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Education: 3 R's mentality vs. Problem Solving

By Rainy in Culture
Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 06:08:14 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

How did we turn one of the most interesting thing in life into torture? I did not enjoy lessons at my school. My observation is that almost nobody did. What exactly is wrong?
Does this have something to do with our focus on tangible, easily measurable attributes, like writing, reading and arithmetics? Problem solving? What exactly is it? How do we teach it and how do we measure it?

The answer is, of course, that it is easy to teach 3 R's. Another answer is that we start with what is needed the most. If in the first few years a kid learns to read, write and basic arythmetics, he'll at least get by in the society. We need people to at least get by, right? But, after these 3 years, the mood sets in. Memorize formulas, cheat where you did not memorize them, forget it all 15 minutes after the test.

Which naturally leads us to the next problem - the grades. Learn as little as you can and do it as badly as you can as long as you can get the grade. If 'Zen and the art of motorcycle' had one good idea, it must have been the idea to stop the grading process. If you don't remember or haven't read it, the professor there stopped *telling* students about their grades. All of them hated the new system and one girl even got a nervous breakdown - because the grades were still there, hidden, looming, threatening them. Naturally, he couldn't just stop giving the grades out because he didn't own the school. Another problem with the grades is that those who don't want to study are kept in the school and waste everybody else's time. Students are fooling themselves when thinking they're studying, teachers are fooling themselves when thinking they're teaching, and future employers fool themselves when they hire based on grades.

What can we do? Stop grading and 80% won't show up next day. Stop grading and parents won't know when to scold thier children. Stop grading and employers will be actually forced to make sure fresh kids out of college are up to the job. Would that work? I have no idea. I haven't any idea why we never tried this, though. In one state, in one county, in one tiny town?

But let's talk about problem solving as opposed to memorizing. Telling kids to memorize something is an easy way out. How do you expect teachers to teach that if they were incompetent enough to end up with one of the most low-paying and low-esteemed jobs out there? They know the formulae and the kids don't, and that's the difference between them.

Now I am running into a common danger of saying something that vaguely sounds great in theory but where it's hard to imagine what I really mean. Okay, we know how to teach kids to write, but what the hell is problem solving? Isn't writing 'problem solving' too? Kids don't know how to express their thoughts on paper, it is a problem, we teach them how to solve it. And that is true, to an extent. I think that at least part of the problem is that we don't separate memorizing from problem solving and as a result teachers fall into the trap of demanding too much memorizing and too little problem solving, again, because it's easy. It's far easier to make kids memorize a formula that allows them to solve certain kinds of problems, instead of making them understand what a formula does, how it works, and what other problems could be solved by subtly modifying the formula. All too often we teach information instead of understanding.

Why don't we separate memorizing completely and have a separate 'memorization' subject? After all, memorization is an art in itself, and a useful one at that. There are many thricks and methods for memorizing. And all the other subjects will focus on *solving* problems - have all the formulas and examples and references before you and think, manipulate them, come up with something new and original.

I want to close this story by saying that I enjoyed precisely one book that they made us read in 10 years of school. It was 'Oblomov' by Goncharov, by the way. All of these books were written with the exact purpose of being read for entertainment (intellectual or otherwise) by people who'd pay money to get the book the want to read. Think about the absurdity of this! I'd also like to ask what your experience in school was, did you enjoy all of it? Half of it? 10%? How much of it do you think most people enjoy, and whether you think that we can make and should make the whole experience enjoyable or not?


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Did you enjoy school on the average?
o Yes. 13%
o No. 18%
o Mostly, yes. 25%
o Mostly, no. 21%
o No, and I shouldn't have - it's a means to an end. 1%
o College parties and pot smoking is fun, learning sucks. 10%
o Who the hell is Oblomov? 7%

Votes: 102
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by Rainy

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Education: 3 R's mentality vs. Problem Solving | 68 comments (62 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
You're a little late ... (3.36 / 11) (#2)
by gregholmes on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:11:14 PM EST

... since educators in the '60s thought they had a great new idea in abandoning the three R's.

It became a vehicle for abandoning useful skills and pushing trendy ideology. The results are what we see today; dismal performance of students.

Yes, but... (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by RareHeintz on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:36:39 PM EST

...you fail to address an important point.

I agree that entirely abandoning the 3 R's is a blockhead move. Those basics are the sine qua non of a useful education. But they are only a foundation.

Someone who knows what a percentage is but can't calculate a tip, or who can diagram a sentence but not comprehend a sonnet, is not at all what I'd call educated. Teaching the 3 R's alone is a cop-out, an easily measurable substitute for a real education. Children should be offered not only these basic tools, but also the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that make the tools useful.

- B
http://www.bradheintz.com/ - updated kind of daily
[ Parent ]

I agree (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by finkployd on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:07:54 PM EST

I agree, but I think we need to spend a lot more time on the three R's than we currently do. Without them, you have no hope of comprehending a sonnet, or calculating a tip. Too many students are getting to the advanced stages of education (problem solving) without understanding the basics.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
[ Parent ]
I'm not 'a little late' (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:23:43 PM EST

What I'm talking about is absolutely different. Did they abolish grades in 60s? Did they focus on problem solving? No, they just made requirements more lax and put a few 'social' classes in, but the underlying scheme is exactly the same.
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
Disconnect... (3.50 / 4) (#3)
by ucblockhead on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:24:47 PM EST

I think there's a bit of a disconnect here. I don't see what "Three Rs vs. Problem Solving" has to do with grading. You can test problem solving skills as easily as you can test knowledge of facts.

Anyway, the trouble is that discarding either is a huge mistake. Teaching kids how to solve problems and (something not mentioned above) teaching kids how to be creative are both massively important things. However, without raw facts, they are only going to be able to solve problems in a small, limited domain, and without facts, they are only going to be able to make creative ignorant messes. There's got to be both. Kids need to be able to read, they need to know lots of vocabulary words, they need to know how to spell and they need to know how to add. Without all those things, they simply won't be equiped to deal. However, with just those things, they will be unimaginative and unequiped to deal with change. A huge problem with today's march of progress. So you've got to take those three Rs and overlay them with problem solving, creativity and the like.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

yes.. (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:33:32 PM EST

I know these 2 things aren't related.. I mentioned grades because that's the second worst problem with our education, imho.. But I think you're wrong on the second point.. Facts are available. Think a formula that you can look up somewhere. If you understand what it does well, you don't need to remember it. You'll know how to find it anyway. What happens instead is that we memorize it, don't understand it perfectly, and forget it after the test in a short time. Bad, bad bad. Facts are what reference materials are for. Ability to solve problems using these facts is something that you won't find in the reference books and that's what you should go to school for.
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
John Gatto (4.00 / 5) (#4)
by jabber on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:25:35 PM EST

Those earnestly interested in this topic would do well to read some of the writtings of John Gatto. Particularly interesting are the Six and Seven Lesson Schoolteacher essays.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Educational Value (3.00 / 2) (#8)
by scriptus on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:38:24 PM EST

As a child, I moved around quite a bit, moving between small towns and big cities. IMHO, small town schools prepare you less for college. They don't have accelerated classes, so the "gifted" are bored. And the teachers are more forgiving on late assignments. I've heard "Turn it in whenever you can" quite a bit. Larger schools also have their problems. One being large classrooms and less attention.
I agree with the author that there needs to be a better alternative to grades. I agree that most of the tests and assignments are based on memorization rather than problem solving. Classes need to be more interactive. Teachers standing in front of the classroom don't promote learning; it promotes memorization (if the students cares). If students are required to problem solve everyday of their education, instead of on test day, students will be better prepared.

small schools (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by westgeof on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:36:25 PM EST

Well, I moved around all the time myself (somewhere around 20 different schools altogether), and while some were about as boring as can be, my favorite was the smallest school I went to. There were less than 10 of us in every grade level, so we weren't all anonymous faces, and we basically moved at our own pace. I had always been ahead of the rest of my class before this, but at this school I was actually able to go further, adn take classes that normally would be taught in higer grades. This was much better than finishing my work almost immediately and then having to wait a few days or so for everyone else to catch up. After leaving there, school everywhere was just a joke. I never had another class where I could pass easily as long as I showed up about once a week or so and studying about a minute or so before class.
Sorry for the slight ramble, but I just wanted to point out that not all small schools are all that bad...

As a child, I wanted to know everything. Now I miss my ignorance
[ Parent ]
re: small schools (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by scriptus on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 04:09:40 PM EST

I totally agree that at small schools you are not a "number" and you get personal attention more often. My complaint about the small schools is the preparation for college. Actually, I'm glad I went to the small school for other reasons. I became more involved in extra-curricular activities and it was better for my social-life (I'm a closet geek).
But, are the things you mentioned a good thing? Do you like the small schools because it is easier when you procrastinate? Why do you want school to be academically easy? Students need some challenge. A person who worked their butt off to study and gets a B is better than a person who had easy, unchallenging studies and gets an A, given same intellectual level.

[ Parent ]
oops (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by westgeof on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 05:24:45 PM EST

Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear.
What I meant was that the small school I went to was the only one that ever offered a challenge. The work we were doing was well above average, and definately very college-prep. I took the SAT (a standardized test often used in college admissions), and scored well above the national average for high school seniors (a little over 1200, if you're curious.) This was in the 6th grade, and I wasn't the only one; at least half of us scored in that range.
And we could forget about procrastination. That's more in the teacher's attitude, I guess, and when you all live so closely together, you can't get away with anything... ;-)
Anyway, what I meant was that it was the larger schools where the above comments you made applied to me.

As a child, I wanted to know everything. Now I miss my ignorance
[ Parent ]
Public Schooling (3.00 / 3) (#9)
by retinaburn on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:39:11 PM EST

Our school system has screwed around with grade reporting so much its laughable. In early graded it was a Excellent, Satisfactory, Needs improvement...etc scale, then it went to letter grades, then back then percentages then letter grades..BAH!

I think if teachers could make more of the material more appealing to a greater number of students they would find grades improving. If I am interested in a subject I will most likely not have to cram the night before and I will do well. I imagine the same is true for most students.
Often teachers are bogged down and over worked so they will simply uses lessons from dry text books. There are some great history books that explain fully situations that are treated as bland simple events in the average text book.

