Monday, August 23, 2010

Who Is To Blame for School Failure? Part 5 of 5

Read Part 4...

The last reason I can think of for why the public school system is failing our children is the one that is, I suppose, closest to my heart.

I remember being in school. It was not fun. My oldest daughter spent some time in public school. It was not fun either. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that school should be all fun and games. I think work is important and effort is required.

But why, oh why, someone please tell me why….do they have to make it so…darn….boring?

Why must kids sit still in a desk or at a table, for an hour or more at a time, never talking unless called on? Why must they read dry, boring textbooks and observe the world only through pictures on a page?

Kids are smart – far smarter than I think most people, especially government educationists, want to believe. Schools underestimate kids.

Maybe it’s that they are teaching to the least common denominator – the kids with the least skills or the slowest learning abilities. But why must the rest of the kids suffer? And, for that matter, I’m pretty sure the struggling learner would benefit from interesting, active, real-world learning just as much as the cleverer kids, if not even more!

Read what John Taylor Gatto has to say about this in his book Weapons of Mass Instruction:

I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave me the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.

The. Kids. Are. Bored.

Charlotte Mason, a great educator of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, had much to say about the boring books and lessons presented to children in the schools. Read some of her quotes:

"Imagination does not stir at the suggestion of the feeble, much diluted stuff that is too often put into children’s hands."

"Great artists, whether they be poets or painters, builders or musicians, have the power of expressing and showing to the rest of us some part of the wonderful visions Imagination has revealed to them. But the reason why we enjoy their pictures, their poems, or their tales, is because Imagination does the same sort of thing for all of us, if in a less degree."

"Perhaps we shall best use this wonderful power of reasoning by giving it plenty of work to do, by asking ourselves what is the cause of this and that; why do people and animals do certain things. Reason which is not worked grows sluggish; and there are persons who never wonder nor ask themselves questions about anything they see."

"Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form..."

"...for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life."

"The object of children's literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in the reign of whom? -- but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth, but of all those times of which poets, historians and the makers of tales, have left us living pictures. In such ways the children secure, not the sort of information which is of little cultural value, but wide spaces wherein imagination may take those holiday excursions deprived of which life is dreary; judgment, too, will turn over these folios of the mind and arrive at fairly just decisions about a given strike, the question of Poland, Indian Unrest. Every man is called upon to be a statesman seeing that every man and woman, too, has a share in the government of the country; but statesmanship requires imaginative conceptions, formed upon pretty wide reading 'and some familiarity with historical precedents."

The sad fact is that few kids in public schools today are finding anything at school worth being interested in, other than perhaps what’s on the lunch menu that day. Our children have been forced into near-constant laborious learning of dry facts instead of being infused with the joy of learning something of real interest. They are forced to look upon the world as if from behind prison bars, longing to be free, instead of being turned loose upon that world to run and explore and learn all they can about those things which interest them.

I read research once about how we remember best those things which are imprinted upon our minds at emotional times. The emotional part of our brains is far stronger and more powerful than the logical part. This is why, for instance, when watching a scary movie, you actually get scared even though logically you know it’s just a movie.

Children learn better when their emotions are appealed to as well. That is why real life experiences and real books – also known as whole books or living books – are so vitally important to their learning. You can have a ten year old memorize facts about, say, the Civil War, and he or she will probably be able to keep them in memory long enough to pass a test and then forget them. But give that same child books about the Civil War – biographies, historical fiction, even non-fiction written by someone who loves their field of expertise (rather than a board of textbook-writers!) that stimulate their emotions, and they will remember nearly everything they read! They will remember that the Civil War determined the fate of the slaves because they will have spent time on the Underground Railroad with frightened slaves making a dash for freedom. They will remember that the country split in two and fought each other because they will have experienced the emotional farewell of two brothers going to fight on opposite sides of the war. They will know the greatness of Abraham Lincoln because they will have followed his life story from childhood to assassination, getting to really know the man along the way.

But not in the public schools, you won’t. You’ll memorize a page worth of dates, maybe color a map differentiating the North and South, and call it done. And in one year you won’t remember a bit of it.

That is because public schools constantly make:

Education Mistake #8 – Boring Children to Death

So, the question of where are we as a society failing our children is a difficult one. It has no definitive answer. It has many answers, most of which are valid.

Blame can be placed partly on everyone, and wholly on no one.

The government is easy to blame and in fact is the majority of the problem. But parents have done their part as well by failing to be vigilant about what goes on in their children’s lives and education.

We can all point the finger and blame who we want, but the truth is that everyone has played a part in the failing of the American public school system.

The question, then, is what to do about it? Had that question been asked a hundred years ago, perhaps something could have been done. As it is, we’ve had reform on top of reform on top of reform. And the new reforms are not really new at all, they are simply the old ideas glossed over and given new wording and fancy colored graphics.

I really don’t know that there is any way to save the public school system, except to scrap it altogether and start over new. Sometimes it’s just easier to wipe the slate clean and begin again.

Parents need to wake up and realize that they are sending their children off every day to sail on a sinking ship, and sooner or later, that ship will take them down with it.

Please realize that all of this long five-part blog is my opinion. I am not an expert in education history or in solving world problems. But someone asked my opinion, and I thought it was high time I really figured out just what exactly my opinion was, and these blogs are the product of that endeavor. I am sure there are those who will disagree with part or all of what I have had to say, as well as those who agree whole-heartedly. I am sure there are people who could add to the reasons I've thought of. This is my opinion. Its not written for people to argue with, it is simply what I think and where I stand. Please respect that.

I want to close the discussion with yet another excerpt from John Taylor Gatto. He makes an interesting observation in his book Weapons of Mass Instruction and leaves us with a question to ponder:

Do we really need school? I don’t mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years? Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what? Don’t hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn’t, a considerable number of well-known Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out all right. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school ‘system’, and not one of them was ever “graduated” from a secondary school. Throughout most of America’s history, kids generally didn’t go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead. In fact, until pretty recently people who reached the age of thirteen weren’t looked upon as children at all. Ariel Durant, who co-wrote an enormous, and very good, multivolume history of the world with her husband Will, was happily married at fifteen, and who could reasonably claim Ariel Durant was an uneducated person? Unschooled perhaps, but not uneducated.

We have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think “success” is synonymous with, or at least dependent upon, “schooling,” but historically this isn’t true in either an intellectual or a financial sense. And plenty of people throughout the world today find ways to educate themselves without resorting to a system of compulsory secondary schools that all too often resemble prisons. Why, then, do Americans confuse education with just such a system? What exactly is the purpose of our public schools?

1 comment:

  1. I just found your blog and am now following. I look forward to now going to read some of your posts.



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