Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Periodic thoughts on education

I'm tired and kind of stressed out so this is going to be disjointed.

I do thin there's something gone wrong with education in our culture. Part of it is an attitude, part of it may be the structure of how education is administered.

The attitude from some students (not all, by any means) seems to be, "I have to be here, I don't want to be here, so I'm miserable and I'm going to make others miserable." Kids act out in class (it even happens, though to less of a degree, in college classes). They don't understand or recognize that learning is important.

Part of that is a maturity thing (though part of it may be what education has become).

I don't like high-stakes standardized testing. Yes, it's the cheapest fastest way to assess student "learning," but it leads to all kinds of abuses - teaching to the test, cheating on the part of faculty, so on and so forth. I don't know of a good way to assess student learning. Maybe there isn't one. Maybe giving parents school choice would take care of that and parents would move their kids away from the crap schools and into the good schools.

What I would like to see in incoming college freshmen: An ability to read at a 12th grade level with sufficient comprehension. An ability to read a book, magazine article, or webpage and determine whether the material seems trustworthy or if it raises red flags. An ability to write an intelligent and well-reasoned persuasive paper that does not descend into the realm of emotional argument. An ability to do at LEAST algebra and geometry level math. A basic understanding of chemistry, physics, and biology...not a great deal of knowledge but enough that the intro science courses won't shock and horrify them. A knowledge of history, including a knowledge of the Constitution of our nation and how government works. The ability to balance a checkbook and budget (though I'd argue that's something parents should teach). Life skills stuff like how to wash clothes and how to obtain and eat food without developing a vitamin deficiency (Again, I think that's a parent thing). An ability to treat their fellow humans with civil respect (at a minimum) and how to work with people that they may not really like, but to do so without being rude or snarky.

A lot of those things are hard or impossible to test.

Sometimes I think we should reduce the age of where compulsory education should end. Maybe reduce it to 12. But make some sticking point, some conditions so we don't wind up with people who chose (or whose parents chose) not to get an education who are now unemployable and must be supported on the taxpayer's dime. (I heard a commentator suggest that people be eligible for three years of food stamps or welfare in their lives....and after they've used that, sorry, no more help. Disability would be a different issue, Social Security a different issue - those would not have the limits).

Teachers would be able to expel students and make it stick. The idea would be that education is a privilege, not a right.

I'm not quite sure how the not-educated people would support themselves. That's my one big issue....some 12 year olds might be mature enough to realize, "Hey, if I want a job, I have to stay in school even if I think it sucks" and probably many parents would get that and keep their kids in school. I don't know. Picking fruit on farms? Doing landscaping? I don't know if there's enough of a market for unskilled labor that it could absorb a large chunk of people who left school at 12.

Or maybe, make entrance to skilled-trades type school at that age possible. If you can read well enough to understand safety manuals, if you can do basic math...okay, we can teach you the rest as you work. That might be a solution for kids who are not academically inclined but who know they want to do something with their lives and who maybe have a talent for fixing stuff or making stuff. (I knew kids like that when I was in school - they were smart kids but some of the stuff just bored them to craziness).

I think also maybe there need to be more alternative-type schools. Not everyone learns in the same way. And a kid who can't learn in the traditional way can make it difficult for those who can. Again, letting parents choose their school - and expecting parents to take responsibility for it.

I also frankly think we need to bring back tracking or grouping or whatever. It's BS to expect the "high achieving" kids to pull the rest of the class up, or that the people who lack background in a subject will be able to catch up.

Sometimes I think we've become so concerned with not hurting "feelings" that we've gone to ridiculous lengths. One of my friends has a daughter with a learning disability, who isn't doing so well in school. (She's like in the first grade). My friend is agonizing over maybe holding her daughter back. All the teachers at the school say that holding her back a year would help her a lot, and that they do hold a number of kids back each year. But my friend is afraid about her daughter's feelings. I wanted to say, but did not, "Is it better her feelings get a bit hurt now, or that she is still struggling in high school?" but I didn't.

I think one of the things that people overlook is that there is feeling-hurting stuff going on ALL THE TIME and maybe there's value in, in some circumstances, just accepting the fact that the kid will get his or her feelings hurt - you can't bubble wrap people, and doing so leads to highly dysfunctional adults. (I know. I've had a few  bubble-wrap kids in my classes and it's scary how little they can cope with)

I also think - and I know I've said this before - we need to make trad schools and the skilled trades "respectable" again. It needs to be seen as an equal choice after high school with college and military service. We will always need plumbers and mechanics, and you can't outsource fixing a sink to China. (And frankly, if I had to choose between doing something like small engine repair or sitting in a cubicle filing TPS reports....sign me up for the mechanic's classes. I think I'd actually enjoy being a mechanic, there's an element of problem-solving to it that appeals to me).

Yes, entrepreneurship is possible as well....but I suspect that there are comparatively few Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses out there....and that for every person who talks big about how "All these accomplished rich people didn't need college, that proves college is useless" there are a dozen people stuck doing some job they hate and dreaming of how they can raise enough funds to go to trade school or college.

I don't know. Right now, I get the feeling that lots of schools are training kids for cubicle-work, which is probably not going to be that viable a kind of work in the future - as companies go to a leaner, "higher productivity per person" structure.

I also sometimes wonder if we need to push farming, especially small-scale farming, as a more viable career choice. There is specific education that will benefit someone who wants to farm....there's a growing market for "locally grown" and heirloom varieties and stuff, and while it's a niche market - a person with a small landholding and a willingness to work hard can make a decent living. (Again - that's something that might appeal to me to do.)

I love learning and I mostly love teaching but there have been some problems that have crept into the educational system....

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