Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rebooting our Schools

One of my former students sent me a message on Facebook with a video critical of today's educational system and he asked what I thought.... so, here goes.

First, watch this video before going forward.

The video is an interesting indictment of our education system. I agree with many of the points this young man makes, not all, but many. Maybe even most.

As a teacher, I can say that some of us tried to sneak some of this stuff in into an archaic education system that has not progressed as fast as we have over the course of the past 50 years... nor one that welcomed the changes.

I would counter that some of the things he mentioned that we teach seem unimportant and I would say that they are. I will use this as an example, one you might have even thought of.

When I taught Shakespeare I often heard "why do we need this?" Yes, the language was foo foo and much not used anymore, but the situations were valid. Teach Julius Caesar and you can learn about how people can use government to further their goals. Teach Romeo & Juliet and one can learn about the dangers of young love unchecked.

All this done through a back door. Offer these lessons purely as lessons and a lot of kids just roll their eyes, "yeah, there goes those adults again."

I sure cannot speak to what young teachers are being taught today to address these changes.

I have often said that we don't have enough time to teach all the things youth really need to learn. But the shoe also is on the other foot. How many kids rebel against learning things they really need? How many kids have bought into the attitude that school is a waste of time? Some of it is. The teachers who really care try to get around teaching the dull boring stuff and include the stuff that is anything but.

Until we get school boards and politicians out of the classrooms to let teachers do their jobs, a lot of this is not going to change. Let's face it, there are a lot of people out there whose best interests are not served by raising a smart well-educated population. Dumb people are so much easier to lead (just look at Donald Trump's followers).

Businesses complain that young people today are not coming out of school with the skills necessary to compete in today's world, but I would say that a lot of them are using that excuse to ship jobs overseas where the labor force work for peanuts.

What's the answer (in my humble view, here are ten things)?

One: parents must get more involved in their children's education. The number of parents I saw on a regular basis was pitifully woe, and the parents I didn't see are the ones I needed to see most.

Two: weed out teachers who do not do their jobs (I hate to say it, but there were/are plenty of those at Brandywine... but BPS is not alone. Look at the lax, lazy teachers in one school and multiply it by the thousands of schools in this nation and we have a problem.

Three: PAY teachers a decent wage and let them do their jobs.

Four: modernize our schools and curriculums. Stop "cheaping" out on what it costs to operate schools. Have you heard the old adage, "running schools are expensive?" They are, but raising an uneducated population costs more... welfare and prisons cost more.

Five: we must get past the attitude that once one graduates learning is done. We must be lifelong learners.

Six: stop watering/dumbing down the curriculum.

Seven: stop this insane testing every other day (yes, I exaggerate a little--but not really).

Eight: stop insisting that all children must go to college. Not everyone is cut out for college. Technical schools are great for some kids. Internships often can do more than any classroom can offer. We need to have more schools that cater to different types of students. South Bend's schools have a fine arts school, a business school and one geared towards the sciences. Brandywine tries to do this by permitting students to go part time to the other schools that can better afford teaching some of the other disciplines.

Nine: I hate to say it, but the school year needs to be longer, and I advocate splitting it into three terms, not two. Get rid of three-month long summer vacations and instead break up the school year.

Ten: We keep hearing make teachers accountable, but how about making kids accountable? We need smaller schools with smaller classes. This makes accountability far easier to measure. A teacher walking into a class of 15-18 students is far easier to manage than a class of 25-32.

There's a lot more that needs to be done and I sure am not the end all, be all of what a school should be.

This video does an excellent job of showing what's wrong with today's schools, but I wish it would also address what's right. Still, his point is well taken. 

Sadly, schools, as they currently exist, are designed to cater to the masses and not so well to those who are exceptional and to those who are not. We need to change that.