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Problem Solving: The WAR for Education
Posted by James Rando on Jan 27, 2006, 20:58
Rando here, the only ‘R’ that matters, for another installment of Problem Solving! Since this subject is quite extensive, let’s get right into it.
There are actually quite a few problems with the current American educational system, mostly in the elementary and secondary levels. I shall break it down into three prime categories.
1. Learning Curve
2. No Child Left Behind
3. Reaching For The Lowest Rung On The Ladder
Each of these three categories, which will be explained as we move on, has led to a slowdown in development even as technology for education has continued to improve. Children today have more avenues open to explore, and more available to them to help walk along those avenues than any generation in history. Anything that there is a will to be taught and learned can be, yet problems have continued to come up within the system. Every child gathers information in a different manner; each one has its own system that it uses to get the most out of every-day life. This system exists on almost a genetic level - a natural need to learn and explore the environment around them, yet where there seems to be no end in sight, there are in fact walls created to hold back development.
Between birth and about the age of five, a child’s ability to learn is exponentially higher than any other time in their life. They are constantly observing, touching, tasting, smelling, and simply living in whatever they are placed into, picking up information at a pace that is so rapid that if it were able to continue until even the age of ten could potentially put that child on the same mental level as that of a current high school graduate. Sadly, after the age of five, a child’s learning curve begins to flatten out immensely, thanks to the work camp-like constructs of the elementary educational system. The rigidity of learning as it is presented between the ages of five and eighteen, roughly first through twelfth grade, causes boredom which in turn creates a lack of attention centered on the one thing that needs the most attention brought to it - the child’s education. If the children themselves can not concentrate on what educators and parents present to them as needed knowledge, then one of two problems, maybe even both, are occurring. Either (a) the children do not feel the knowledge is necessary to their growth as they did with everything else in their life or (b) the way in which the information is given to them is hitting them in such a way that it is mentally creating situation (a).
Both problems are possible, though (b) is more likely in the current world of elementary and high school education. Classroom learning, or the majority of it, has been bled down generation after generation to the point where it relies more on memorization than on practical use. Sure, the “three R’s” are important, but when students can truthfully say they are only memorizing information to get past tests or to another grade, then it begins to show cracks in the system. Now, I am not saying that learning about the sciences, history, or any other subject is worthless, far from it; but what I am trying to show is that the way teachers go about giving the information to the students is done in such a way that actually makes the entire concept of learning a chore instead of a desire. As stated before, children (or anyone else for that matter) have a natural desire to want to learn and explore, yet somehow, some way, the schools have found a way to take away that desire and instead instill in a child’s mind what one may consider a hatred or fear of the same knowledge they used to crave. A child should never look at school like some look at their jobs. A child should never pray for a weekend the way many in the working class do (a feeling that indeed could have originated in the schoolyard).
A child should, however, see each day as a chance to learn something new. Yet this does not happen. In fact, some parents are often surprised to find out that a child enjoys their days at school and is diligent with their homework, touting their son or daughter to other parents as if they are doing something special, when in fact they are doing the one thing they should be doing, whereas other children, the children that march into school each day with a grimace and put in their eight hours of work before heading home to rest, are seen as the norm in the society. These children, those that have had the desire to learn taken away from them, are those that should have the attention placed on them, and not in a way that involves punishment or ridicule. They are the majority, a group that continues to grow as the years pass, and may soon be too much for even the greatest educators of our time to handle.
It truly is a shame to see the ways in which our childhood affects the rest of our lives. I know that without some of the things I learned in my time in school I would be much less of a person. Yet the older I get, the more I see problems arising locally and even nationally with the way the system has been put to use.
This has nothing to do with politics, not at all, but the policy of “No Child Left Behind” has seen itself to be quite a detriment. For those that understand and have the willingness to learn, why must they sit back and idle for precious days or weeks while the rest of their classmates receive special attention that they only wish they could get, catching up on information that was apparently not important enough to the child the first time it was covered. If it is because of a mental or learning disorder, that is one thing. If it is because a child is selfish or uncaring about their own education, then that is another problem entirely.
A solid education is the most important thing a child can have during those younger years, but when push comes to shove and teachers must place that much concentrated effort on only a small number of students that happen to fall behind, it begs the question of why that much effort can not be placed on the whole of the class all of the time. Why can’t it? It is known that every child learns differently. They absorb information at different paces and in different ways. Some children are more aural and some are more visual and still others lie somewhere in the middle. To pull a child away from a more aural-centric class because of their need for visualization is arrogant and detrimental. Arrogant because, I’m sorry, not all teachers can teach all students.
I am a firm believer that every child has a perfect learning environment somewhere for them, but it should not be all on the student or all on the teacher to figure out what is needed. I know in my own history there were times when I wished I could have had more tools to help me besides just a long lecture and pages and pages of notes. But even though I could suffer through those classes because of my interest in the material, sometimes the lack of interest is the worst culprit of all.
