I’d say that if there was one thing both liberals and conservatives agreed on, it would be that America’s schools are falling behind when compared to the rest of the world. But, unfortunately, both parties are misinformed about the issue. They believe that adding more time to school and more standardised tests will fix the problem, but this is almost exactly the problem. Obama wanting to add more time to the school day only further insults kids that they are inferior to adults by making them work nearly ten hours per day at school then work more on homework after school. Let me ask you: where the hell do their personal lives fit into this?
Actually, there are two problems with the US’s system: the fact that we no longer teach to learn but teach to test and that American kids just don’t give a shit any more.
There was once a time when you were valued for being knowledgeable. In fact, you were basically shunned if you didn’t do well in school since you couldn’t be the pride of the family. Nowadays, the American life-style is a bit different. And, I don’t want to blame this on the media (because most people who just blame “the media” for problems don’t know a damned thing about the actual subject), but I’m afraid I have to.
How many times have you seen a television show where the main character, whom you’re supposed to agree with, makes fun of the nerdy kid? How many times has the “dumb jock” been glorified? How many times has the kid who likes to learn been portrayed as snobbish or ugly?
Let me give you some examples from my childhood on television or films:
1. Lizzy Maguire: Remember how that nerdy boy was shown as a complete freak who ate worms and was made fun of constantly?
2. Hey Arnold: Pheobe (or whatever her name was) was constantly being walked on by Helga, and never did this seem to be a problem.
3. Powerpuff Girls: How many times was the smart one (Blossom) shown as being a cold-hearted bitch for being smart?
4. How many times is the smart kid dressed dorky and made fun of while the main characters just sit there and watch? They never do anything; they just talk about “O, woah is me; I was once treated like that!” And then they cry to themselves about it.
5. How many films show the cheerleaders as idiots? Did you know this wasn’t always the case? Once upon a time, cheerleaders were popular and smart, which is what made them so appealing. Bet you didn’t know that was the case even less than forty years ago.
So, television has definitely helped warp our views of whether or not it’s cool to learn. That’s why you find so many young kids who are literally afraid to read, since it looks “uncool” or “nerdy”. Even my little cousin, who will soon be ten years-old, refuses to read for fun. She told me it was uncool. I told her it was uncool to let your mind melt in front of the television.
She didn’t get the analogy.
You see, kids don’t want to learn any more. It doesn’t look very cool to do well and be knowledgeable, and they are just too damned lazy anyway.
That’s another thing. Teachers are always blamed for kids not learning, but I can tell you from experience that even the greatest teacher cannot make someone want to learn. I’ve seen wonderful teachers be made fun of or trashed just because a student doesn’t want to do the work.
For instance, there was a professor who taught a College English class at (gasp) a college level. But, many of the students were shocked by this. She wants us to actually work? Actually learn? We have tests? We actually have to read things? Yes. What class did you think you signed up for? These kids signed up for a college class for college credit; how they expected to get by with only one term paper and one reading assignment for an entire year is beyond me.
But, guess what they did? They made fun of the teacher, treated her like crap, dragged out the work so that they could talk. And, all the while, my friends and I sat together and actually completed the work when it was due and did our in-class work quickly and correctly. So, we were favoured because of it–or, rather, we were given privileges that they were not. Our group would finish the in-class work after ten minutes and be allowed to walk around campus or talk. Meanwhile, they would take the entire 80 minutes of class to do the simple task, all the while goofing off, making fun of the teacher, and being asses, to put it bluntly. They weren’t there to learn, and they made fun of us who were there to learn and work.
In fact, we’ve been out of high school for nearly four months, and they’re still making fun of us. Further proof that they have no brains, since small minds talk about people.
Kids are just plain lazy. They don’t want to learn; they want everything force fed to them so that they can squeeze the knowledge out of their sponge-like brains come test day–which is our second problem.
The American style of teaching does not favour long-term learning, but short-term memorisation for tests. We are taught to memorise the steps to complete a task so that we can remember it for two weeks before forgetting the entire course-work. And finals? Sure, some people argue that they are there so that students will have to remember everything they learned, but if that were the case, we wouldn’t have the phrases “cramming for the finals” or “F.I.N.A.L.S. : Fuck, I Never Actually Learned Shit”.