Students also have to realize that the marks are irrelavent. If they understand the material, and the connections to other material they have learned (in the same class and in other classes) then studying will be easier and the marks will follow.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

why I both loved and hated school (4.44 / 9) (#10)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 12:47:33 PM EST

I love to learn new things. I always have and always will. None of my grade school or high school teachers inspired me to learn. Somethings I payed enough attention to to pass my tests and somethings I found interesting enough to sink my teeth into. The closest any instructors came to inspiring me were the instructors that offered extra credit for doing your own thing. I really dug assignments that were self defined or allowed me to do something different. Sometimes I put in a tremendous amount of energy to scam the teacher. My favorite project was in a class entitled Literature of Science Fiction. The assignment was to read three to five books (depending on length) by a single author and compare the writing style, attention to scientific detail, etc. and submit it along with a biographical sketch complete with references. I made an author up. Forging believable references is a tremendous amount of work. So is inventing story lines and details. It would have been much easier just to do the report of the top of my head. (I'm a compulsive reader, I finishedL. Ron Hubbards Mission Earth decology in five weeks, such a shame that it was a waste of my time.) I certainly learned more about writing sci-fi from my scam than I would have by simple doing the status quo.

OTOH, I've had many, many deplorable teachers. I've had teachers I ridiculed because I knew more about their subject than they did. I had a chemistry teacher that kept believing the rest of the class when they said they didn't understand and we ended up spending the entire first quarter on significant digits. I've had teachers that really made it difficult for me to do anything interesting at all. I remember a geography teacher who wouldn't let me do independant projects in the time alotted for independant study. I showed her my completed homework. She drilled me on the questions for the next test to which I answered flawlessly. She'd rather I sit quietly and twiddle my thumbs than work on a non-geographical assignment sitter in her class.

And yet none of the bad teachers managed to keep me from learning despite themselves.

The biggest barriers to learning came from my peers. People that that did well accedemically were looked down on. Brains and eggheads had few, if any, friends and were social outcasts. If you did your homework you were a nerd, even if it only you the ten minutes before the bell rang and it was due. If you did well on the tests, you were verbally castigated after class for blowing the curve.

In hindsight, I think memorization vs. problem solving is the least of the problems our modern culture faces. The real problem is a culture that looks down on learning. Those that push themselves to acquire knowledge are "eggheaded intellectuals" and "out of touch with the real world." The masses often expect the rest of the world to be as incompetent as they. I consider myself very, very fortunate to have found a job where everyone on my team is smarter than I. In every position I've held in the past, I've been surrounded by people that didn't care, didn't know or both.

Of course, if we did change our culture so that intelligence and knowledge were prized, and people were taught to think, who would want to work at McD's or on an assembly line. Teaching the masses threatens the status quo. Knowledge threatens the current structure of our society. After all:

  1. Knowledge is power.
  2. Power corrupts.

Therefore. . .

i addressed that, I think.. (3.00 / 1) (#32)
by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:03:28 PM EST

When I talked about elimination of grading system. All the people who are not there to learn will not show up. All the people who got to chemistry without knowing about significant figures or with an idea to fake it, won't be there.
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
My take (3.50 / 6) (#11)
by finkployd on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:02:15 PM EST

The US once had the most educated (overall) population in the world. We led in science, technology, and many other fields. At this time school was purely the three R's type teaching. Memorization and all that evil stuff. I've noticed a trend since we started trying to "fix" education that the more we changed it, the worse it got. We are behind many countried in terms of science and technology now, and getting passed by in many industries.

I'm not an expert in educational theory, but I would like someone who is to explain why we keep moving to more "progressive" teaching methods when the results of these keep falling. What we are doing now doesn't seem to be yielding positive results, so why should we do more of it?

Lastly, maybe it's just me (I've been known to be wierd) but the classes I learned the most in were the more "traditionaly" taught classes.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
after the fact, because of the fact (5.00 / 2) (#15)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:15:44 PM EST

I think that there is certainly some truth to your assertion. Reducing the role of traditional methods of education has certainly correlated to the slide of eductation in the US.

The question I have is whether the role played by new methods of instruction is contributory, causitive, symptomatic, or spuriously correlated to the slide of the US educational system. My instinct would be that the reduction of traditional methods is symptom that exacerbates the problem and not is not by itself the root cause of the problem.

[ Parent ]
Not cut and dry (4.00 / 2) (#20)
by finkployd on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 02:10:56 PM EST

No, I agree that is isn't a simply cut and dry, cause/effect relationship. All I was trying to do was get the reasoning behind the idea that traditional education didn't work, and progressive education methods do, since that seems to be a given for many people.

Someone else said it better than I, and that is the fact that you need BOTH. You have to start with the traditional memorizing of facts and basics (3 R's) before you can move on to the more advanced education (ie. problem solving). What we have seems to be a move to start with problem solving, and hope that the basics somehow come as a result of that.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
[ Parent ]
Roles of education (4.75 / 4) (#42)
by Ming D. Merciless on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 11:11:11 PM EST

Well, what people think of traditional education was meant to prepare people for a different world than the one we live in today. The Three R's (reading, writing and basic math) were what was needed to prepare kids to live in an industrial age world where most of them would be doing shift work in factories.

So called 'progressive' education was a cold war reaction to the threat of Soviet military superiority. After all, low earth orbit makes a pretty good place to drop bombs on people and, as Robert A. Heinlein imagined in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, the moon makes an even better place. Heck, you don't even need bombs -- good old rocks and gravity will do. So, after Sputnik surprised the hell out the U.S.'s military leaders, it was decided that a new technologically oriented education was needed for the new post-war era. This was the raison'd'etre for the so-called 'New Math.' Oh, and of course, the then burgeoning aerospace industry created as a side effect of the military-industrial complex that came to prominence in World War II didn't see this as a bad thing, just as the 19th century industrialists had advocated the traditional high school currilculuum.

It isn't so much that the traditional methods didn't work, because in fact they did work -- extremely well. It was more a matter of U.S. policy leaders deciding that they just weren't relevant anymore. Since that time, as political administrations have come and gone, the public school system here has seen a flurry of educational methodologies. Phonics vs. Whole Language in reading and Spiral vs. Mastery Learning in math are two examples that come to mind<1>.

When it comes to judging 'traditional' and 'progressive' education I think we need to consider the individual goals of each method and whether those goals were met. As I already stated, I think there can be no doubt that in its time, the Three-R's were enormously successful. There is also some evidence that the New Math was sucessful in its own way. Studies of high school students from that era showed that children educated under the New Math were better at higher mathematics such as algebra, geometry and trig, but less competent at basic mathematics than their predecessors. Of course, neither the New Math students nor the Three-R's students were very good at problem solving. Problem solving became the education mantra of the 1990's.<2>

It's easy to see that education, especially public education, and the sucess or failure thereof has always been defined relative to society's needs for education at the time. In modern times, more often than not, big business has been crucial in defining the role of public education. For instance, there have been attempts at computer literacy (although the term 'computer literacy' itself is fairly new) in the schools since the late 1960's. However, just what students should know about computers has changed radically to fit the needs of business over time.<3> It is debateable about whether we should rely upon the needs of businesses to have as much input as they do in the role of public education in the U.S. After all, since the U.S. is a representative republic, does a public school system that favors the needs of big business produce citizens that are capable of making the kinds of decisions necessary to manage this country? Equally so, since we are a capitalist consumer driven economy (for the most part), a practical education is necessary to ensure that our children will have the skills necessary to provide for themselves in this economy. Well, and it makes business owners happy.

Now, so far we've looked at the role of education in a society in so far as the content of that education goes. However, we are overlooking perhaps the larger purpose of education in any society and that is in the aculturation of the youth. Schools are there to preserve the social order. Back in the good old days when there was still a definitive ruling class in Europe, such a thing could be done just by shuffling all the upper class boys off to boarding schools and all the upper class girls off to finishing schools where each learned their respective place in society. There wasn't much need for education of the rabble, at least not in literature and math and science. For them, trade apprenticeships were much more important. Even in the U.S., for the majority public schools were much more about the transmission of cultural values than the actual content of the education. The whole structure of the typical 1950's high school was about reinforcing the way top-down, paternalistic power structure of the time. A good deal of this is what John Gatto's excellent rants about in the Six and the Seven Lesson Schoolteacher essays, although I doubt he would use my language. He's a much better writer for one thing.

Now, starting in the 1950's something new comes along that in time totally derails the role of the schools in passing on the cultural bugaboos of the previous generation. This is the rise to dominance of the electronic media as a cultural arbritrator. Suddenly with the cheap availability of television and transitor radios, the electronic media was ubiquitous. Despite the attempts at cultural control, such as censors, messages that were critical, antiauthoritative, contradictory of traditional values and youth oriented were all over the broadcast spectrum simply because advertisers saw sales skyrocket. This is not to say that this was all bad since the electronic media as much or more so than anything else help popularlize concepts such as the integration of the races (vis a vis rock and roll of all things). A little later on, it was the electronic media's co-opting and subsequent commercialization of the hippie culture that led to much of the decline of the schools as purveyors of the cultural norm. In short, the norm was the anti-norm now.

By the time the 1980's roll around, our entire youth culture is media saturated. Instead of talking about the sock-hop or hanging out at the malt shop the night before, kids are comparing notes about what happened on Cheers or Miami Vice -- and it is from shows such as these and John Hughes movies that they are basing their values. The ironic thing is that there are often no values there. Combined with the increasing trend of the absentee parent and many of our schools have come to resemble a modern day Lord of the Flies<4>. I think this more than anything else is what people decry as the failure of the public school system.

Now I'm not debating that American kids do less well than the youth of many other countries on certain academic tests. Also, the appalling lack of deductive reasoning skills in this country is mind-numbing. However, as times change and society continuously reinvents its notion of the proper educational content of the public school, our schools will always be seen as academically inadequate relative to the technoligcal or economic challenges of the day. And there will be more experiments in education, and there will me more calls to return to those tried and true methods of the past. However, unless we start seeing an erosion of the content (such as forcing the teaching of Creationism or forbidding the teaching of evolution) I just don't see much to worry about here. Besides, who said quantum mechanics was a proper topic for a 16 year old mind?

