Friday, March 9, 2012

The Death of Education Part III

The Death of Education by Eric Olsen....

In this method the teacher reduces the level of skill that is necessary in all assigned work so that she doesn't have to teach anyone. Instead of writing assignments, worksheets are given so that those in the lower third can still progress by working with partners or copying the answers from someone else outside class. Instead of reading that requires thoughtful and evidence based answers, these teachers ask simple, knowledge-based questions that deal primaily with the most superficial aspects of the writing: character details and actions, plot points, and descriptions of setting.

Very true, in curriculum and testing. But ask a student a more complex question, "why do you think ___did ___?"  , "In your opinion, should ____ have done ___ and why?" students run into a wall. They're been so trained by high school (even 5th grade in my experience) to look up an answer, "the main character is Susan, says so on page 5" and not actually THINK that they don't know how. I see high school students thrashing through book pages, near the point of tears, looking for the answer to, "in your opinion....."    

Olsen also writes, but I'll praraphase, about extra credit. Students can slack through a semester, do nearly nothing, and then the week before grades, pull all-nighters of extra credit to raise their D to a B. Students have come to expect extra credit, as have parents. Even administration has; Olsen mentions that he had failing students and angry parents and the principal suggested to give the child extra credit to raise his grade.   I humbly admit I've given extra credit, but it is to such litte a degree that their 68% D might become a 69% D; not an A. That way if a child has an on-the border grade, a 89.3% B+ they can bump it to a very low A-.

Regarding inclusion, Olsen states,

And so every year, the entire group goes right along together up to the next class, despite their deficiencies, despite the fact that they're not "exactly alike and at the same time and year", so that by the time they get to secondary school there is no way to give low performing students the remediation they need, much less challenge any student to reach their full potential

If students are not allowed time for "practice makes perfect", to master a topic because "we have to move on to the next standard. The class next door is 3v worksheet answers ahead of us, hurry!" then this just perpetuates the gap between the inclusion students and the rest. It's cruel, to not give them the time and help they need, to not give that to any student, really.

Which also reminds me of something I hang my head in shame about. I had a student who, well he did pass my class, but....sigh. I had a final project where they compared Of Mice and Men to racism, genderism, ableism in history. He chose his project on racism and genocide; since we had "closed internet" I had to provide students (and the tech guy) websites that I had specially allowed to be seen, so it was easiest to give say, 5 websites on various genocides and have them report on how they all relate. Well this child used the wi-fi across the street to get the websites he wanted, and he spent three weeks reading about the Armenian Genocide. He turned nothing in so without evidence, I had to give him an F. Shame on me. I was so entrenched in the system that I wanted paper-based evidence that he mastered the concept, and that he connected the 5 genocides to slavery which conects to Of Mice and Men.... which he did not do. So, sorry, F it is. But I bet you, had I realized this, and sat down and asked him to tell me what he learned, he'd talk my ear off. He might not overtly say "it relates to the book because....." but darnit, he learned.

Also... by high school, since everyone just passes kids on, you get nearly illiterate kids. Why are there so many illiterate adults? People wonder, how did they make it into high school, graduate, without reading? Well, some would say "I don't know" to a question and get passed on to the next teacher. Or they would copy a friend's worksheet and thus pass the class. They'd say "I don't want to read aloud today" and get away with it.  They'd show up to class and get a C just for being seated. By the time I get a child in 5th grade who cannot even compose a sentence, or in 10th grade when a child cannot even grasp let alone use punctuation, and cannot even comprehend/read the syllabus, what do you do? When they are at a 1st grade level and ready to graduate, what do you do (other than secretly chastise prior teachers for passing him on)? Even if you hold the child back, repeat 10th grade, will they go from grade 1-10 in ability, especially in the way our system teaches? No, because Mrs. Teacher, you are teaching 10th grade standards, not 1st.  I was once chastised by administration for teaching long division- a 4th grade standard- in 5th grade. So why did I do that? Thev standard of the day was mean, median, mode. With more than 3/4 of my class unable to do long division, how could they average the word problem's basketball scores of 43, 88, 72? So I had to "go back" which was forbidden. So if this happens in each grade, then a certain portion of the students are "stuck" with 1st grade knowledge in high school and there's nothing we can do to help them because it isn't in the standards, isn't in the scripted curriculum.

Olsen also writes about making learning "entertaining". I at first disagreed with him, I mean, hello Olsen, learning needs to be fun! Duh! But these lessons often do not actually teach you to think, a video game where you shoot at the right answer to addition problems might seem fun but is it really really teaching true knowledge? "entertaining" education is really just a glorified worksheet, a "fun" way to get rote, dumbed down, simplied worksheet-style answers from kids.

For both parents and students in this situation, the only variable that they can detect to explain why these students are struggling is the teacher

Again, one of those post-it-on-a-billboard statements! I love it! Your child is not failing because they never did a single piece of work, the teacher failed because he did not give you work you could do, the work must have been too difficult. Or, the work was too boring. You didn't get to know the student enough to make learning fun, relevant. Or, you have it out for my child. You didn't offer enough extra credit. You didn't accept work that was 3 months late. You give too much work. Your too strict and mean. You can't expect my child to do that much work. bla bla bla bla bla. I've heard it all. No longer does a parent or even principal ask the child, "did you honestly TRY in the class? Did you actually ask for help? Did you attend tutoring, re-take test sessions or the like?" No. All fault is with the teacher.

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