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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of edu—cation
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Thursday morning, I woke up with the first line of Paul Simon’s Kodachrome stuck in my on an endless, and vaguely annoying, loop. As I prepared for the first day of teaching my two new English composition classes at a local college, I began to think about the students I would encounter and this song continued in its endless loop.

Students today learn very little. Their brains are crammed with strategies for filling in tiny bubbles. They learn how to recognize correct answers in short readings. History classes are, based on questions asked of students, woefully deficient in teaching students how their society has formed and from where they come. English classes do not challenge students to read important works of literature, either contemporary or classic. The students, when questioned, have no concept of the following:

  1. Various works of classic literature, including A Tale of Two Cities, Civil Disobedience, Hamlet and/or Macbeth and/or Romeo and Juliet (even one would be acceptable), among others.
  2. The sit in at the Woolworth’s in the 1960’s.
  3. The Montgomery bus boycott.
  4. The Kent State Riots.
  5. The fall of the Berlin Wall
  6. The complexity of the causes of the Civil War, such as popular sovereignity and states rights and not just slavery.
  7. Biology labs containing paramecium and amoebas.
  8. Geometric proofs.
  9. Various vocabulary words.

No, really. These are events or experiences that have been discussed in class in an effort to discuss the importance of readings or as examples of tangibles to describe abstract ideas. Sometimes one or two students will have heard of one of the above mentioned educational experiences (geometry is the one most likely). However, most of the time, I not only reference the incident or experience but then have to explain it.

Even more important, by not being taught many of these things, students are unable to learn to think for themselves. Students nearly have a conniption fit when presented with the idea that “there is no right answer, so long as your point of view is argued clearly.” What? No right answer? Then, how do I know if I’m doing the essay correctly? How can I pass if there is no right answer? In an attempt to measure students’ ability to learn, the education system has effectively stopped teaching them information that would help them learn.

By the time a student reaches college, he/she is no longer able to easily learn basic independent thought. Never having had experience arguing a position clearly, students today find this to be a difficult task. Most times, the essays students write are nothing more than a summary of class lectures parroting back what was said and presented in class. The main problem is that today students need college in a way they never did before. Education in the US is not about teaching students how to think. All of the jobs that students want require them to think and process information, not fill in bubbles with ink or graphite.

Moreover, a college education is rapidly no longer enough to hoist oneself out of a depressed economic situation. A bachelor’s degree does not advance one’s career in the way that it used to, yet college costs are rising. Students are finding that without a post-graduate degree, they can no longer obtain the types of jobs that will help them to advance themselves in society. Students are incurring more education debt every year, placing them in precarious financial situations upon graduation. Their jobs cannot always cover the monthly payments to cover these debts. Students postpone their undergraduate debts by continuing their education, thus incurring more debt and continuing the vicious cycle. Granted, part of this problem is the glut of college graduates in the job market that did not exist thirty or forty years ago. The increased accessibility of a college education has made college an extended high school education. However, this is not the only problem causing this cycle of education and educational debt. Part of the problem lies in that the skills that used to be taught in high schools are now postponed until college. Thus, without a college, or even post-graduate education, students today do not have the skills necessary for basic introductory level white collar jobs.

What needs to happen is that secondary education needs to better prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in college and in life. Today, students at all levels are focused on grades, on scores, and on filling in blanks. They are not focused on learning the skills that these grades, scores, and blanks are supposed to be measuring. Critical thinking skills need to be taught prior to students being released from our high schools. Questioning and problem solving need to be taught, not simply basic comprehension. Students are so adept at answering multiple choice questions correctly that they often have not learned the information required but have merely figured out the tricks to answering correctly. When presented with problems they need to solve or questions requiring an independently determined answer without choices presented from which to choose, they flounder. These are the skills that will prepare them for the real world. These are the skills that used to be taught in high schools allowing colleges and universities to build upon them. Now, colleges and universities are forced to teach these basic skills, requiring students to move on to post-graduate studies in order to expand upon the undergraduate skills that they should have been taught back in high school. In other words, if high schools were teaching these skills, the need for a post-graduate degree would not necessarily be so great.

Sadly, the crap students are learning in high school is keeping them from thinking and is creating a lack of education that will hurt them some.

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