So, what's the solution? I don't think there is one. Not the way we've traditionally approached the problem. I also think the definition of the problem could be a little clearer. It's nice to say that Johnny not being able to solve quadratic equations is the problem, but it isn't. The problem is that the school itself is not a conducive place for Johnny to learn how to solve quadratic equations, nor have I ever heard anyone make a conving arguement as to just why Johnny should be able to solve a quadratic equation. Until we as a society are willing to sit down and admit to ourselves that it isn't the 18th century or even 1942 anymore and start working on a new cultural identity will things get better.

<1> I know, both mastery and spiral learning apply to much more than math, but mastery learning was the idea behind the old algebra, geometry, trigonometry sequence in the New York State Regents Mathematics program (the college prep math program in New York State high schools of which I am a product). Good old Algebra, Geometry and Trig were replaced by the spiral based Course I, Course II and Course III. The idea here was, you learned a little of each subject every year plus some other stuff thrown in for good measure. That way, if you happened to be particularly bad in any one given subject area, your math grades would not be totally decimated for a whole year (making it easier to get into college). Also, you as a student would feel better about yourself since you would at least do OK with some of the material. Finally, you would at least have a better understanding of the 'big picture' -- you'd understand how each subject area worked together with the others more so than if they were studied individually. And there was that extra stuff thrown in such as set theory. How could you go wrong?

<2> I'm sorry. I looked for references to these studies on the web and could not find them. I distinctly remember reading such when I was a Psych major in college. Furthermore, I am a product of New Math (in elementary school) and the Spiral math curriculuum (in high school)and remember well the comments our teachers made about our class (small class, small school -- things were overheard). For the curious, I graduated high school in 1986.

<3> In the '60s, the mathematical basis of computation was emphasized, in accordance with the New Math. Various companies produced kits with which basic binary computers could be built, tore apart and re-built. Often resembling columns of spring terminals with a light and a switch at the top, students could wire up these computer kits to do things like play an abstracted version of Tic-Tac-Toe. Presumably this reflected the low level nature of computers at the time and the skills that were needed to work with them. In the '70s and early '80s, computer porogrammers were in desperate need, and so that was what was taught in the schools was computer programming.

he '70s saw many schools wired up via teletypewriter (TTY) terminals and 150 baud modems to time-sharing university main frames. (Aside: For all of you who think the internet is hotter than Hades in summer, imagine the thrill of a pre-adolescent using the VMS phone utility to chat with real live college students or professors half way around the world). The '80s of course saw the proliferation of the microcomputer, often of the TRS-80, Apple IIE or Commodore Pet variety. As one moved throughout this timeframe the emphasis on programming languages in schools evolved from FORTRAN, to BASIC and then Pascal. There were also blips on the educational radar such as LOGO.

By the '90s, the PC was everywhere and while the need for more technical types was still there, there was a much greater need for people who could operate a computer as part of their everyday jobs. Thus the emphasis on computer literacy again shifted, this time from programming to familiarity with the popular business applications of the day. In my own high school, I saw the computing curriculuum taken out of the hands of the Math Department and placed into the hands of the AV director. Gone was the original programming project that made up half of your pre-calc course grade, replaced with scores of high school juniors learning WordPerfect. Naturally, the AV director had to become professionally certified to teach WordPerfect. :-P

<4> It doesn't help that the old cultural regime (the school administration) is trying to reassert itself in the most violent and draconian means possible. Never before have our children been so stripped of their basic human rights as in the schools today. Combined with the reluctance of society to change the organizational nature of schools (an organizational methodology that has been around for over a half decade) and it is no wonder why tragedies such as Columbine happen. However, that is a topic Jon Katz deals with much better than I do and I have come to realize that this comment is exceedingly long.

A little slice of 1987 on the internet. Visit KAOS -- Central NY's premiere BBS. Multi-user, telnetable, Citadel/UX.
[ Parent ]
One possible reason (4.50 / 4) (#21)
by spaceghoti on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 02:14:19 PM EST

It's true that academic excellence has been on a decline over the past forty years in the United States, and there are a lot of possible reasons for it. I thought I'd briefly touch on some of them.

  • Changes in teaching methods.
  • I had an excellent teacher in High School, a likeable pervert who was only ever known to me as "Mr. Shaw." Not only did he step up to the challenge of teaching in obscure topics like Politics & Government and Interpersonal Relationships (aka Group Dynamics), but when he discovered his students couldn't write a paragraph to save their lives he taught them fundamental English writing structure. I can honestly credit Shaw with teaching me more about writing than any English class. Shaw mentioned once during class that the grading system in New York State underwent some drastic changes from the 60s on. For a while, there was a huge push against discrimination, and schools systems went to a purely pass/fail grading point. This worked for a little while, until students started asking if their "pass" grade was a "strong" pass or a "weak" pass. So they gradually started moving back toward traditional grading until by the end of the 80s they were using letter grades with +/- ranges.

    Of all the teachers I've had, Shaw will always have a special place in my heart. He freely admitted that he coached the women's basketball team because he liked watching the girls. He always registered his political party as "Independent" because he refused to be labeled. He was a rebel in a time when rebelling was unfashionable. And most importantly, he had the ability to engage his students when they didn't want to be engaged, to teach them something in spite of themselves. I'm sure he had his share of failures as well as successes, but he left his mark on every student good or bad. Back in the Dark Ages (said tongue-in-cheek) when the US was on top of the academic world, there was no drive to "connect" with students, to get them fascinated and enthusiastic about the topic of the day. Now there is such a drive, but we're finding it harder and ever to do. I believe you'll find many of the countries in the top academic ranks depend on the "archaic" methods of teaching.

  • Public schools are underfunded, understaffed and overpopulated.
  • I can't think of a single US teacher or school administrator who wouldn't agree with this statement. How can you reach out and touch every student in your class when there are literally hundreds of students who pass through your classroom every day? Trying to spark some imagination and interest in 25-200 students simultaneously is exhausting and often futile. In college, I was lucky to be recognized by my professors when the class size exceeded 300 students. How can we expect high school teachers (whose students are there by law, not by choice as is nominally the case with university) to handle that many kids, many of whom would rather be doing anything but sit in a classroom listening to topics that put them to sleep? And how do you motivate the teachers themselves beyond their own love of teaching and vision for the future? Anyone can tell you: primary education teachers are not there for the money. And their resources are frequently so limited that the best they can do is try to put on a show with only their own acting talent.

  • Many students are about as motivated as rocks.
  • Your Mileage May Vary. Every school has their quota of slackers, neer-do-wells and punks. Every school has their quota of nerds, teacher's pets and overachievers. It's possible to label and stereotype everyone you meet, whether or not that label is accurate. But we're getting scared about increasing reports of violence and murder in our schools, and this is simply not something we've had to deal with in the past. A teacher used to worry about students not doing homework; now they've got to wonder if giving a failing grade to a student might result in gunfire. Who do you blame for that? Video games? Movies? Teachers? Students? Parents? Everyone has their own opinion. But the fact is that the dynamic has changed and going to school is no longer just about academics.

  • The cirriculum has changed.
  • It isn't about Reading, Riting and 'Rithmetic anymore. It's about cultural sensitivity. It's about environmental issues. It's about all sorts of things that politically sensitive people think are important for kids to learn so that we can all live in a Better World. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day. If we're going to learn about <insert PC culture here> Day/Week/Month, then we're not going to have time to learn something else. How many people reading this forum have taken classes in Latin? I'll bet a very small percentage. Fifty years ago Latin was a required subject in all schools, public and private, because Latin provides the foundation for the English language. Now Latin is rarely offered in public schools, and then only as an elective. The result? In my opinion, US schools are no longer the pillars of academics they once were, but by god they're culturally sensitive! And that's a good thing, right?

    Your Mileage May Vary.

    "Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

    [ Parent ]
    One comment (3.00 / 2) (#22)
    by finkployd on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 02:40:26 PM EST

    The result? In my opinion, US schools are no longer the pillars of academics they once were, but by god they're culturally sensitive!

    I agree with most of what you said, but I don't see this. If nothing else, our schools today are TEACHING racism with the so called 'culturally sensitive' teaching they are doing.

    Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
    [ Parent ]
    Doesn't ring true (4.00 / 2) (#44)
    by spaceghoti on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 11:33:10 PM EST

    The result? In my opinion, US schools are no longer the pillars of academics they once were, but by god they're culturally sensitive!

    I agree with most of what you said, but I don't see this. If nothing else, our schools today are TEACHING racism with the so called 'culturally sensitive' teaching they are doing.

    You got me, I confess. I don't believe it's working either. I agree that the "cultural sensitivity" that pervades the US today reinforces racism because it harkens back to the days of segregation, when the catch phrase was "separate but equal." We're promoting separate cultures and teaching people that they really are different from each other. While we're supposed to embrace this disparity, far too many people see it as examples of why they're better than the "heathens" they're learning about. And some of the people in these different societies decide that they're better than everyone else. And why not? Look at all the special attention they're getting!

    My statement in the original paragraph above was said tongue-in-cheek. The people preaching this new religion believe they're doing the right thing, but I believe the effect is doing more harm than good. I believe we should promote a common culture, not outline the differences between us.

    "Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

    [ Parent ]
    we still use the 'good old' traditional methods (4.00 / 1) (#34)
    by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:21:05 PM EST

    The only thing that changed is that we're more lax about them. I studied in Russia first, and i would guess it's like US education was few decades ago - same methods, but much more pushing. More math, more physics, more chemistry. And you know what? We perhaps learned much more but that didn't do us no good at all. Out of our class of 30 chances are nobody would be physic, or mathematician, or chemist. We've just grown to hate all this stuff as a result. More so than even here.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    It's not the teaching of subjects... (3.00 / 1) (#46)
    by Mr Tom on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 06:19:48 AM EST

    > Lastly, maybe it's just me (I've been known to be
    > wierd) but the classes I learned the most in were the
    > more "traditionaly" taught classes.

    I'm going to take this as an example of what I was going to witter on about. Schools aren't about teaching children facts. (Well, there's a bit of that) Or teaching them methods (but there's a bit of that as well). What they do do, is teach children to learn. If you can do that well, you can teach someone anything. (Within the bounds of reason, natch)

    So being taught "traditionally" (buy which I presume "They talk, you listen") is a good way to learn at an early stage. So the 3 R's are important, but only until a student becomes equipped with the confidence and knowledge to seek out more learning for themselves. And so on, to university and beyond.

    F'rinstance, I was taught Latin at school. Not a terribly useful subject, but the point's not to learn Latin, but to learn how to learn a complex language. Having done that, modern languages become much more transparent..

