Rant on Education

Inspired by a late night chat about the failures of education … as I was doing a time-filler exercise from one of my teachers. Oh how we love irony.

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I’m not exactly sure where I’m going to go in this post, but I do know that in order to do a full OPVL on anything that I write, you should probably know a little more background about me, my educational experiences, and what has influenced me to be where I am.

As covered in a couple of older posts, I’m pretty engrossed in education these days. It hasn’t always been that way though. Even though I have always been in a family that has heavily focused on the pursuit of education, the schools that I attended didn’t constantly reflect that view point.

Through my elementary and middle school years, I attended the Farragut group of schools, located in a suburb of Knoxville. Within the Appalachia cultural region of America, one of the less prosperous areas of the US, there isn’t really that large of a regard for education. Even though I was exceptionally blessed to be attend one of the wealthier schools, as well as having certain opportunities to challenge myself, there wasn’t the same culture of education that was at Farragut than there may be here, in Bellevue. Primarily, not all the students had their long term goal to go into academia, or needed that level of education.

Cultural shock was a big part of moving to Bellevue, if not in the edge-city feel, then in the radical change in the attitude of the people around me. The air of discovery, masked beneath a faux display of contempt was enough to drive me through 8th grade and into high school, to where I stand today. I would like to believe this fabulous little lie, that because of my origins, I am able to appreciate this education better than others, even though that’s fallen through so many times, evident in my own actions. Still withstanding, however, is my passion to learn.

And from there, why don’t we start on my rant?

Definitely me. Whenever I get angry I just have to put on a suit and tie to express that anger.

One of the biggest things, that I’ve noticed, well, not really me, but everybody has noticed, is this disinterest in education. Asking a student whether if he likes school is to some extent a rhetorical question; everyone expects young children to dislike school almost as much as we would expect them to like ice cream. Attitudes of these adults quickly transgresses to children, who exhibit many anti-school behaviors.

It might start off small, with just a general poor attitude towards the busy work of grade school, but eventually grows deeper, especially in middle school. In that time period, a negative feedback loop of “model” high schoolers imparting their jaded ideas upon these easily impressionable students. Even the most motivated student begins to dread the treadmill that is the homework situation in high school. As they grow, more students buy into the attitude that education isn’t important at all. There are easier ways to make money, as students fantasize of sports scholarships or sudden stardom. Who needs school?

With such negative attitudes, how would we expect students to properly learn, to be fascinated by the ideas and look past the data tables and see the graphs? How would we expect students to take away from our institution of education the most key point, the one thing that should be imparted, the one piece of knowledge critical to each individual’s success, their ability to imagine?

Even with all the shortcomings of our student views, we are not solely responsible for our behaviors. Just as upperclassmen could have a large influence upon younger students, so can the adults that are around these teens, probably more than some parents are. Teachers undertake a very noble position of being educator, inspirer and caretaker for students everywhere.

Awww yisss. This picture is beautiful. Not being used ironically at all.

However, between you and me, I can’t imagine how they do it. To teach the same lesson, every day for 5 periods, and then to do the same lesson plan year after year, while dealing with the individual problems of each class…. lets just say that I do not particularly envy Middle/High school teachers. But when the kids you deal with are not only unmotivated, but instead entirely hostile towards every action you do, the limited amount of control exerted through grades quickly falls through the gaps; what do grades matter to a student who has already decided that education does not matter?

In these situations, it’s easier to envision a teacher doing crowd control, rather than imparting information. I remember vividly a teacher in middle school who was a favorite among average students, for the one reason that no knowledge was transferred in his classes. He would teach the same lesson, and hand out the same worksheet for weeks on end, and then pass out answers to his own quizzes like candy on Halloween (simile is valid because he literally had a candy bowl with answers in it that he passed out as our Halloween treat).

Although I have only seen perhaps 4-5 of these types of teachers all my life, I have heard much from other peers of how they work. And even barring the bias that we may hold towards these people, it still stands that the actions of a few bad apples may be enough to influence a whole crop of students. A weak teacher could easily lead a class towards boredom, and a bored class is oh so much more likely to reject education.

At this point, it seems like we have an ouroboros of a situation at our hand.

Ourororororororboboboboborus

You can’t break out of the cycle of students without having a radical change in the teacher structure, and it is remarkably hard to have a radical change in the teacher structure without having a massive shift in the student’s attitude.

Perhaps we should move on towards even more problems.

Obviously, uninspiring teachers are not the only thing that is causing a drop-off in student interest. What else is leading towards this?

It’s an easy question. Ask any student what they hate most of school, and the probability of NOT hearing “I hate homework” is about equivalent to achieving a combined score of 45 in the IB diploma. The repetition of concepts, the molasses-like speed of progress, the monotony of daily routines. Kids have a romanticized idea of childhood, odd as it may seem, but it is plain that the patterns of school is not preferred by anyone. Adults grimace and groan as they see homework on their kids, while well meaning aunts might just let it slip how much they hated school when they were younger.

