Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Education is Broken

I am more and more convinced that the American system of education is ludicrously wasteful.  It is designed for a small number of students gifted in a particular way, with a particular learning style.  It is designed for the cultural leader, the future scientist, the researcher, just as the liberal arts college is.  But this is a small percentage of the population.  What is worse is that it often doesn't even give these individuals the best they could get and, because of the drain from the vast majority who are just in the wrong system, it fails to serve even these well.

I'll say it again.  The vast majority of American students need to be prepared to get a job and be healthy contributors to society.  Sure, they need to be able to read and write, but even a minimally effective elementary school system can give them everything they need in general for that.  Beyond that they need 1) to know how to be good members of society in general and 2) to know a skill that will get them a job. Accordingly, the vast majority of high school is a waste of time, except that it gets them off the streets.

Where to begin, where to begin?  I have little confidence at this time in any top down correction.  I think it should best start local, with the government validating, supporting, and then getting out of the way.  Here's my suggestion.  Local businesses should coordinate with local high schools and city administration to create career tracks in high school. The high school would offer courses that equip students for those jobs and those employers would provide internships, job placement, and would be involved in the high school curriculum.

I'm not limiting things to blue collar jobs.  More advanced employers could continue this track through local colleges and work with them as well.  Ball State has a program where a student's last two years of high school are done on campus, doubling for the first two years of college.  Given the waste of time that is most high school senior years, this is a great idea.

Newton had made most of his major discoveries before he was 22.  We're wasting our brightest kids' time.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

For several years, when Wim first began to teach, he taught basic 6th grad math at the university and was also teaching physical science for a local high school. (Fortunately, with his work-load at the time, it was not a hard prep class :)). These were college age students and our daughter, who was in the 6th grade was doing "higher math" than these.

The Army has recently said that many of the enlisted don't have the basic skills to read, write and do arithmetic.

For a long time, America's scores for math and science have been at the bottom. But, when educators are focusing more on how they teach than what they teach, there is little content and the student may go away feeling good about themselves, but don't know "squat". Recently, a report came out that affirmed the self-confidence of American students. Dumb and don't know it.

I have been very pleased to see students come through Wim's physics classes, spending hours on his tests, and making lower grades than they are used to, and yet, they still "love him"! But, he knows that if he doesn't help them think conceptually, then they will not be able to apply the right formula and know how and why it is applied...the pre-meds have definately benefited on their MCATs.

More teachers should be interested in benefitting the student and not getting by with the least amount of work. Wim spends hours painstakingly taking the time to go through every step of a problem to give credit where he can and to show the student where their error is, so they can learn as well as make a better grade. He could've taken the easy road out and given a test that is graded by a computor.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Even though educators have understood that not everyone learns conceptually, or factually, experience will not even make an impact until some students reach a certain maturity.

Each student is different in so many ways, there is no universal way that meets each student's need. This is why parents are so important in being a part of the educational process.

JohnM said...

I agree the education system is broken and largely for the reasons cited in your first paragraph.


"...they need 1) to know how to be good members of society in general and 2) to know a skill that will get them a job."

2) - Knowing a skill - will make a great contribution toward achieving 1). Beyond that contribution we need to stop taking it for granted that turning out "good members of society" is the proper function of public educational institutions.

Nate said...

I'm a high school math teacher, and I agree that the school system is broke. I also, agree that we waste students time, especially in high school. I have a couple thoughts...

I know that in most foreign countries(the ones we trail) students are tracked and those in lower tracks enter trade type training. Those students aren't scored. That is one reason why our scores are lower for high school age students. We test everyone in public schools. Well that, and private school students don't take the assessments.

In the movie Ratatouille the antagonist Anton Ego writes..."In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."
This is true of student as well, in America though we spend too much time trying to make everyone a great artist instead of identify those that are great. But the message that everyone isn't "gifted" or capable of greatness is a hard sell in America.

Concerning finding a skill, one of difficulties our country faces is that there aren't enough blue collar jobs to get skilled in.

I believe most (not all) people would love to have a job that he or she could get after college and work in until retirement, but isn't our world anymore. There isn't a single skill a person can get by with, the skill people need is how to adapt and gather new skills. But that is hard to teach, and even harder to do. Most people don't have the intellectual capacity to be successful in that fashion.

Ken Schenck said...

The question of even having jobs for people worries me. When I think about what work we could put the relatively low level work force of Marion, for example, I am a little stymied. I have thoughts about growing local produce or building local products. I think about local services. Such enterprises can't compete with Wal-Mart and we hate the thought of local government running such programs. Still, it would be better than being on welfare and sitting at home.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you for your sevice to our youth.

Several observations due to experience, both officially and as a parent.

1.) When children have ADD or ADHD and the parent has consorted with the teacher trying to find a way to help thier child, the teacher is responsible to tell the parent if there are behavioral issues, and not isolate, punish, or label the child. Some teachers can use "gossip" in their school lounges that breeds prejuidice against a certain student.

2.) Whenever there is a child that one doesn't particularly like, one cannot let this be a hinderance to furthering the child's welfare. Discouragment and discrimination do nothing for the child's ability to believe in his abilities and develop them. Teachers that have a strict, or "wooden" view of behavior, lend nothing to the child's welfare. When I was in junior high school, there was tracking. My test scores were at the top, but due to a teacher's discrimination, I wasn't "approved" to go to the Alegabra and Biology class in 9th grade. This one teacher affected the rest of my life, in that, I didn't have the ability to take certain classes in high school due to my "track". Who knows what might have been? My parents or grandparents weren't "in the picture" regarding my education.

I don't envy your position and am glad that my husband teaches at a university.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

On the other hand, my brother wasn't considered "at the top", but my mother and step-father did see to it that he was tutored. He went to the Citadel for summer schools, and ended up with a Master's degree. When he was told he could not make the football team due to his size, they took him to a nearby city to get him steroid injections. He, then was on the "first string". They supported and encouraged him. It does make a difference whether the parent takes an interest, as well, so I am not suggesting that teachers are the only culprit to the child's success.

Ken Schenck said...

I like the Ratatouille illustration. Anyone should have the chance at any time to switch tracks. I was the opposite of you Angie. I apparently tested badly in the 5th grade and when I was getting absolutely nothing out of regular math in the 6th the teacher asked my parents to make a decision about switching tracks. Being timid, I didn't really want to, but the decision was made and I am very thankful for it.

I do think that mainstreaming is a noble problem right now. Students who need special care and attention are put in class with those who could move much more quickly. The ADHD kid who genuinely needs special attention can make it very difficult for the student who can pay attention.

Finding the right mix of in class and out of class is certainly not an easy equation and the school boards and legislatures that set the rules don't seem very good at this math.