    I mean, how often do you use facts that you've learned at school?

    -- Mr_Tom<at>gmx.co.uk

    I am a consultant. My job is to make your job redundant.
    [ Parent ]

    Very True (3.00 / 1) (#48)
    by finkployd on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:09:06 AM EST

    I'm sure if I didn't have the education that I recieved at a young age (remembering facts, multiplication tables, all that) I probably would not be equiped to teach myself programming languages and other "useful" things :)

    I'm not saying that the "they talk, you listen" method should be all that is taught, I'm just saying what you said. It's the best way to start teaching, once people know they can remember things and learn to learn, as they say, then they can move on to other things (problem solving, etc).

    Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
    [ Parent ]
    Public School (3.83 / 6) (#13)
    by zorvoxin on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:07:54 PM EST

    I agree with you, public school is boring and it turns most kids off to learning. I hated every minute of it during elementary school. My parents saw this and put me in a Montessori school in the second grade. I liked the teaching approch there much better. It isn't sit in you desk and listen to the teacher approch, it is more interactive. I didn't have an assigned desk, so I could work where I wanted to. I didn't have a set schedule eather. I could do my work whenever I wanted to, just as long as I got it done. I got much more one on one teacher time then at public school (where I was in a class of about 25 other first graders), and I was simply happier there. Unfortunatly this school only went up to the fourth grade, so I had to return to the more structured public school evironment. I still didn't like public school, but I still retained some portion of my pre-school love of learning.

    Get em' young and keep it up (4.20 / 5) (#16)
    by Nyarlathotep on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:21:30 PM EST

    Actually, there has been quite significant sucess at making kids "love learning" when people who really know their shit and use the experemental method (i.e. PhD.s in child psychology) get ahold of kids at a young age and keep control of the kids education through high school.

    The realy problem is that school systems do not want to "get em' at a young age and keep it up" since the result will not show up until many years after reelection, i.e. the school boards political positions disqualify them from being effective judges of experements. Instead the school board will tend to go with more short term political snake oil solutions.

    Anyway, the solution to the problem is to allow academics to use portions of the school system for experements, i.e. the school board relenquishes control over the education of some set of students for those students whole trip from daycare through high school. The child psychologists will run long term experements which will provide convincing evidence to the locals that they are doing the right thing, so the schools will switch to the tactics which produced the best results after 25 years.

    Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
    Why memorization is important... (3.25 / 4) (#17)
    by /dev/niall on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 01:25:00 PM EST

    I don't think memorization is important because of the facts of figures that a person may (or may not) retain. It's important for the same reason language development at an early age is important... it helps form pathways in your brain.

    However, if other facets of intelligence aren't properly stimulated, this ain't gonna do you much good. Pretty much every specialist in this area agrees that rote memorization in and of itself is not an effective practice. The act of memorizing something is probably beneficial, the short term result (ie. you store some data in your short term memory) may not be.

    Given the current performance of US school children, and the current trend/belief that memorization is an evil to be avoided, I'd say it's too early to rule it out completely as a beneficial learning tool. Just not the way you'd expect... ;)
    "compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot

    Most teachers do not reward effort. (4.00 / 8) (#23)
    by Khalad on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 02:50:29 PM EST

    I personally would love to have the traditional grading system abolished. Its most fundamental flaw is that it doesn't tolerate failure. If you fail, or are failing, you have little incentive to try to do better because it is terribly hard to recover from your mistakes.

    My favorite high school teacher was my chemistry teacher. Not only was he just a great, charismatic guy, but he had a grading system which gave every student the opportunity to do well. He allowed you to redo any assignment as many times as you want--even quizzes and tests. He would stay after class as long as necessary, and he would even explain what you did wrong and coach you through the questions.

    The best thing about this is that you weren't scarred forever with a bad grade. Because you could always redo assignments, there was a real incentive to learn the material. His philosophy was that as long as you learnt the material by the end of the course it didn't matter how--and why should it? A bad grade can really kill any desire to succeed once the student realizes he will be stuck being subpar.

    Traditionally, though, you really have no incentive to go back and learn material if you didn't learn it the first time around. Bomb a test? Oh well, might as well move on, I mean the grade is set, right? How does that help you learn? I think educators often forget the end goal of taking classes: it's not to get a good grade. Grades are supposed to indicate how much you have learned. Instead, good grades usually only indicate that you have good study habits. Grades are supposed to be indicators of a successful education, not the end goals of one.

    I would love to see all teachers adopt my chemistry teacher's policies:

    • Late policy: turn in assignments whenever you like. If the goal of schooling is to get students to learn the material, why should it matter when they learn it?
    • Redo any assignment you want. Students should have an incentive to go back and relearn material they didn't learn the first time around.
    • Help each student learn the material. Help them understand it. Don't just put a bunch of red marks on their papers. Explain to them why their answers are wrong, and help them get them right.

    I know it would be impossible to have the traditional grading system abolished. That doesn't mean that teachers must accept its baggage and punish their students for failure. Education shouldn't be about punishing students, because the punishment model will ultimately create students who do their work to avoid punishment and not to learn. And if students are constantly resentful of their education, what have they really learned?

    You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty

    I remember one school... (2.66 / 3) (#25)
    by QuoteMstr on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 03:36:54 PM EST

    I remember one school that tried this --- I have a vague memory of it from a documentary I saw on A&E one evening when I was a child: It was a private school in which all education was voluntary. No mandatory tests, no mandatory classes, etc. This one person graduates from the school, and finds that he has *absolutely* *no* *skills* *whatsoever*. He can't do a thing, because he skipped all his education. He sued the school into oblivion.

    I do admit that for many, perhaps the majority of computer people and other skilled professionals, this type of schooling would be utter and complete bliss. The problem is that the rank and file of society is not like us --- they need to be forced into doing things, need to be told what to do, and must, generally, be treated like the cattle they are if they are to learn much at all. Not educating them is not an option --- in order for a representative government to work at *all*, the people need to be at least minimally education (at least it forces political speech writers to be subtly and maniputively dishonest instead of blatently dishonest).

    The real problem is that school, in general, treats the student body as one homogenious blob that acts, reacts, and behaves the same at all points. For some students, the three Rs, a strict regiment of homework, and rote memorization works. For others, simple problem solving is the best route. Heck, I learned the higher math I needed to write a software 3d renderer in 9th grade on my own. It would have gone much faster if I could have just asked one of the more advanced math teachers a few questions.

    The problem with that is that it's far easier to teach with rote memorization and such than it is to be more dynamic, more flexable, and looser in discipline. There is not reliable way to choose which students would benefit most from which program, and, given free will, most would naturally choose the more free course whether they were suited to it or not.

    PS, about rewarding effort and not success: Face it, the world does not reward effort, only success. A wise man once said, "Don't show me how hard you try, show me what you get done."

    [ Parent ]
    heh (2.00 / 1) (#39)
    by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:54:15 PM EST

    So, one person from the school didn't want to learn and *GASP* didn't learn! Gee, what if every student who failed a grade in public school would sue US gov't for a few millions.. Heh.. Now, this guy, let's see - he finishes the first year and can't read or write. Then finishes 2nd, 3rd, 4th, ..., 10th grade and still can't write and sues the school and judge makes them give him money? So much money the school is sued into oblivion? Yeah, that school didn't stand a chance in our society. By the way, Einstein said that it took him two years after finishing school to get over his dislike of learning they taught him there. Think about that. Quotemaster? From #uw on EFnet? This is rainy-day, by the way..
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    Clearly you don't know any teachers (4.00 / 2) (#24)
    by kostya on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 03:27:58 PM EST

    Telling kids to memorize something is an easy way out. How do you expect teachers to teach that if they were incompetent enough to end up with one of the most low-paying and low-esteemed jobs out there? They know the formulae and the kids don't, and that's the difference between them.

    That is a gross overgeneralization that is undeserved and flawed.

    "Teachers teach only formlas because they are incompetent"

    • Teachers might teach in the only way they have been trained to teach
    • Teachers might teach formulas because they are required to teach that way by standards boards (school level, community level, state level, etc)
    • Teachers might teach formulas because that is all that students will learn

    Those are just a few possibilities. Additionally, teachers teach from their materials, and most textbooks focus on formulas. But however you look at it, you clearly have jumped to a conclusion that not only doesn't logically follow, but is pretty slanderous.

    And for a side note: yes, I do know teachers. I have several personal friends and several mentors that are teachers. You should hear their side of it.

    That being said, I agree that grades systems are poor and that generally schools don't teach the whys. But I think you might have some bad info or conclusions here.

    Oh yeah, I remember the old joke at university: if you can't be an engineer, be a business major; if you can't be a business major, be a teacher. This is just a stupid joke that shouldn't be taken as truth. I have thought about going into teaching several times. It wasn't because I couldn't hack it or that I didn't think highly enough about myself. I actually thought that because I was good maybe I could teach. Most of my friends got into teaching because of a love of learning and a love of youth.

    I also remember my calculus professor's coffee mug: the best teach. Something to think about. Not saying it is true of everyone, but it might reflect a deeper truth about the motivation behind those who teach.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    Nope (2.00 / 1) (#38)
    by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:45:55 PM EST

    I was in school for 10 years. I'm speaking from my experience. Naturally, there are exceptions - as to any rule. There were a few (2, in fact) idealists. Still, even they would do a better job if the system wasn't working against them.. It takes a truly great teacher to break through this monotony, and there's just very few of them. For instance, of these 2 I mentioned, neither could break through, really, except for *very* few moments. And that's the main reason there's so few of these teachers.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    But do you know the other side? (4.00 / 1) (#51)
    by kostya on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:35:03 AM EST

    Listen, when I said you didn't know any teachers, I didn't mean "you obviously haven't gone to school". What I meant is that you obviously don't know any teachers personally.

    If you did, you wouldn't make blanket generalizations about them being incomptent. I was in school for 10 years. I'm speaking from my experience. Well, whatever your experience, you clearly don't know what teachers are up against and the challenges the face trying to be good teachers.

    Yes, there are bad teachers. Yes, there are middle-of-the-road teachers. Yes, they are good teachers. But that is just like everything else. There are crappy programmers and good programmers (heck, we have a K5 article every other month about how programmers aren't built the way they used to be). Just because we all run accross some bad code that we are expected to rewrite at every job does not mean that 90% of programmers are incompetent mathematicians who couldn't hack real science.

