Sunday, May 10, 2009

On education

Andrea blogged about substitute teaching and the pathetic state of education today, and I started to reply but it got long. So I'm posting my thoughts here. (No link since I'm not sure she wants one; I will update if she does.)
It's clear that public schools run by unions are not serving children well today. Or ever really, but it hasn't been getting any better, despite the innovative solution offered by the establishment of throwing ever-increasing amounts of money at the problem.
This article makes you think.  Matthew likes art, and gymnastics, and violin, and chess, and writing his uncles.  He wants to learn Karate and carpentry.  What if that were a substantial part of his "school" instead of what he squeezes in when he's tired from sitting at a desk all day listening to what the State of Texas thinks all six year olds should hear (but only at a level geared to the slowest)?
I think we also need to be careful not to make the mistake that many adults do, which is to assume that the best subjects for today's kids to learn are the same ones we mastered as children. Not so long ago, you could not call yourself educated without mastering classical Greek and Latin. More recently, Penmanship was its own subject. Today Latin is studied cusorily -- when it is studied at all, Greek is gone entirely, and despite fighting the march of technology tooth and nail penmanship is doomed too.
This is as it should be.
More controversially, I submit that spending hours practicing the multiplication tables is as much a waste of time in today's world as manipulating a slide rule.  The SAT and all college math courses that I know of are way ahead of today's parents in recognizing this; the SAT has allowed calculators since some time in the 90s.  When I first heard that I had one of those "kids these days!" reactions, but it's true: If a student is attracted to math and engineering, he'll develop the ability to do simple figures in his head anyway, the same way we develop facility in reading -- by doing so for pleasure, not by being drilled mercilessly.  And if his interests lie elsewhere, there is no need to make him miserable; he will have a calculator in his cell phone.
This is why I am not a fan of many private schools either; they often compete on the basis of how rigorously they can beat knowledge hardest into your child.  I'm going to check the local Montessori school here for Matthew's first grade; they have a reputation of being more enlightened.

5 comments:

David said...

Interesting take.

I think much of what is taught is a waste of time...ie subjective studies.

I would still go for learning basic tasks like penmanship and math. You still have to sign for packages:P

I would also have classes in health care, or how to obtain and use insurance and on paying taxes.

Classes that would actually prepare someone for reality and not make you into an ideological idiot.

In short I would train the basics, stress skills, and leave some free time for exploration.

Jonathan Ellis said...

Now now, don't go all reductio ad absurdum on me. I never said I was against being able to sign your name. :P

Insurance and taxes are 3 hour tutorials, not a subject unto themselves. (For the vast majority who don't want to be actuaries / accountants.) A broader category might be Entrepreneurship.

Andrea said...

Thanks for your post in regards to my blog post. The more I have substitute taught the more convinced I am that it would be best to home school when our kids come of age. I'm a little overwhelmed by what all this entails but Jeremy has a sister who has home taught all 6 of her kids and contrary to my previous experiences with home taught kids, all seem to be very well adjusted socially, which was my greatest concern other than the time and energy involved.

I like the idea that it gives a lot more flexibility on real life applicable subjects. Basically if kids can pass the GED and get high scores on the college admission tests that is all colleges are looking for. We are thinking of going the same route as Jeremy's sister with our kids by letting them graduate from High School early as home schoolers and for the last two years of standardized High School have them go to a community college for the next two years.

I just don't see any reason not to let kids go at their own pace rather than the school systems idea of where they should be at. Most students are far above that level and it results in behavior problems and bored children who are stuck torturing their parents with their busy work assignments that they get absolutely nothing out of.

Thanks again for your insights on the subject. I now have a greater appreciation for what you and Rachel are going through trying to figure out the best educational plans for Matthew's and later Melissa's, Isaac's and subsequent baby Ellis's to follow.

David said...

sorry, I am younger than you, so I wasn't taught any Latin.

I have been learning how to deal with insurances, and you could easily make a course out of it.

I just wanted to give examples of skills that could be taught instead of German fairy tales.

vini vidi vici

Jen said...

Hey, I thought I'd say my two cents worth on education. We are actually very blessed to have our kids go to the school they're attending. It's incredibly well-ranked and the teachers are actually very good at paying attention to the levels that each individual child is at, plus, if need be, we can test the kids to get into an advanced learning program that emphasizes focusing on the details.

Since watching Abby go through school for the last two years, I've developed some strong opinions on what education should and shouldn't be. If you ask parents what subjects should be taught, you'll get thousands of different answers. Everyone feels so differently on this as they should. I think ultimately, the purpose of school should be to teach children HOW to learn and simply use the subjects as tools to facilitate that ultimate goal. Think back to your college years. What was the point of taking some of those different classes? It certainly wasn't because we need to read Hamlet for the 400th time. It was because we need to learn how to think for ourselves outside the basic formats. Unfortunately, schools do need tests in order to determine whether they are accomplishing those specific tasks. But, ultimately, the tests these kids take are trying to find out if the kids can follow instructions. If someone can't follow a basic instruction, they're lost in this world. Or at least should rightfully be.

If your child has an aptitude for something beyond the curriculum given at school, it becomes your responsibility as a parent to develop that talent in them. One thing I really respect about school is the theory that it takes a whole village to raise a child. If I'm the only one teaching my child, then they will only be exposed to my set of experiences, etc. By sending them to school, they're exposed to things I personally was never interested in. That allows them to discover beauty in their own way.

Now, there are certainly times when homeschooling is appropriate. As I said, we are particularly blessed with a school that seems to fit our ideology on education. Not everyone is so lucky. Really pray about it and you'll find what's right. Heavenly Father wants these children to learn even more than we do -- if that even seems possible. And He knows what school will best help them.

Good luck, guys! Hope to hear from you, soon!