Posted by: minnow | July 18, 2013

Education: A Passing Grade?

I love young people!  Their energy, their curiosity, their thought processes, their outlook on life,  intoxicate me!  Maybe that’s why I’m passionate about education, want to encourage elementary and middle school teachers to open the doors of learning, to let their students explore the world in their own unique ways.  Maybe that’s why I want to keep those doors open for high school students and reopen the doors that sadly have been slammed shut.  Maybe that’s why I want The Educational System to recognize its responsibility and start focusing on what honestly matters–our youth.

Last week I had a delightful FB and e-mail conversation with the son of a friend of mine.  I am completely excited to help edit his 400 page novel.  (He’s in middle school by the way).  Now either this young man is an incredible exception to the rule in his own right or he’s had some wonderful encouragement from parents and landed in an exception to the rule educational institution that doesn’t major on spitting out cookie cutter kids.  I’ve glanced at his school’s website (http://www.mustardseedschool.org/) and am intrigued.  I’d love to visit, to observe how the teachers teach, to talk to its administrators, faculty, and some students and parents.  I want to know if their school is filled with young people like my friend’s son or if he is an exception to their rule as well.  And, if this school has found a way to keep the doors open for kids I want to know about it!  Don’t you?!

Aren’t you tired of reading about all the ways public education is failing, how the United States has lost the race when it comes to innovation, test scores, and graduation rates?  Wouldn’t you really like to know what makes a difference for kids rather than hear that some schools have simply figured out how to skew their test results?  Shouldn’t we want to make our education dollars count so we aren’t so reluctant to spend a little more to make education even better?!!

I want to be hopeful.I want to believe we can, want to, and will solve the problems we face in education.  But, for me the issue is the WANT TO and that’s a difficult part to change.  Public education for all kids has to matter or it won’t really matter for any kids.  More and more parents will find other ways to educate their children, creating less and less interest in solving the problems in public education.  We’ve been watching the exodus for years–private schools, satellite schools, school vouchers, consolidating and eliminating neighborhood schools.  In the current economic climate the Status Quo (“We need to get back to basics.  Drill and test.”) and Neanderthals (“Entitlements must be reined in.  Cut all the non essentials unless of course we’re talking defense.”) are winning the education arguments.  But, those solutions are losing the war.

The basics as we understood them in the 50’s, the 70’s, and even the 90’s have little traction in the 21st Century.  We live in a new age where information from a thousand different sources is at our fingertips, where spell check and calculators could and should replace spelling lists and math drills.  We have the potential for global communication.  And, with technology in every classroom we have the potential for teachers and students to go global as well.  But America is reluctant to change.

According to Denise Pope in her book, Doing School, top students “admit to doing things that they’re not proud of in order to succeed in school…They realize that they are caught in a system where achievement depends more on “doing”–going through the correct motions–than on learning and engaging in the curriculum.” (Italics mine) In other words, they’ve become good at jumping through hoops. But does doing so prepare them for the working world?

The 2006 report, Are They Really Ready to Work, put out in cooperation with The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and The Society for Human Resource Management suggests not.  “Over 40 percent (42.4 percent) of employer respondents rate new entrants with a high school diploma as “deficient” in their overall preparation for the entry level jobs they typically fill.”  80.9 percent were reported deficient in written communication skills, 69.6 percent in critical thinking and problem solving skills, and 70.3 percent in their professionalism and ethics.  Meanwhile, students graduating from 2 and 4 year colleges or universities fair a bit better but still the results were alarming.  From 2 year programs 47.3 percent were rated deficient in communication skills and 42.6 percent were deficient in leadership skills.  Of those graduating from a 4 year program 27.8 percent were found to be deficient in communication skills and 23.8 percent in leadership skills.  Only a small percentage of graduates were rank excellent (the rating considered essential to competing in the global economy) in any of these areas.  The overall rating for high school graduates was .2 percent, for graduates from a 2 year program it was 10.3 percent and for a four year program it was 23.9 percent.

While preparedness reports like the one above paint a less than rosy picture, they still only tell part of the story.  How do students assess their own education experience?  According to Dr. Peter Gray students don’t like school because “it is a prison”.  He argues his point in his article, Why Don’t Students Like School? 

Children, like all human beings, crave freedom. They hate to have their freedom restricted. To a large extent they use their freedom precisely to educate themselves. They are biologically prepared to do that. Children explore and play, freely, in ways designed to learn about the physical and social world in which they are developing. In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do.

From the mouths of students we hear: I’m bored.  It’s irrelevant.  What’s the point?!  The bottom line is the same.  Learning, discovery, creativity and problem solving have taken a back seat to jumping through hoops and the lack of an education is the result.  So what can we do about it?

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Responses

  1. ” According to Denise Pope in her book, Doing School, top students “admit to doing things that they’re not proud of in order to succeed in school…They realize that they are caught in a system where achievement depends more on “doing”–going through the correct motions–than on learning and engaging in the curriculum.” (Italics mine) In other words, they’ve become good at jumping through hoops. But does doing so prepare them for the working world?”

    YES YES YES! So true and I could not wait to get out of school because of the GAME I had to play. It was disgusting & discouraging and really detrimental to my faith journey. I didn’t realize I would find that game in every other institution after that. All the institutions in our culture teach & encourage the same things. Because can institutions really have hearts & personal, individual focus? Or does it always have to be boiled down to numbers, efficiency, statistics. Maybe on a good day I can say that it doesn’t have to be because it depends on the leadership? I don’t know.

  2. […] I was clicking right along blogging at least weekly until I had a perspective changing life experience and started a new blog.  Feel free to check it out. […]


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