    So, again, maybe you have had a bad experience with some teachers or a school, but to say that 90% of teachers are incomptent fools who ran to teaching as a refuge is just utter crap. That kind of narrow thinking is just deplorable.

    Do some research or something. Anything. Give me some hard facts. But don't just go spouting Heinlien and various anecdotes and then make a unjustified generalization of some good people who are working as hard as they can.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    uh (2.00 / 1) (#53)
    by Rainy on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:52:25 AM EST

    There are no numbers possible here. Time for some Heinlein again: 'Anything that can't be expressed in numbers is merely an opinion'. Yep, that's the impression I got from attending public schools for 10 years. In case you didn't notice - my story has to do with education. I don't care if teachers are geniuses when you know them personally, my story has to deal squarely with what happens in the classroom. I'm not even blaming the teachers - they have to force students into doing something they don't want, using bad grades as a stick. What happens, in my opinion, is that alot of people could be good teachers - teaching is fun, when your students are willing and enthusiastic. It's a drag when they are not. Therefore, naturally, when people have a choice they tend to take other jobs, become scientists, businessmen, managers, etc. Some teachers (very few) clearly teach because they enjoy teaching and it's basically their calling. Out of ~30 teachers I had there were precisely two of this kind.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    Ok, no numbers ... (3.00 / 1) (#56)
    by kostya on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 03:54:31 PM EST

    But I still take issue with your overgenalization. The world just isn't that simple. You've been in public education for 10 years. 10 years? I'm going to assume that is K-12 (judging by the time and the photos on your site). I'd just like to challenge you that there is more to the problem than just "teachers are fools".

    Maybe there is more to it than your perspective. I'm trying to bring to your attention some of the other issues. A lot of what you state in the article is simply anecdoctal. Another way of saying anecdotal is "opinions that have no hard facts."

    I use anecdotes every day. I have opinions, some better supported by facts than others. So I'm not taking issue with that. What I am taking issue with is a diatribe based soley on anecdotes and off-hand jokes/quotes. You are posting an article that pretty much calls 97% of teachers "idiots". If you had a bad experience, fine. But just try to keep an open mind.

    I do agree that the system has some serious flaws. I can think of several ways in which my education was less than the best. But there are a lot of external pressures, some valid and some bougs (i.e. they just shouldn't be). Examples of bogus pressures would be the politics and the clashes between the NEA and the community that are unneeded (teachers' strikes often are more about power games than salary demands). Real pressures would be school funding, class sizes, teacher pay, etc. You mentioned people choosing other professions because of some of the difficulties. I'm sure lack of financial compensation is also a problem (this is actually a problem at the collegiate level, with many grad students being lured away from college teaching and reseacrh by companies with deep pockets).

    Lastly, you have just hit my hot button with 'Anything that can't be expressed in numbers is merely an opinion.' Yes, everyone has an opinion. You clearly had one, because you posted the article. But that does not give your opinion automatic value or validity. You need to explain it, defend it, expound on it. Part of that is providing facts, sound logic, and explainations for exceptions. You can't respond to challenges or exceptions with "well, that's my opinion." Come on. Clearly you are smarter than that. Explain yourself. Don't fall behind that lame defense of "well, that's my opinion". That's cheap.

    Anyways, just my little hot button. I like lively, thought-out discussion. I don't like seeing it sidetracked by bad logic.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    You absolutely misunderstood me. (4.00 / 1) (#58)
    by Rainy on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 09:10:50 AM EST

    The idea is not that 'teachers are fools and we should replace them'. The idea is that current system is pushing less competent people into teaching and more competent people into other professions. How does this pressure work? First, there's financial pressure - people have to provide for their families, there's nothing wrong with that. Secondly, large portion of students don't want to study and part of teachers's job is policing them. Teachers aren't fools. They're just stuck in this imperfect system, as are students. The system corrupts both - it turns students into lazy bastards who are looking to cheat or to get by without doing much work.. and teachers are turned into interrogators trying to intersect the cheating and all that. That's what I've seen. No, I can't quantify this in any way.. what do you need precisely, audio recordings?

    Generalization is bad. World is too complex. My article is a simplification that takes only part of the reality into consideration so we can deal with it for now.

    I did provide some explanation and theories. If you think that wasn't enough, tough. If you can do better, go ahead. Fix my argument up. Give examples, explanations, etc. So far you pretty much said that you knew some teachers in person and they're nice, intelligent people. I also knew some teachers and they were also nice, intelligent people. You missed my point alltogether. I'm talking about the system, not the teachers.

    Throwing more money isn't a solution, imho. Our school in russia was getting by on perhaps 1/100th of the one here in US (which had about $5mil/year, iirc). They were both about as effective, which is to say, not very much so.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]

    I agree your main point (none / 0) (#63)
    by kostya on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 01:06:04 PM EST

    I've always agreed with this point (i.e. bad system, doesn't help teachers, hinders them, etc). My main problem was with your accusations against teachers. Which wasn't founded in any good logic. You could have left out the ad hominem and had a great article. What might have been true of a minority was ascribed to the majority.

    Perhaps you feel I am harassing you. And perhaps that is fair ;-) But I don't like seeing sloppy logic. Sorry if I was brutal. I did think it was a good article, however. That's why I have continued posting ;-)

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    Action! (none / 0) (#67)
    by Rainy on Sun Jan 28, 2001 at 10:35:09 AM EST

    The problem was in part that perhaps I had worse experience with teachers than you did, and in part that it was a minor point in my story so I summed it up in one sentence (which focused on the result), whereas if I devoted a paragraph to it, I'd say that some are good and most of the rest can't be blamed cause they're victims of a flawed system. Oh well. But anyway, everybody agrees that there's something wrong with the system. Some say, put more money in it. Other say, parents are at fault - not participating actively in teh schooling. And there's quite a bit of truth in either opinion. I think though, that the essence of the problem is that students are pushed into something that should be purely voluntary, and we misplace the goal simply because it's easier to test knowledge rather then intelligence. Do you agree with *that*? Because that's the whole point :-).
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    Your bring up a great point ... (none / 0) (#64)
    by kostya on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 01:13:30 PM EST

    Throwing more money isn't a solution, imho. Our school in russia was getting by on perhaps 1/100th of the one here in US (which had about $5mil/year, iirc). They were both about as effective, which is to say, not very much so.

    Actually several, but the one I think is really interesting is: what is educations real goal?

    I'm not talking about stupid conspiracy theories or rehashed Marx, but the question of "what is the educational system's goal in teaching children?"

    I think this would make a great discussion/article. Is it to educate and refine young minds into the great people they can be? Or is the goal simply to raise the mean level of education and skill to produce capable citizens who are able to participate in civic life? Universal literacy is extremely useful to a society, with immediate benefits. But is fine minds as beneficial? In terms of effort required versus immediate benefit--especially in cash strapped systems such as public education? Maybe most educators would love to be the mentor that brings about a genius, but the real task they are held to is simple factory work: produce literate people who can do basic math and now the minimum required national history to be useful.

    Interesting idea.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    Is or should be? (none / 0) (#68)
    by Rainy on Sun Jan 28, 2001 at 10:41:35 AM EST

    It is right now purely functional - we want people who know how to read, write and do math. Knowledge is the goal. What it should be, in my opinion, is the ability to solve problems - the difference is as between giving a test where you want the student to remember the formulas and solve given exercises or to be able to bring any book they want and solve harder exercises. That's just an example of the goal, you see, cause the way to reach this goal is, in my opinion, without tests as we know them now. Perhaps the system of projects that a student chooses himself and isn't graded. Student has to judge his progress himself. The task of testing falls squarely on employers shoulders - they want to hire a programmer, they should give him a test, see what projects he has done, etc.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    Design of the school system (4.16 / 6) (#27)
    by Moneo on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 04:09:49 PM EST

    The school system, as it stands today, was designed to produce factory workers, not intellectuals. Modern school systems revolve around a set schedule with bells telling students when to move, a strict set of rules and regular tests to make sure the students are not lagging behind. This is precisely the environment one finds in factories, where dynamic individualism is a liability.

    A system designed to create rational, thinking intellectuals would be based around discourse, not lectures. Testing and grades as we know them today would be obsolete -- a student's "progress" would be evident from a conversation. Think Socratic dialogues.

    Obviously, this is not a system which would work for everyone. Quotemaster is right in saying that most of society wouldn't benefit from it. Why? Because while it is possible to have a society based around individuals (Ancient Greece, for example), ours is not one. Modern society is both industrialist and capitalist. We need unwashed and uneducated masses -- a proletariat -- to keep living in the society to which we have grown accustomed. So the current schooling system has to stay in place.

    OTOH, I do think that adjustments should be made to allow those who are gifted/interested to fully develop their potential. This nees a system that is designed to further their growth as individuals. Some of us were lucky enough to get that from our families or from a few teachers, but far too many gifted children have to cope with attempts to force them into the mold society requires.
    Propaganda plays the same role in a democracy as violence does in a dictatorship. -- Noam Chomsky

    The unwashed masses (4.50 / 2) (#47)
    by Khalad on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 07:31:11 AM EST

    The ideas you expound are in no way practical, and your bias towards the upper few percent of students is scary. Education systems shouldn't only try to reach out to students who are naturally gifted; that's not the point of education. Schools aren't trying merely to develop intellectuals and geniuses; they are trying to give every person a reasonable level of abilities.

    We need unwashed and uneducated masses -- a proletariat -- to keep living in the society to which we have grown accustomed.

    You've got a lot of arrogance and egotism to rid yourself of if you think that the masses are unwashed and uneducated to support the society in which you live.

    A system based around discourse would fail not because we do not tolerate individualism, but rather because it would be entirely impractical. A conversation and debate model would help only those who are naturally amenable to conversation and debate. It's hard to figure out what somebody is thinking if they're unwilling to speak up. Isn't that how it is in classes already? The know-it-alls shout out answers to all of the teachers' questions, and the rest of the class has a hard time learning the material because they didn't have a chance to think about the questions. I used to be that know-it-all who shouted out all the answers, but I stopped doing that when I realized that my teachers asked questions of us not to see who could figure out the answer the quickest, and have the best answer, but to try to get everybody to think and work their way through it.

