The world can certainly do better than this. Here's why.

Wednesday, March 17

Education Reform

So, it's been a while. I started to comment on this article and its embedded links. The comment grew bigger and bigger. So, here it is:

Noting that I am Canadian and teach in South Korea alongside teachers from the Canada, the US, the UK and every other English-speaking, modern western civilization on Earth, there are a few things that education reform worldwide NEEDS to take into account.

First, education underpins every experience a person has in life. "An education" is neither a system nor a product, it is a child-specific process. Any reform in education needs to address this. I believe that Bill Maher is correct. Parents, responsible for the growth, values, and development of their children must positively reinforce the education process. Admittedly, John Legend's defense of parents, particularly those who live in poverty or are underemployed or work two jobs to make ends meet cannot commit the time they would like to help with homework or simply support the effort of their child. