So why does School suck? Because public education (and the bureaucrats who run it) suck the joy out of it, and beat it with a conformity stick until anything that once resembled individuality looks like roadkill on the edge of a highway. Which is why homeschoolers are generally happier and outperform the indoctrinated drones that go to the liberal re-education camp. Here are a few things I'd try to make school better.
When I complain about public education, or tell stories about My Education, some people often use a fallacious technique of demanding I offer how I would improve it. Even if I couldn't, it wouldn't change that the current system is broken (not functioning near optimum). But in the spirit of trying, here goes nothing.
Every subject in school has a problem. Schools try to suck the life and fun out of learning, and then they wonder why most kids treat it like work. Bureaucrats have tried to boil the process down into things that make their lives easier. It is "too hard" to allow teachers to teach and to do the assessments on every child individually, so they do what is politically correct and easier for them, by making all kids fit their factory floor education.
I was listening to a story (on NPR) the other day where some famous writers (Newberry Medal Winning ones) were talking about problems with reading (reading comprehension) in our schools today; and their biggest problem was that schools were killing kids interest in reading. The teachers would assign book reports, that required the kids to analyze books by writing a book report on each chapter; and try to anticipate the next chapter, and so on. It wasn't about getting something out of the book or stimulating thought, or the pleasure of the story. It was about bland analyzing the style or motivations of the authors. Instead of focusing on the story/world, they had to focus on the authors intent (as interpreted by a Marxist instructor). Is it a wonder why kids hated that?
A writer was asked by a teacher, "How should I teach this book". The authory replied, "Huh? Let the kids read it, and then tell you what they got from it; you don't need to analyze it to death". I doubt the teacher got it. Why should s/he, s/he was probably been taught to teach, and if s/he didn't like that method, sh/e'd have gone off and done something else. But adults are learning to enjoy reading not because of their education, but in spite of it.
The problem is that teachers need to make assignments and create normalized grades for reading that are easier for them to grade. They can teach the easy way or the hard way. The hard way is to actually spend time with each student to figure out (on a case by case basis) their motivation and comprehension in reading by oral and written means, and let kids read and work on subjects that interest them. Teachers don't have time for that, and that isn't "standardized" enough. Better to create lots of cookie cutter assignments that try to test various "learning objectives", and teach students in lockstep (like an assembly line) so that teachers become rubber stamping bureaucrats.
Verbal communication and writing are even worse. It takes a lot to actually assess someone's ability to communicate. How well do ideas and concept come across? Can they argue cogently? Do they have critical reason skills? Nah, all that is too hard, and is the point of teaching. Better to focus on the pedantics and minutiae. Did they make stupid spelling or grammar mistakes? Did they stutter during a verbal presentation, or make mistakes in form, instead of measuring their ability to communicate in function. And critical reasoning is basically ignored until college; and often is just a side class then. Does anyone else think something's missing there?
History is this brilliant melange of ambiguity. There are all these interesting people who did interesting things, for many different reasons. And all these varied interpretations of what happened, and why. Good people that did rotten things, and vice versa. Roosevelt (FDR) was this interesting tyrant that played people off of one another, he had socialist tendencies and did things that we would consider criminal today. Benjamin Franklin may have created the post office, just so he could swap porn with his friends. Many of our founding fathers had profit motives for their actions. Lincoln and Kennedy were horribly unpopular and not particularly effective (in some ways); until after they were shot. Many of our presidents were whoring around and had the morals of alley cats, and violated the spirit of our laws, if not the letter. Hellen Keller was a socialist extremist. Henry Ford was probably closer to a fascist. But the school board can't allow that to be taught; that might spark the interest kids, and the outrage of the snowflake lefties. How can you turn tales of love, sex, war, murder, men's motivations into boring drivel that kids will hate doing? Let the education boards edit it until it becomes politically digestible milquetoast:
- School teaches kids to memorize dates and names and places, but not to understand what happened or why.
- There is no ambiguity in high school history.
- Even when the "approved" history books are wrong, you can't show contrary evidence or discuss it; teachers must follow state-approved lesson plans and books. Trust me on that one; I tried.
- Kids graduate not understanding a lick about what really happened or why. And they're so programmed to conform, they freak the fuck out and attack anyone that shows anything that contradicts the dogma (brainwashing) that they were indoctrinated with.
- You can't teach that people might be good in one aspect of their lives, and lousy humans in others; why that's life -- we must have pure heroes and villains, then wonder why they think everyone that disagrees with them is Hitler.
- All because we need to make the administrators lives easier, by filtering out all the gray's and contradictions, so we can allow our school books to be designed by committee and delivered based on what is politically correct (or at least tolerable) and only teach black and white absolutes that can be agreed on in some meeting.
Math is this wonderfully fun thing; you can solve all sorts of practical problems. How do you balance your checkbook, figure out investments, deal with loans and compound interest? How about sale prices, and so on? What about building a house or a bridge? How about calculating the goods needed to complete various projects, or manufacture something? What about engineering and practical physics? Kids have an interest in behaving like adults and doing adult jobs. If you teach them how to do that stuff, they have an interest. The best math class I had was "applied math" class, that taught me many of those things. It was considered dumbbell math (an elective math credit) because it was how to apply math concepts to life, instead of the "pure" academic theory. How dare you teach out of the pure form (the abstract)? Of course when you suck all the practical applications out of problems and teach them rote memorization of theorems, or algorithms without how and why they are used, then it becomes glorious tedium. Guess how math is usually taught?
