methods. One guy taught 3rd graders binary. These kids learned english and how to operate a computer without a teacher at all. There are plenty of cases that show just how woefully inadequate our teaching system is, but it seems that we care more about a one-size-fits-all method that can be mass-produced than a method that’s actually effective.

Our educational system is failing our students, and we refuse to even entertain notions that could make a difference. Instead, we just legislate more tests and take away their recess.

Because really, memorizing the date of the Battle of Gettysburg is more important than playing outside and having a childhood.


Comments


Robert Smith

And this is why I'm a wanted sub at my preferred middle school. Instead of just writing out a math problem and solving in what I would consider to be a simple way, I actually break down the equation, piece by piece, and teach the kids what each piece is and how it works. Funny thing is, it doesn't just work for math -- it's for anything. And this is also why, as future history teacher, I will not be pulling out the multiple choice tests. The only thing multiple choice teaches is process of elimination. That works just fine for a pop quiz. I will be giving out essay tests, which will not only permit students to think about the problem creatively and critically, but they will also be able to _choose_ which examples best illustrate the question, based on their own interpretation of the reading. My goal is... the answer doesn't necessarily have to be the "right" one. Did the student get the concept?

Recess is fundamental. These days, it's practically the only time of day where the kids get to go outside and legitimately enjoy it. That said, I don't think the usual fifteen minutes is enough time. I think the kids need at least a half hour (attached to lunch), with a fifteen minute rest period in between two morning and two afternoon classes.

In today's world, we need to be teaching our kids the importance of work/life balance. Leisure time is just as important, if not more important, than time spent doing work. Life is intended to be enjoyed, not the other way around. If you consider for a moment that in the history of our civilization, there have been whole classes of people in every society who are simply disposable. They do the work that no one else wants to do, just because it's too difficult or dangerous. And you know something? That really doesn't speak to anyone's value as a human being. We really are judged in this life by how we treat others, and to deny a person the only thing they have in their formative years -- POTENTIAL -- really is a crime against humanity.

Throwing standardized tests at our kids only proves one thing -- they're good at taking tests. Well, what about the kid who isn't good at taking tests? What if that kid is good at being creative, inventive, or innovative? It does not assist in memory, recollection, absorption, creativity, or shed any distinctive light on potential. And just think about the value of that child's education and then his or her value as a person.


Erik McClure

And yet no one, NO ONE in charge of public education even CONSIDERS these ideas. They focus entirely on improving test scores. That's it. When you talk about teaching kids creativity, they just look at you funny and ask how that will improve their test scores.


jpnk

i don't think the ed. system is failing anyone, it's perfectly fit for this world. its primary goal is provide companies and the government with suitably trained workforce. in a money-based economy knowing a bunch of formulae and dry facts and being able to effectively follow instructions - which is precisely what the system is teaching us - oftentimes is more valuable than understanding essentials and being able to tackle problems you haven't been trained to solve. to make money you need to understand existing routines - so that you can see business opportunities you can exploit - and be able to adapt to new ones so that you can stay afloat as the market evolves. this is true for both employers and employees (well, at least that's how i see it). pure technological innovation isn't valued: look at the valley - although it's often presented as a center of innovation this is only half true - it's a center of *financial* innovation, the valley people are constantly creating new way to turn technology into money. this approach results in mutilated technology and awful designs but it doesn't matter as long as it helps make money. besides, half-assed products that don't fully solve the problems they are intended to solve create new business opportunities for those who want to solve artificial secondary problems such products create. if the ed system was about creativity and people who go through it dedicated their lives to creating sound designs that help make actual problems go away we would be living in an idea-based economy that values beauty, elegance and effectiveness of solutions. unfortunately there aren't that many people out there who are fit for this line of work. you can train a person to follow a pattern but you can't train someone to be creative. you can engage people in some creativity inspiring projects but most of them will stick around only for as long as it provides entertainment. following instructions is way simpler, gives immediate reward, provides a sense of purpose. maybe there are even some physiological differences that turn most people into consumers rather than creators. so i can understand why the educational system is the way it is - it serves the needs of the majority. the actual problem is that those in the creative minority don't put enough effort into creating a separate environment for creative kids and adults. i hear a lot of whining but not much beyond that.

btw. here's an blog post similar to yours but from the pov of a mathematician: http://jeremykun.com/2013/11/04/deconstructing-the-common-core-mathematical-standard/


Comments are disabled
Avatar

Archive

  1. 2018
  2. 2017
  3. 2016
  4. 2015
  5. 2014
  6. 2013
  7. 2012
  8. 2011
  9. 2010
  10. 2009