If everyone dislikes the standardized nature of school so much, why don’t we change it all?

Honestly, I think that the main root cause for this is the relative age of our modern, US educational system. Consider that the mere idea of what a teenager is was not fully realized until the 1930s, where, the Fair Labor Standards Act (APUSH REVIEW) passed in the New Deal by FDR and fully stopped child labor. Take into account also that as late as the 1880s, there was still a 20% illiteracy rate and even into the 1940s, (assuming a equal gender distribution), only 9.3% of all people graduated from college. [For data geeks only]. Education as we know it has come a long way from that original area, and we have much to thank towards the traditional methods of cramming and studying.

But today, perhaps it really is time for a change.

How would we even begin to change? Perhaps we should look at some examples of countries that have achieved educational nirvana.

Finland.

Soooo bluuuueeeeee

Since the 2012 report from Pearson Education, Finland has been in the spotlight for not only what they have, clearly an abundance of willpower, but also what they didn’t have: standardized testing, homework, etcetera. Article after article has been written on why they are outperforming US kids in every way. However, I think I can summarize the gist of their ideas easily: It all lies in cultural attitudes.

Consider how much Americans place upon the profession of teaching; in fact, there is this oft badly quoted verse: “Those who can’t do, teach” (Maxims for Revolutions, George Bernard Shaw). If that’s the attitude that we have towards teachers, how do we expect bright minds of one generation to pass on to the next? How can we expect a universal uplifting of our students if we can’t look their teachers squarely in the eye and say, I fully respect you?

Look at those beautiful stars, at exact 36 degree angles from the central star.

Even though I don’t expect a full turnaround to how teachers are respected in China, where according to some traditions, make up one of the 5 stars on the national flag (the other stars representing the farmer, worker, soldier, and of course the big star for the communist leader), I would love to see a gradual awakening in how we treat our teachers. To see that teachers could be payed more equally, or just the simple recognition from other adults like how soldiers are treated (well they sorta face the same kind of mania every day) (not putting down soldiers in any way).

Finally, because I don’t really know how to segue into this, there’s a problem with conformity at our schools. Similar to the above point of raising everyone’s education, the system is also very much known for squashing those who rise too far above the pack. Those who aren’t able to mesh with teachers, schools, or the general structure of schools are neglected, even if they could exhibit great intelligence and a deep capacity for original thought. I’m not saying that it is bad to conform; personally, I believe that people should be able to accept conformity for the betterment of society. What I am saying is that this rigid hierarchy is destroying the futures of great potential thinkers and dreamers.

So, summary: Student and teacher attitudes, combined with boredom and a need for standardization, is ruining education today for millions.

What could we do to fix this?

There is a movement for independent learning, as well as movements for online education. I’m not sure of the viability of these options, but perhaps that stems from a fear of losing what I have today, rather than fear of the future.

My own ideal system is as follows:

Design something similar to the British system, as in there would be stratification of education. However, stratification is completely up to the student. All students receive basic training in HOW to learn, using basic reading, writing and arithmetic as samples as well as the basic skills that everyone is expected with. However, from an early age students can decide to go into a more vocational training, or a more academic training. Within those broad groups, there will be much intermingling between students, as to open as many doors as possible. No standardized tests would be given, but each teacher would be required to comment on the aptitude of their students, for the student’s benefit, not their own. When it comes time to go find a job, less emphasis would be placed on the location or degree of education, but instead, a larger focus would be placed on mandatory letters of recommendation from your teachers, who comment on educational aptitude and learning experiences, rather than actual smarts. Also important for jobs would be a topical test based on specific skills needed for the job, rather than an overarching degree.

Through this system, I hope to be able to provide everyone with the education they want and they deserve. It should go without saying that in this “perfect” universe, everyone fully respects teachers and there is minimal cheating, because there would be no net benefit from cheating.

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This began feeling more and more of a word bomb after the 1000 word mark. I’m not so good at writing longer essays, not nearly as good as the masterpieces in the New York Times or even the New Yorker. Still, I hope that my ideas were interesting enough to incite even the tiniest spark of revolution in you.

Join the revolution. Fight for justice and education.

Part of a series on education.

Previous: Standardized Tests

Next: What Next?

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2 thoughts on “Rant on Education

  1. Or EVEN the New Yorker. ;) I think you make some very valid points in this post. I think it’s not difficult to identify the crux of the problem — which is the fact that one system cannot fit everyone’s needs, and everyone comes from cultures that put different amounts of importance on education — but rather to address it in a tactful, effective way. How do you fit so many cultures, mindsets, educational backgrounds, parenting, etc. under one umbrella? Or rather, should we have many umbrellas? And if so, what should those umbrellas be?

  2. Reblogged this on afanofideas and commented:
    THIS is the post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now, but here’s someone who’s written it better than I ever could have. :)

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