Monday, November 14, 2011

Schools Aims: Just Not True

"Schools teach people the skills of citizenship—how to get along with others, how to reason and deliberate, how to tolerate differences," says Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of educational history at New York University.

- "Online Education: My Teacher is an App: More kids than ever before are attending school from their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. The result: A radical rethinking of how education works.", by STEPHANIE BANCHERO and STEPHANIE SIMON published in The Wall Street Journal, 11/12/11.

Let's analyze that one sentence.

(There is much that could be said of this long article but I'm choosing to hyper focus on that one sentence for analysis.)

1. "Schools teach people ... how to get along with others"

Not really. Come on.

Let's look at the worst kind of treatment kids do to each other: bullying. There may be rules against bullying but they are often not enforced.

In fact the old methods of verbal and physical abuse and sexual harrassment and sexual abuse have been expanded to cyber bullying via text messages and via websites like Facebook.

In Connecticut there is a state law that every act of bullying in a school must be reported to the state. According to the legislator who created that bill which was passed into law, barely any reports are received. Yet bullying stories abound.

The pecking order is alive and well in schools, as are cliques. There is a deeper psychological reason for all of it that cannot be cured with one day workshops on tolerance. Dysfunctional relationships are in every classroom regardless of the number of colorful posters that teachers hang on the walls to try to reinforce something more utopian.

What schools teach is that you are trapped. You are stuck in that class. Until high school there is barely any way to get out of a class and no freedom to choose the class content or teachers.

Schools label and rank people and you are trapped in that slot. Having been graded on past tests, even if you improve and get your act together there is no making up for past grades, no chance to retake tests and to show that now you have mastered that content. You are forever stuck with the fact that you made a stupid mistake on that day or you were sick and failed to study enough for that test or (insert other real life experience that had you not on your A game that day). Students who lagged behind but now are "caught up" are penalized by keeping their old bad scores as proof of what they have learned. Does that even make sense? A grade is a capture of what a person knew at that moment in time. It doesn't represent mastery of a topic at the end of the school year (as it probably should).

You learn in school that your destiny is in the hands of others. Most kids have no choice but to attend the public school where they live, so there are few options.

Our schooling with its focus on liberal arts college prep does not do justice to students who have other aims such as those seeking more serious science and math degrees or students with talents in the arts or students with interests in other vocational skills.

Your grades will follow you. What classes you take determines your future.

You learn there is little flexibility, you are under the control of your teachers. Tough luck if you are stuck with a teacher who is burned out or tired physically (one of my teachers would sleep through class after moonlighting at a night job). How about the teachers who are drunk in class (one of mine pulled from a flask on frequent trips to the hallway and had the stink of whiskey on his breath). Everyone in the administration and all the students know what those teachers are up to and no one does anything about it. Those bad teachers keep their jobs, and who suffers? The students, that's who.

2. "Schools teach ... how to reason and deliberate"

Uh, no.

Schools favor memorization of fact and parroting back fact and opinion.

There is little discussion that goes on.

Some teachers hate it when a student has an opinion that differs from their own. Two years ago, a student near the top of his class that I know was allowed to deliberate in history class but when his peers personally attacked him with insults for having those opinions the teacher who shared their opinions let it happen. So go ahead and speak your mind, you are a target and sometimes allowed to be thrown to the wolves. That kid could handle it, he wanted to stand up for his beliefs. He wound up getting teased outside of class, but he let it roll off his back. Not all students are as tough as that though, so they learn to shut up in order to protect themselves.

Teachers have personal bias they push.

Textbooks often has a bias they push.

Logic and rhetoric are no longer taught in schools. Kids don't know what fallacies are. If they did they would not commit them daily as they'd not want to appear to others to be as stupid as they actually are!

Kids who are not taught how to read critically and the skills of rhetoric cannot spot the nonsense in real life when they are adults. We all pay for their ignorance, daily, when we are surrounded by people who make bad decisions every day, people we interact with in the course of their employment, people who provide us services or who we hire to do work for us. These are people who we interact with in our kid's activities or our neighbors. Poor judgement and bad decision making can cause real problems for others.

3. "Schools teach ... how to tolerate differences"

Schools teach "if you don't like it, lump it".

Even in situations where a student's safety or well-being is in jeopardy due to being around certain other students nothing is usually done. The victim is told to just deal with it. Rather than deal with the real source of the problem, the instigator, the schools let bad behavior go on and if the victim can't take it anymore they let them be the squeaky wheel that might be able to make some change, such as switching out of the class with the bully.

I'd read a story online last month that a mother shared. Her son was targeted by a girl romantically and he didn't want a relationship, she made his life so miserable with documented text messages and harrassing texts and phone calls. The school knew about it and didn't deal with her. Instead the boy wanted a solution and the only one offered was for him to leave that good teacher's class to move to another class. Why do schools let the bully carry on and let the victim struggle until and only if the victim pushes and pushes for a change?

4. Schools are "teaching citizenship"

This is a topic that a whole essay could be written about, what good citizenship means and if our schools are really teaching it. I'll refrain from getting into that. I could spend half a day thinking and writing about just that one thing, and I have kids to raise and things to do today.


Shannon said...

Ugh ... Citizenship!

When my daughter was in public school, either 1st or 2nd grade, I overheard the morning announcements from the parking lot.

The theme was being a good citizen. I was extremely annoyed when I heard the principal talk about anger. She said something similar to, "Holding your anger and not letting it show is being a good citizen."

I just thought, "Don't they remember Columbine?" They need to give kids tools and outlets for anger and not just say, "You're a bad citizen if you show anger."

Schools teaching "citizenship" gets me every time. Ack!

e-Expeditions said...

Absolutely brilliant--I couldn't agree more. The school mentality is 'keep your head down and bleat what everyone else is bleating'. It's really quite saddening.

Tina Hollenbeck said...

Amen on this whole piece!