    A discourse model would also fail because of the scarce resources we have. How can we try for individual teaching when schools are grossly understaffed and overburdened? Schools have schedules and rules not to stifle dynamism or individualism, but to maintain a working system. Tests and grades, while not ideal, are necessary. There must be means for objective assessment of students' accomplishments. Subjective grading would be a bane to students who don't mesh well with the system, and it would assume the competency of every single teacher to be able to fairly and accurately judge the accomplishments of their students without bias.

    A discourse model may have worked well in ancient times, when learning was equated with philosophizing, but nowadays learning isn't judge about thinking and analyzing. You may not realize this, but there are actual facts and ideas we must learn, and there often isn't a place for debates between teacher and student. Would you want to learn science by discourse, or mathematics by discourse? Discourse and debate has no place unless one has concrete knowledge of a subject--an idea ancient philosophers had not encountered. Wasn't it the Aristotelian philosophy that all knowledge could be acquired by pure thought alone, and that experimentation and observation were not requirements?

    Schools aren't only supposed to reach out to those with natural inclinations towards thinking and learning. Not everybody is inclined towards these things, and that's not a bad thing. I wouldn't be able to stand it if everybody around me were an armchair philosopher. I am sick already of the volume of people who think they are smarter and better than others, and who think their ideas are better simply because they've applied a bit of thought to them. Who says idea analysis leads to better ideas?

    Your intellectualism is frightening. If you have no respect for other human beings--if you consider them the proletariat--then you have no place trying to develop an educational model for them. I think it's a ridiculous tendency for some people to always speak of the masses as stupid, ignorant, thoughtless, uneducated, and generally worse than oneself: is this the way you think of the real people you actually know? It's easy to make unflattering generalizations about people you don't know, in which case you end up railing against the "education system" and "industry" and "society" and the "unwashed masses"...

    We don't need a school system that caters to the smartest and brightest. If you feel that you are being held back, then stop complaining about the school system, stop depending upon it, and go read a book! Paint something, write a novel, compose a symphony, invent something--whatever, but stop assuming that schools should be tailor made for your needs.

    The only gifted children that are crippled by the school system are the ones that are not gifted enough to see beyond it. An education is more than what you learn in school.

    You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty

    [ Parent ]
    Don't peon me! (4.75 / 4) (#50)
    by ehayes on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:29:41 AM EST

    > Schools aren't only supposed to reach out to those with natural inclinations
    > towards thinking and learning. Not everybody is inclined towards these things,

    Yes. they are. Every single child I have ever met under the age of about six
    was fascinated by learning something new.

    Why does it disappear in 99.9% of the people by adulthood?

    Because the educational system is designed to beat it out of people - factory
    workers and fieldhand peasants who are taught to ask questions and seek
    answers, are exactly the sorts of people that end up torching the nobility when
    they revolt.

    > I am sick already of the volume of people who think they
    > are smarter and better than others, and who think their ideas are better simply
    > because they've applied a bit of thought to them. Who says idea analysis leads to
    > better ideas?

    Experience does.

    And this, of course, doesn't even begin to cover the other types of elitism,
    some of which deserve even less respect - at least analysis is work put into
    something; being wealthy is not necessarily connected to anything other than

    > Your intellectualism is frightening.

    Your procrustean attitude is equally frightening from this side.

    > If you have no respect for other human
    > beings--if you consider them the proletariat--then you have no place trying to
    > develop an educational model for them.

    If you have no respect for the differences inherent in human beings -- if you
    consider them identical and thus deserving of identical treatment -- then you
    have no place trying to develop an educational model for them.

    > I think it's a ridiculous tendency for some
    > people to always speak of the masses as stupid, ignorant, thoughtless,
    > uneducated, and generally worse than oneself

    Who said that? You did.

    > is this the way you think of the
    > real people you actually know? It's easy to make unflattering generalizations about
    > people you don't know, in which case you end up railing against the "education
    > system" and "industry" and "society" and the "unwashed masses"...

    It's easy to see them - they are all around. If I talk to twenty random people,
    then it becomes easier to see. If I have talked to two hundred, or two thousand...
    those of us at the far right of the Gaussian curves know that WE ARE NOT LIKE THE

    You think those goons playing in the American Superbowl this weekend
    think that they are average?

    > We don't need a school system that caters to the smartest and brightest.

    We also don't need a school system that breaks people into hopeless
    shuffling conformist zombies, either. But that's what we've got now....

    > If you
    > feel that you are being held back, then stop complaining about the school system,
    > stop depending upon it, and go read a book! Paint something, write a novel,
    > compose a symphony, invent something--whatever, but stop assuming that
    > schools should be tailor made for your needs.

    The problem is, that those of us who ARE gifted are a still a little goddamned
    pissed off at being tortured by being forced to go through the same bullshit
    as the rest of you.

    Tortured. Yes, I mean that literally. It is more painful for me to have to stick
    around in a class made for the lowest common denominator than it would be
    to walk at 1/10 my normal speed. It HURTS.

    But, since I was smarter than the school could handle, I got to sit in detention
    for eight hours a day while everyone else did whatever crap they did to get the
    answers that I saw immediately, and I got the bullshit makework that they gave
    you little darlings to make it look like you were doing something.

    > The only gifted children that are crippled by the school system are the ones that
    > are not gifted enough to see beyond it.

    I suppose that throwing the gifted ones into a pit of animals (all children, even
    the gifted ones, are animals - they grow into humans, sometimes) and letting
    them be mauled by conformists who hate the different, is a good thing.
    "Teach 'em not to be uppity about their book learnin'!"

    Or should the abused gifted kids just 'see beyond it'?

    > An education is more than what you learn in school.

    But if I am trapped for 16 hours a day, nine months a year, 12 years in a row, in a
    place that retards my development and sets me up for abuse....
    I will admit, it was an education... but I don't think I learned things that society
    wanted me to learn.

    So, Khalad, tell me why you are so afraid of kids being taught to think?


    [ Parent ]
    Re: Don't peon me! (3.50 / 2) (#55)
    by Khalad on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:25:29 AM EST

    Hey, I'm not afraid of kids being taught to think. Hell, I still am a kid. I guess my objection to your idea is that we shouldn't change the model of education to favor only the brightest and the smartest.

    You're in the right-hand side of the curve, and so am I, but I liked school. I suppose it just comes down to whether or not you had a good school or not. I didn't mind sitting in class with others not as bright as I because there's still plenty to learn. I didn't know calculus when I took my first calculus class, and I still don't know a hell of a lot about history or literature, though I try.

    I did have plenty of opportunities to try to get ahead though, which I think is more important than changing how classes function. It's not that the model doesn't work, it's just that I guess a lot of schools don't offer advanced enough courses. If you think the people in your classes are stupid, then I don't see how you would enjoy debating with them any more so than you would sitting with them.

    If a school doesn't offer opportunities for advanced students, then that's a problem. Just like it's a problem to force struggling students to take hard courses. I liked being challenged, and I liked not knowing what was in the course already, and I still don't like taking classes where I feel I'm past the material. Yeah, that was many of my classes, but oh well. If you were in that situation, and you had no way to take challenging courses, then that is a pity. You shouldn't have to take courses made for the lowest common denominator, but that's a problem with that particular institution if that's the way they operated. It really has nothing to do with the way they teach, does it?

    Enlighten me if you disagree... I had a great education at a great school (my parents pulled me out of a horrible nearby system before high school), so I am undoubtedly biased against radical changes in the current educational model.

    You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty

    [ Parent ]
    They are the masses (none / 0) (#57)
    by Moneo on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 07:54:19 PM EST

    You seem to have taken my comment as an attack on the current schooling system and a proposal for a replacement. That was not my intention, and I apologize if I was unclear.

    Schools aren't trying merely to develop intellectuals and geniuses; they are trying to give every person a reasonable level of abilities.
    I agree whole-heartedly; that, in fact, is my objection to the current system. The 'reasonable level of abilities' you mention are essentially those required to fit into society and fuction well as a drone (eg, a factory worker). That is not what bothers me. What bothers be is the way the system (often) stifles those who try to grow beyond it, to realize their full potential.
    Would you want to learn science by discourse, or mathematics by discourse? Discourse and debate has no place unless one has concrete knowledge of a subject
    I am lucky in that the foundation of my knowledge does, in fact, rest on discourse. My father was majored in Philosophy and Physics. My introduction to the sciences was through discussions with him over dinner. I was already thoroughly familiar with the conecpts of evolution and gravity well before I was introduced to them in school (in fact, I was already following in the tradition of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.
    If you have no respect for other human beings--if you consider them the proletariat--then you have no place trying to develop an educational model for them.
    I'm not trying to develop an educational system for them -- as I said, the masses produced by the established system are essential to the continuous smooth operation of modern society. What I am proposing is that gifted children not be limited to such a system, but have the opportunity to engage in learning via discourse.

    I think it's a ridiculous tendency for some people to always speak of the masses as stupid, ignorant, thoughtless, uneducated, and generally worse than oneself: is this the way you think of the real people you actually know?
    In a word, yes.

    The lab is closing now, so I will post more later....
    Propaganda plays the same role in a democracy as violence does in a dictatorship. -- Noam Chomsky
    [ Parent ]

    Re: Teachers (4.25 / 4) (#28)
    by gauntlet on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 04:59:00 PM EST

    I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of people that disagree with the concept that becoming a teacher is somehow a sign of incompetence.

    Becoming a teacher is a sign of many things. It is a sign that you are more concerned about others than you are about yourself. It is a sign of intelligence. It is a sign of placing value on knowledge and learning. It is a sign of strength of character.

    I should say that teachers receive very little respect in our community, and this has to change. When teachers get paid what they deserve, and when they are given the authority to do what they really can, we will be able to see them for what they really are. The fact that they receive such little respect from the community is the reason that teaching is not a prestigious career-path. This creates a lack of qualified teachers. The shortage, added to the lack of prestige, is what causes entry requirements in education programmes to be low. This causes peoples' opinions of teachers to be lowered, because "Anyone can become a teacher."

    Well, I'll tell you what. Anyone can become a garbage collector, and it typically pays more. So why would they choose teaching? They are too incompetent to lift garbage cans?

    The main point of the article is valid, and I want to discuss it, but this needs to be cleared up first.

    Teachers are deserving of our respect above all but parents.

    There is no other profession that is so integral in the maintenance of a quality society than those the upbring our offspring.