In an article I read today, it said that many American students actually fall behind during summer break (just another reason to add schooling during said break), but is it because of the lack of school? No. It’s because that kid never actually learned anything during school because they weren’t actually being taught. If they were given the opportunity to really, honestly learn something, they could go two years between schooling and still retain all of that information.
Think back to when you were in high school or university. What’s something that you remember learning and can still explain today? Now, what was that teacher like? Did they actually teach you? Most likely, if you can remember it, they were actually doing their job. Now, if you don’t remember a damned thing from those periods of your life, your time was wasted; you might as well have been placed into the work force at fourteen.
You see, a proper teacher not only makes kids work, but makes kids learn for themselves. They set their kids on a track where they are personally responsible for a portion of their learning, then the teacher reinforces that. It’s basic psychology, really, called operant conditioning. We learn to do things ourselves because there are positive and negative effects if we don’t do these tasks. Then, the teacher reinforces what we learned by making it more clear and having a positive attitude if you actually did well. That’s how I can still remember my physics. We were forced to figure things out before they were explained. That way, we taught ourselves, had it clarified, then built upon the basics throughout the semester. At finals time, we didn’t even need to review because everything had been a stepping stone in the learning process.
But, things don’t seem to work like that. I can remember time and again being told by my teachers, “We need to learn how to use this ruler correctly and quick because the MAP test is coming up!” MAP stands for Missouri Aptitude Placement test–despised by all school children in Missouri, teachers who actually want to get shit done, and parents who realise that the state of Missouri is taking two weeks of instructional time away from their children. Yes, two weeks of testing; wrap your minds around that. We’d spend the entire year getting ready for this test that would measure how well the school is teacher your kids. Yeah; it wasn’t even for the students. It was for the state to see how well each school was doing so that it could reapportion state funds to failing schools. In theory, good idea. In reality, not so good.
The kids don’t care about the test because it doesn’t mean anything. The test itself is so easy that it can’t possibly measure the average person (i.e. during Junior year, we took the MAP test in English, and the stories were written at a seventh grade level. And I’m not using sarcasm; I know, it’s a first), and so students just slack off on it. I didn’t even try; not at all, and I still got in the top percentile.
And, yet, the school district was freaking out because so many students had done poorly. My question: are the students that dumb? or do they just not give a shit any more?
I vote the latter. And even if it was the former, how can they learn in American schools anyway?
So, we’ve covered part of why students don’t care about their grades, but lets talk about another aspect: the fact that there aren’t negative consequences for students who purposely fail themselves. Granted, you don’t get into the top universities, and you won’t make as much money later in life. But, for the most part, there really aren’t that many consequences.
Think of Germany for a second. Their school system splits the students by how well they’re doing, so you end up having the higher students in Gymnasium and the lower students in the other schools. The lower testing students are released into the work force at sixteen, and the students at Gymnasium continue their education until eighteen or so before entering university.
To an American stand-point, this seems blatantly unfair to the other kids. But, you know what? That makes their students work harder and learn more to get into the higher schools. They push themselves rather than let teachers spoon-feed information to them, and it’s a pretty damn good system. Those kids who don’t care get prepped for the work that they would end up doing anyway, and the kids that work harder can prepare for university–the same track they would have taken anyway. This allows each school to specialise in education to fit the exact needs of the students, which is the direct opposite of an American classroom, where you can see all ranges of students packed into the same class. Those classes end up teaching at lower levels so that everyone can pass, and many students leave having not learned a single thing because it was so simple (welcome to my life during the required classes in high school).
So, here’s what I propose:
School days shouldn’t be expanded or years lengthened, but, rather, students should be taught and not forced to memorise useless information. Schools should let students focus on their interests as a major alongside the core curriculum so that they will be interested in what they’re learning. Standardised tests should be thrown out of the window, and teachers should again teach rather than prepare students for a test that doesn’t actually matter anyway. And students should be rewarded for learning and kicked into the workforce if they don’t care about getting a decent education.
Sure, it sounds earth shattering–but only if you’re American. Other school systems around the globe work just fine (if not much better) using some of these principles (i.e. Japan, Germany, Sweden, etc.).
So, how about we try something new? And next time someone says we need school reform, say, “hell yeah!” But make sure they know what in the world they’re proposing before letting them have their way into making the school system even worse–that means you Obama.