Political Science and Sociology. Again, very interesting stuff. That is if you aren't trying to pound propaganda into kids and stay politically correct. Make some kids debate and defend both sides of an issue and actually think. Look at the good Hitler was doing (from his countries point of view) to get such support in the first place. What about the worlds anti-Semitism at the time that tolerated such things, and is what Hitler was feeding on? (And the U.S.'s ignoring of the problem and sending Jewish kids and families back to Europe to be exterminated?) Look at why Stalin created the iron curtain. And so on. Not that I think the ends can justify the means in any of those cases; but the point is you need to discuss, think and explore in order to really learn. But we prevent that because that might be unpopular or controversial. So suck the life out of it, and bore kids instead; that will foster learning.
Religion and Philosophy; talk about seriously interesting subjects. I'd love to take a college level religion class, and put it in grade school (or at least Jr. High). Here are the different religions of the world, what they stand for, and what they believe and their histories. Here are various philosophies and when they happened and what some of their greatest advocates did. Here is what people split over, and why! Bring in different garb and explain relics and rites and rituals, and talk about their temples. Gads, we can't teach that! That might educate kids! Someone once said we shouldn't have an organized state religion, and so obviously that means that we can't discuss religion in school?!?! What bullshit. Separation of church and state became more of a problem when we federalized the school system; but still, you can teach what religions are, you just have to make sure you aren't teaching preaching one religion. Instead, we dodge one of the most significant issues in people's lives for the sake of administrators. But kids are taught they are supposed to be tolerant of all that stuff they don't understand. So ignorant tolerance is the learning objective there.
The best classes I had, were the least structured and most liberal artsy, and least valued by academia. (They aren't official strands). Wood and metal shop, Homemaking, Art, auto shop, P.E., computer programming electives, psychology, those are the classes that probably taught me the most about life and just getting the project done (on my own). I truly believe the reason is that the teachers were allowed more to teach, and there was less micromanagement by the board of education because that stuff was ìbelowî them (or under their radar). I also sadly believe that soon, they'll feel the need to structure those to death as well; and I've already seen them starting a negative trend there too.
What about social skills? Teaching kids management classes, or communication skills (at it applies to interact with others and conflict avoidance), the art of negotiations, and so on? All the stuff we need to learn in the workplace, at home or in the therapist's office? What about relationship interactions and how to deal with a spouse, kid or parent? Most of the coping skills that will make people understand how to succeed in life; those are the job of dysfunctional parents or slow painful self-discovery? I love how school shirks any responsibility that might positively impact society.
Even Sex Ed is taught only in the mechanical, ìin, out, repeat if necessary; but don't do it or you'll get a nasty case of rotten crotchî. Or the politically correct, ìwait until marriage; but here's a condomî. The true things the kids want to discuss, relationships and social interactions, we can't talk about because it would make administrators lives hell; so let the kids talk about it themselves; that way their views can be skewed towards the perspective of teens; and it will take them years (or decades) to learn on their own. Then lets act surprised when teens feel that adults are out of touch and don't listen. Hello? Is anyone out there?
All these problems have solutions. Unfortunately, the solutions require change (which administrators and teachers hate), or they require going through controversy, instead of avoiding it (which they hate even more). But whose running our schools and what is education for? Is it to make administrators lives easier, or to treat kids like proto-adults and help them grow into productive, responsible, contributing beings?
What are the solutions? That's easy; just keep firing administrators and teachers until they start doing their jobs, or their replacement does it. Their job is to educate the kids. Yes, it is hard and yes, kids are trying. That doesn't mean you make kids fit your mold, and throw out the rest. Their job is to adapt to kids and educate them anyway, even when it is hard. And the responsibility to force that change is ours (societies). We pay the bills, and they are supposed to be doing our bidding; I just don't think they are doing it well.
Bad teachers stick around forever. Good teachers burn out, after beating their heads against the wall long enough. And you can't possibly offer merit-raises or bonuses based on what students think of them? No one wants to fight the NEA, or even publicly admit that their interests are not always the students. Let alone go after the bigger bureaucracies like the school boards. Why can't we treat kids like they are intelligent human beings that might have a clue and know a good teacher from a bad one? In hindsight, every one of the teachers I liked and thought was good when going through school, I still think were good teachers. The teachers I thought were bad, were the worse teachers. I'm supposed to act like kids today are dumber and more out of touch than I was? Why shouldn't they have some control in their education?
Kids are not stupid, and they understand how bad their education is, and that school has become about babysitting and welfare for teachers or administrators, or places where tyrants to play their control-freak or political games that wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else. So kids are trying to learn and adjust on their own, without the aid of much guidance and useful information from their schools, teachers or parents. They aren't doing a great job, but often people blame the kids instead of the system that is screwing them up.
Kids have to break away and become independent, and some of that comes from mocking authority and rebelling. But that doesn't mean that authority should do everything in its power to make itself a good target and to give the kids more to mock. Kids have enough stress without society trying to magnify it with stupid mandates. And Schools have become an example to kids of bureaucracy and stupidity and make-work, and just about everything they resent about society and authority. So when are we supposed adults going to fix it? Or are we going to sit around spewing platitudes and hypocritical soliloquies like ìyou can do anything, but I won't stand up for your educationî, or ìyou've got to try to make a difference; while I sit on my ass doing nothing about the incompetence in your schoolî. When is it going to be time to teach kids by deeds instead of just words? We need a revolution in education because frankly, I don't think it is working very well the way it is.