    Into Canadian Politics?

    That's theory. (1.50 / 2) (#33)
    by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:08:53 PM EST

    Reality is that 3% of teachers are idealists and 97% are there because working at mcdonalds is a bit harder and they can't handle anything else. I believe it was Heinlein who said 'those who can do, do.. those who can't, teach'. But this is only natural, when teachers have to deal with students 90% of whom don't want to learn. Who in their mind would want to do this job aside from a couple of idealists? Even if you forget the low pay for a second? And low pay is perhaps the result of low results - we all learn most of the real useful stuff either on our own, at our job or in college. College profs get payed more, respectively.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    You have some hard science on that? (4.50 / 2) (#52)
    by kostya on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:48:48 AM EST

    Reality is that 3% of teachers are idealists and 97% are there because working at mcdonalds is a bit harder and they can't handle anything else

    Where the heck are you getting this stuff? Give us some facts. If you are going to denounce 97% of the educators out there, then you better have some hard facts besides your personal anecdotes and some Heinlein quotes.

    Again, I'm not against the critique of the methodology. I was just talking to some friends about my High School algebra teachers and how I felt I was cheated because no one would teach me the "whys", just the formulas. But to dismiss these teachers as incompetent doesn't logically follow. There are too many factors.

    NOTE: It should be clarified that when you talk about incompetence, you have usually followed with something like "because they couldn't really hack the subject" or "they couldn't do anything else". So incompetence, when you talk about it, implies a "fool" or someone not bright enough to do something "worthwhile" with themselves. That is what I am taking issue with. You can do something wrong and still be a very competent person, a very bright person.

    Take this for instance: self-taught programmer, very bright, very skilled, lots of experience. Put him up against a classically trained, very bright, very skilled, very experienced programmer on a large scale system. The self-taught programmer *might* have some gaps in his knowledge and do something in a way that requires a lot of work down the road to fix. Is he incompetent? No. He just needed some experience or training in that area.

    Or take something I know a little better--OO design. Plenty of folks take C++ and OO in college. But C++ is usually taught as a "simpler/better C compiler" and OO is one class in the last semester. If you know anything about OO, that is the worst way to learn it. Are these CS grads incompetent? No. They just have been trained poorly. Are their professors incompetent? No. Many of them are unbelievably brillant. But they have been trained poorly.

    Yes, the methodology is bad, but each one of these people is a bright person. A capable person. They aren't incompetent fools who can't hack real coding. So if the logic doesn't follow here, you can see why I am taking issue with you just assuming that 97% of teachers are incompetent fools.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    not what I meant (3.00 / 1) (#59)
    by Rainy on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 09:17:46 AM EST

    By incompetence I meant that they're not the best people for the job. Best people go elsewhere. Now, for hard facts.. How do I prove 3% are idealists? Is there some brain scan technique that I'm not aware of? Some low-power laser that checks you head and prints our the result 'this one's an idealist'? Cause, until we can do that, I can only say that this was my impression. What was yours? 50% were idealists? 75%?
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    That is PRECISELY my point (none / 0) (#62)
    by kostya on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 12:58:42 PM EST

    By incompetence I meant that they're not the best people for the job. Best people go elsewhere.

    NOW we're talking! Now that is a good point, something we can discuss. That is something we could talk about, try to draw conclusions about, reach consensus or strongly disagree over. That is something we could discuss!

    The problem is not with your impression, but with how you phrased it. That may seem unfair, but a good portion of life is perception and shades of meaning.

    Saying "I think that education suffers because the field of education fails to draw the best and greatest talent. Some examples could be X and Y. Also, my personal experience Z."

    Differs dramatically from "How do you expect teachers to teach that if they were incompetent enough to end up with one of the most low-paying and low-esteemed jobs out there? They know the formulae and the kids don't, and that's the difference between them. "

    One is inflamatory and simply baseless. You were passionate about the topic and you got a little carried away. I've done it (and continue to do it) a lot. But the fact is that the statement is poor at best. Another thing to consider is that there ARE teachers on this board. Phrasing your point in a humble way, one that remains open to the possibility that you don't have all the facts, allows for teachers to add to the discussion without getting offended. Think of what teachers could add to the discussion. They REALLY now what is going on inside the system.

    If we want to talk impressions, I would say that 25% of teachers are idealists, people who believe in the kids AND believe in learning. I'd say a good 50% "love kids". Even though I am a "love o' learnin'" zealot, I have to admit that many teachers impacted and shaped my life in non-academic ways. So that 50% is doing a great service to the community. The other 25% probably don't know what they want in life and think, "Hey, I enjoyed babysitting!" (tongue in cheek).

    Now this is going into teaching. The harsh realities of teaching I think make most teachers very miserable. The crap (read bueacracy) that teachers have to put up with every day would make most of us into gibbering fools. To have your work, your efforts over looked, criticized, and denigrated every day by school administrations and ignorant community members is heart breaking. Teaching, I my opinion, isn't very fun. That's a system problem.

    And just so you know I "understand", I had to teach myself geometry from my textbook. I was in Honors Geometry. The teacher was a total fool (yes, I mean fool--incompetent and didn't care a lick). He got the Honors slot due to politics--there were many more competent and engaging teachers. But he got it. So, my experience also includes idiots, but I can also see a lot more culpability in the bad system that allows them a place.

    That being said, he was of the right age to be in the middle of the Vietnam draft. I know of many teachers whose stories include that one fact. If you didn't stay in college, the college notified your local draft board and you were off to Vietnam. So, in my opinion, teaching saw a larger enrollment of incompetence in that period--maybe a lot of professions did. Maybe incompetence isn't fair. Perhaps they just couldn't think of anything else to do. But the fact remains, if you stayed in college, you stayed alive. And maybe that was all that mattered then. So I can be a little understanding. Economic realities were much different then--you didn't switch jobs at the drop of a hat like we (especially I) do these days. So you went into teaching to dodge the draft and then you were stuck.

    Another great exception would be the story as told in Mr. Holland's Opus. If you have seen the movie, you will remeber that he sucked at teaching at first. Some times it takes some mentoring and some epiphanies to make good teachers. Not all teachers get a shot at that.

    So even though I hated that teacher and still regard him as a fool today, I try to leave room for some stuff I'll just never understand because I wasn't there. Of course, I learned that approach by proving myself a fool multiple times over. Ah, life.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    25%? (none / 0) (#66)
    by Rainy on Sun Jan 28, 2001 at 10:25:59 AM EST

    So, I said 97% and you said 25%. Do you have hard proof for your number? What if there are some teachers on the board who will be insulted by your number as much as I'm insulted by yours? Then again, both numbers may be right - I'm talking about what I saw, you're talking about what you saw.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    Also.. (4.00 / 1) (#60)
    by Rainy on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 09:23:47 AM EST

    I'm not talking about college(s). In college things are better - those who didn't want to go, didn't go there. There's more focus on problem solving than on memorization. Grades are still there, though and you can't bring textbooks to a test.. Essentially, I don't think teaching and testing should be combined, it should be done by absolutely separate organizations. In fact, testing should be done by employers - they know what exactly they need. Schools should have relaxed atmosphere where everybody comes to learn and nothing else.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    Ok, now we are getting somewhere (none / 0) (#61)
    by kostya on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 12:27:39 PM EST

    The fact that we are getting to "My real point is" is good. That's what I wanted.

    Listen, I liked the "main point" of your article. I agree that education doesn't appear to be optimal in the k-12 area. But your senseless slamming of people you don't even know wasn't needed. Do you see my point? You could talk about the real issue without getting mired down in ad hominems that can't be logically supported.

    Veritas otium parit. --Terence
    [ Parent ]
    not really (none / 0) (#65)
    by Rainy on Sun Jan 28, 2001 at 10:21:03 AM EST

    I disagree that I was 'slamming' people. Teachers are victims. Not the bad guys. Not the fools. Even though most of them are incompetent, less competent for teaching than those applying this knowledge in real world. IMHO. Is this slamming?
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    My school experience (3.66 / 3) (#31)
    by slakhead on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 06:47:13 PM EST

    I am still in school and I am currently taking classes in differential equations, science and engineering physics, and history. On the most basic level of these classes, you do need to memorize things but they are things that you do no even need to memorize after a while. After you have integrated one thousand plus equations (I'm not quite there yet!) the process becomes a part of you as natural as breathing or drinking caffeinated beverages. You only memorize for short term but to do well in college, at least in my experience, you have to KNOW the subject.

    In fact, my physics teacher lets us use one 8 and 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper and we can put as many notes for the test as we want on there but in the end it doesn't make any difference what you put on the paper. You could copy example problems, formulas (the most useful thing to put on the paper of course), or anything you think might aid you but it doesn't matter. You have so little time to answer all the questions that you just need to know it or you are screwed. I can't say I have had very good teachers though. While many of them have been extremely intelligent, they don't always have a teaching method that is actually conducive to learning. I admit that I have to strive for my grades just like anyone else but even though the prospect of no grades sounds appealing (I also have to admit: I like to learn and go to school so I would be one of those few to show up) it isn't practical. Most students just aren't motivated enough by an intrinsic need to learn and participate. Also, if there are no grades, there is no way to determine the abilities of one person over another. Grades, in theory, are merit based and actually mean something in the right context. The crux of the problem is when grades lose there value because teachers attempt to give all their students As or Bs. After all, bad grades must be reflective of the teacher's abilities to teach.

    Back to the subject of how to teach, I have found high school to be a place of lax standards, easy tests, students who would rather be anywhere but school, and teachers who have lost faith in their original altruistic teaching goals. College, on the other hand, differs in that all the students participate in a long application process in addition to having to pay tuition to get in. After all is said and done, those are the people who want to be in class. They have too much invested in their education to take it lightly and they actually try.

    High school rarely puts any educational topics in a practical, real-world perspective. Instead there are multiple choice tests and boring lectures. It is my opinion that teachers should be taking the subject they are trying to teach and integrate it with the students' daily lives. There has to be someway to get them to relate to the topic so they will appreciate it and at the same time, remember it. No, not just remember it, but KNOW it. I suppose that is easier said than done but it seems like a good goal to set.

    I guess the bottom liner is that in the real world, no one gives a shyte whether you got an A or B or whatever just as long as you can solve the problems you claim you can solve. In the more advanced classes, if you get an A it is very likely than you know what you are doing when you get done.