Personally, it is very difficult for me to learn anything unless I have some sort of interest in it. Not every child has an interest in every subject, and in fact it is usually the exact opposite, especially later in the high school curriculum or while in college. In my local area, students are required in high school (and probably even in elementary school) to take certain classes and be given certain information to learn. Elementary students go through a lot of classes for their reading and writing and math skills, while in middle and high school it is usually a grouping of various english, math, science, and history classes that make up the core of someone’s day. Are these classes needed? Most would say yes, I say that it depends on the student and their ability to put a vested interest into those classes day in and day out. Now, however, there seems to be even less of a reason for a child to pay attention, as some teachers are forced to simply pass students with low "D"s and let them move on to the next level as a way to avoid parental hassle/harassment and the red tape that is involved in holding a student back.
If, in actuality, teachers were paid on how well their students learned, like a commission of sorts, determined by state-wide independent testing you can almost guarantee that teachers would only be looking for those students that they know want to learn that information and feel they need to have it. A teacher would not be looking for students that march through their day counting down the seconds until the last bell rings. Would this mean that less students would get a proper education? I don’t think so. I think it would cause a lot of reform in the educational system on a level of preparing younger students for what is ahead of them in a way that has them interested in as many subjects as possible so that as they make it through high school they can begin to consciously pick and choose what classes they need to attend in order to prepare themselves for the future. The earlier a student begins to formulate their ideas for the rest of their life, the sooner they can begin to concentrate on it and work towards that goal. In my own personal case, I had always seen computer science as an ideal place for me. I took all of my high school’s fundamental computer courses, but I did not really learn anything that I had not already learned just in my time on a home PC.
When I finally got to college, I began to realize the concentration on computer programming languages had me stunned and not exactly interested . I can say without a doubt that I failed in looking at my opinions and I failed to look ahead into the future. I did not have the guidance nor did I search out the guidance I needed to make me realize that I could very well be making a wrong decision as to what I am putting my time and energy into. For the record, I ended up in a Television & Film major with a minor in writing - two things I have a large interest in (except for television programming - a class that I indeed had to suffer through for fifteen weeks and continually ask myself why it was important for me to learn information that was both mostly common sense and also completely irrelevant to the rest of my life).
And I know that I am not the only one to go through school that way. I know that I sat in classes every single day with many other people who saw absolutely no need to process everything that was being shoveled on them simply because it was that teacher’s job to do so and because that class was something that was required that every student had to take. I am not saying that some classes are worthless - far from it. What I am saying is that some classes are worthless to some students, at least at that point in time in their lives. But I can say this - if you are not exactly interested in history or science on a high school level, there it is almost destined that you will not be in a history or science-related major come college time. It is not a teacher’s job to force students to be interested in the material. It is a teacher’s job to simply put the information out there in a way that will help those that are interested learn, and usually that in and of itself is enough to interest at least a few other students, but probably not everyone. The earlier a child or even teenager begins to focus themselves on the rest of their lives, the better off they are in the long run. You should not have to wait until you are a high school senior to start to panic and depress on what your future holds and how you are going to be able to get there. By then it is almost a worthless leap into the abyss that college can be for the under informed, undereducated, and under prepared students of the generation. The third problem mentioned at the beginning of this article, reaching for “the lowest rung on the ladder”, does not help the dire situation at all.
This problem begins in the idea that a student “just needs a passing grade” and continues up through college, where getting real-life experience can get tough, even with internships, leading to graduates being forced to cling for the entry-level positions, regardless of how much work they have put in at least in terms of school work. Corporate America has such a need for employees with experience that it is rare to find a job in which little to no experience is necessary. And for some that have worked so hard for years and years for a certain goal, being denied simply because of the time they spent earning a degree instead of putting time into a workforce that they could not have even gotten into without that degree makes the job search depressing and almost pointless. This is just as much a problem of the business-world as it is of the educational-world, as sometimes even getting an entry-level job is tough due to the requirements of the position being different or more difficult than the requirements of the degree that was just obtained.
Schools try so hard to give students a balanced learning experience in each major and minor that sometimes there is not enough specialization or specification for certain students to really get what they need out of the money and time they are spending to be there. Companies make millions off the idea that students have to pay out of pocket with interest for an education they had supposedly earned through their high school education. Now, there are a minority of students that did well enough in those high school areas to find a way to get their collegiate time paid for in full - but that is a definite minority compared to the hundreds of thousands that did “well enough” in high school but are still trying to make something of their lives.
Also, there is the increasing number of students that are able to do amazingly well in the “no child left behind” situation of high school, only to fall on their face in college because they were not adequately prepared for the differences between the two. It has been said that for every one hour of college class time, there can be upwards of two to three hours of homework - making college a full-time job (which it was originally intended to be anyway). For students putting themselves through school with part-time jobs, this makes their lives even more stressful and difficult, and can lead to fairly or that “just barely passed” attitude that keeps them moving up through the ranks, but only by the skin of their teeth, something that should not be happening with those on that level of scholastic study.