    Anyway, thats enough ranting from me. Everyone check out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance if you haven't already. The lines mentioned by the poster of this article might make a little more sense in their own context.

    that's the weak spot, right? (3.00 / 1) (#37)
    by Rainy on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 07:42:04 PM EST

    That most aren't motivated.. But that's precisely why they are not! Or most of them.. The whole drudgery of memorization, tests, subjects that they probably won't use in their life. Why does a future car salesman need trigonometry? Let him read dickens instead, or draw, or whatever in the school instead, what he wants to do.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    utilitarianism? (3.50 / 2) (#40)
    by _Quinn on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 08:35:10 PM EST

       Is the value of an education necessarily and directly related to the utility of the subjects covered/learned? Do you wonder why college is so emphasized in America? It's because America is no longer a land of factory drones, and the high schools haven't caught up. (http://www.bls.gov/iag/iaghome.htm) Only 15% of Americans (in 2000) were in manufacturing. More of us work for the government! Virtually all office work is a learn-as-you-go task, the more so the more technological the field, in general. (Vocational training in computing, for instance, is obsolete in a matter of years, at best. At the other end is a field like accounting, which doesn't change a whole lot, as far as I can tell -- though different rules and regulations might force adjustments.)

       For a car salesman in particular, most school -- except maybe rhetoric and the three r's -- will be 'useless'. But people are lazy, and I've certainly become interested in topics taught in classes I wouldn't have taken had I not been forced to. Furthermore, rigorous mathematical training of almost any kind is a good introduction to logical thought and problem solving, and so on. Finally, the school system also has (or used to feel it had) an obligation to produce good citizens -- people with some knowledge of history (don't repeat its mistakes), some ability to cogently analyze an argument (don't get caught by scam artists, especially those in or running for public office), and a basic understanding of how the US government functions (and doesn't). Having to explain the electoral college in every bloody article about the Florida election was totally ridiculous.

    Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
    [ Parent ]
    want or need (3.00 / 1) (#45)
    by Rainy on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:19:55 AM EST

    First of all.. educating ignorant mass into good, intelligent citizens against thier will that won't repeat history's mistakes - that's what schools do, right? I'm sorry, but you seem to be living in a magical mystery world. Here on earth schools produce drones who know a bit of algebra and geometry. You don't have to work at the factory to be a drone. There are office drones. By the way, large chunk of US population is in service area - good thing that they know their geometry, for that. The system instills hate for knowledge - knowledge and thinking becomes a drag, work, something that you're pushed and rewarded for, instead of an almost religious reverence it was regarded with in ancient greece, for instance. This ain't right, if you ask me.
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
    [ Parent ]
    k-12 Sucked. (2.83 / 6) (#41)
    by Daemin on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 09:52:03 PM EST

    Oh where to start... How about the rate of progress? It was extremely frustrating and contributed greatly to my apathy and boredom to be force to work at the rate of the least common denominator of the class. IE the lessons progressed as fast as the stupidist student could grasp it. The only expception i found to this was a language teacher in 10th grade who gave out ALL the assigrnments on the frist day of classes, with dates on which they had to be in by. YOu could do them as fast as you wish (i did them all in less then 3 months). Teachers that didnt like smart students? They didnt want someone who knew most of the answers, and hated a student who knew more about a subject then they did. Whats the point in answering the teachers questions if it earns their enimity and your fellow students? Revelency? Do 99% of the people who pass through our education system seriously need to know proper grammer? And god knows they are a misserable failure at it as is. Lets face it: 90% of the people ARE the unwashed masses, and the jobs they hold do not requier anything taught in school other then the ability to follow simple orders. Does a common laborer need to know Algebra? Geometry? World history? I dont think so. You question as to how to teach better assumes the schools are working right now. Sounds odd, but think about it for a second. We cant ALL be the intelligensia. A capitalist society NEEDS common laborers to run the factories to produce goods, and ALSO needs them to turn around and spend their wages ON those goods. Computer Scientits, Physisits, CEO, etc. dont produce marketable commodities. THey allow marketable commdities to BE producded, but it still takes a bunch of warm bodies to churn out the crap. If the public school system churned out thousands of highly intelligent, creative, rational people, our society would either 1) collapse withint a decade or two or 2) be forced to go totaly high tech and move all common laborer jobs to forieng countries and import manufactured goods. #1 doesnt seem very appealing, and #2 has been fought kicking and screaming for years. "THEIR STEALING OUR JOBS!!!, THEYRE SEND ALL OUR JOBS OVER SEAS!!!!" Its not the companies fault you have no skills other then being a warm body able to manipulate physical objects. But if i were to suggest how to produce better educated, more intelligent individuals, i think a good start would be to teach propositional, or formal, logic in grade school. THe problem (as has been stated repetedly already) is that students are taught to memorize and regurgatate things, but not to to analyze them. Basicaly they are never taught how to think. Well, its a problem if we assume getting them to think is the goal of school. If its just to keep them occupied for most of the day untill they are old enough to fill one of the "warm body" positions at the numours local buisnesses, then they preform their jobs admirably.

    The grammar Nazi strikes again (3.66 / 3) (#49)
    by clover_kicker on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 08:42:10 AM EST

    >Revelency? Do 99% of the people who pass through our
    >education system seriously need to know proper grammer?

    It all depends. If one wants to be taken seriously in a written medium, then one requires decent grammar and spelling.

    For someone who wants to draw the line between an uneducated class of "warm bodies" and an educated elite, ya shur dont spel tu gud, d00d.

    I am the very model of a K5 personality.
    I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

    [ Parent ]
    School Problems (4.44 / 9) (#43)
    by sec on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 11:26:32 PM EST

    I'm speaking from a Canadian perspective here, and while the Canadian school system doesn't seem to be as far gone as the US one, I think that the same basic problems are still there, only not quite as severe -- yet.

    Problem 1: The Three 'R's are not enough!

    The Three 'R's are necessary, but not sufficient, IMHO. What's missing is something to tie them all together. Reasoning, logic, critical thinking, the scientific method -- whatever you want to call it, it's important that students be able to do something with the information that they recieve. The third 'R' is a start, but it's too focussed on numerical problems.

    The whole idea should be to give the students all of the tools that they need to learn for themselves. In other words, the most important thing that school needs to teach is how to learn. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important tools to that end, but more is needed.

    Problem 2: Political Correctness

    At best marginally helpful, at worst downright harmful, political correctness is often pushed in the classroom, often in areas where it has little relevance. Of what possible use is PC in mathematics? Science should ideally be a search for truth, whether or not that truth is politically correct.

    IMHO, PC does the most damage in history class. History is rarely PC, and the material is often censored in order to make it so. Is the possibility of offending some over-sensitive person justification enough for teaching what, in some cases, amount to blatent lies?

    There is also a tendency to play favourites. Some historical figures have their un-PC-ness held up to ridicule, and others have their un-PC-ness simply ignored.

    Problem 3: One Size Fits All

    Most teachers target their teaching to somewhere in the middle of the class. Consequently, the brighter students are bored out of their minds, and the not-so-bright students are left behind. School administrators have at least recognized this to some extent, and made a separate class for the latter group. However, the stigma of being in 'dummy class' is rather harmful in its own right.

    In high school, I had a 90% average without putting much effort into it. I had a reputation for being a 'class clown', mainly because I was so bored. I did learn some important and interesting stuff in my high school years, but mostly on my own initiative.

    Problem 4: If it tastes bad, it must be good for you!

    Canadian history is full of colourful characters, wacky events, and darn good reading. We never learned any of the good bits in school, though. If you simply go by what was taught in history classes, you might think that Canadian history was remarkably dull.

    Sir John A. McDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, was a bit of a drunk. In his day, one of the main campaign events was the 'great picnic', in which the candidates gave speeches, and schmoozed with their constituents. In one such picnic, Sir John had gotten into the sauce a little more than normal. His advisors were a little concerned about this. Once his opponent had made his speech, Sir John took the podium, but was a little unsteady. He then made a dash to the side of the podium, and tossed his cookies. He returned to the podium, said, "That man's speeches have always had that effect on me!", and proceeded to make a rousing speech of his own.

    I learned this little anecdote from an English teacher who was something of a character in his own right. Never did I hear any mention of this in any history class. Can't have those impressionable kids exposed to material which might corrupt them, now can we?

    Problem 5: Lack of resources.

    If we don't consider education important enough to fund properly, why should we expect the students to take it seriously? Mind you, simply throwing money at the education system isn't the answer either, but there's no way that the system can be effective if it's underfunded.

    There are surely other problems too, but this post is getting long enough as is. So I'll cut off here.

    Meyers-Briggs: iNtuitive versus Sensing (4.50 / 10) (#54)
    by Paul Johnson on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:02:04 AM EST

    The problem is that most people are "Sensing" in Meyers-Briggs terminology, but most of us (being mostly computer people) are "intuitive". In fact, as mentioned in the Jargon File, computer hackers tend to accumulate the rare INTP and INTJ personality types.

    What this means is that sensing people (i.e. most of the population) deal with the world as a series of sensory impressions whilst making comparitively little attempt to tie different bits together. Past experience, especially personal experience, is prized. Memory is obviously very important in this process.

    Meanwhile the "intuitive" people try to look for underlying patterns in this stream of data, and develop sophisticated theories to try to understand them. Merely memorising detail takes a back seat to this process of deep understanding. (Note: this is not quite the same as the everyday meaning of "intuitive"). Hence intuitive people often have difficulty with simple memorisation unless they have an underlying theory to hang the facts on.

    Meyers-Briggs liken this to being left or right handed: you can use either hand to do things, but one comes much more naturally than the other, and tends as a result to be the one that gets the most practice. I'm not entirely convinced by this, but its an interesting idea.

    The author of this article is obviously intuitive, and either has or had a problem with the predominantly sensing approach (see, experience, learn, regurgitate) taken by mainstream education. He suggests changes to the educational system which would move it in a more "intuitive" direction and away from sensing. Unfortunately this would make it a worse system for the majority whilst making it better for the minority.

    A better solution would be to identify styles of thought (including but not limited to Meyers-Briggs type) and take them into account in subsequent education. In particular, teach the "intuitive" kids more theory and less rote fact.

    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

    Education: 3 R's mentality vs. Problem Solving | 68 comments (62 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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