To stand at a college graduation knowing that you did well and are being forced to look at students, some of whom just barely fought and clawed their way to the ceremony, is quite depressing. Some think they may have a better chance of succeeding in the real world due to higher GPAs, but an employer may be more apt to look at experience than grades, and if a lower-grade student possesses that experience, you might find yourself out of luck. Now, I am not going to attack any student whose grades falter due to being over-worked while trying to earn their way through school. That is a situation that sadly is happening more and more in today’s society, but what I am saying is that there are many who have chosen to go through every level of school with the knowledge that a C or a D will get them through to the next level, and are content working just that hard to get there while others have chosen to work jobs and do their best to keep their grades higher - yet all of them end up on nearly the exact same level once they enter the job world.
To say the idea itself is genius is laughable at best and pitiful to say the least. But it is the creation of that mind set early on in a child’s mind and an increased fear of holding them back for their own good that is causing problems in the broad scheme. I said it before and I will repeat it now - every student learns at a different pace, yet 99.99% of the children in this country have the exact same twelve years to learn everything they can to prepare them for the two to six or eight years of college and the real life after. I am not trying to place the brunt of the blame on the schools, as a lot of learning is done in the “world” and just living each day. Without proper education of those menial everyday tasks, it can life just as hard if not harder for later in life. It is the reason there is such a term as “babysitting” and unfortunately also the reason for the term “latch-key kid” as some children are left to fend for themselves for a period of time each day when parents are out working to support them. It is a double-edged sword of business versus family that many people must face day in and day out as they try to give their children the best without actually being there for them.
Your parents said it to you, and you will most likely say it to your own children - “We just want you to do better than we did.” Parents say it as if it is a given that children with a myriad of opportunities laid in front of them will make the best of it and become more than they ever thought possible - but without an education it may not be known to those children that all of those chances and opportunities actually exist or are waiting for them.
To say that the educational system of this country needs a complete overhaul is pushing it, but there are so many flaws in the framework that it is unbelievable we have as much success with it as we as a nation do.
For starters, dismiss the idea of total conformity for your children. Teachers are being pushed into the workforce every single year and fight for positions. If we as a society cared as much about our child’s education as we say we do, then budgeting time, people, and resources to the cause would be no problem and cause no hassle from the public. Instead, schools are rapidly consolidating to place even more students under one set of guidelines for their learning when it is clear that the opposite should be occurring. Students should see learning as an open book for them to discover anything they wish, and being sequestered in a small room with one teacher for thirty to forty students with an airtight unbreakable lesson plan is not something that is going to nurture mental and personal growth.
There is a war going on for education, and it is being lost every single day that another student stares at a blackboard, book, or test and has absolutely no idea what is going on or what they are truly looking at. Open up the schools and let each child take their own education to the places they want it to go. Let them learn at the pace that suits them, just as they did as newborns and toddlers. Continuing and enhancing that kind of system can only lead to good things, and will keep children that are way ahead of the learning curve from waiting around from those trailing behind and will help keep them from having to settle for the lowest rung on the ladder when the time comes to truly experience the real world, or at least the real world as we see it now.
The real world as it is meant to be should be experienced as much as possible from as early on as it is warranted. Reality is not a secret club that you need special papers or experience to jump into. It is all around us and being taken for granted the more people see it as something that needs prepared for. Eighteen years of life as we know it now, at least, are spent caged up as much as possible by parents and educators that did not have nearly as much emotional and mental suffocation as our generation has today, yet now they feel it is what is best for us and their children? Sure, society changes, but for some reason the school system really has not evolved in the same way. There may be places where this kind of education is preferred and pushed, but it is quite drastically in the minority, even though it is psychologically better for the student. A child that does not need to conform to the idea of “I am in grade 3 now” or “I need to get a C to pass” and instead has the ability to learn at his or her own pace with a focus being on what is learned and applied rather than memorized and repeated are much more likely to grow on mental and emotional levels than the former.
Parents should also keep in mind that, because every child is different, touting off one’s success over another’s is like saying that an apple is better than a banana. The way your child is able to grasp the studies of science and math is great, but if another child is excelling more in art and history, there is no need to place one pedestal higher than the other, regardless of how science is compared to art in the corporate world. Instead, look at each child as it’s own being and help it move toward wherever it is traveling at any given moment. The finish line may switch positions hundreds of times in those years, but I would say that it is better to have a changing destination than to not have any destination at all.
To those still in school, I say try your best to make use of everything you are given.
To those fresh out of school, I hope you did try your best and see your dreams come to fruition.
To the parents, and to the teachers, I say that the future is in your hands, and with your help it can be brighter than anyone believes is possible. But have faith in what your children and your students can do. You would be surprised what can be accomplished if we all share a common goal. We can win the war for education, but we have to start fighting now.
That’s it for this week. Tune in next week as I begin to explore the subject of parental right to know versus the teenage right to privacy. I can be reached via PM through our very own forums or through email at [email protected]. Until next time, please remember...for every problem, there is a solution.
Note: Though above I state that the educational system does not need an overhaul, in a few weeks time I will be presenting a special edition of "Problem Solving", where I will indeed do just that. Stay tuned.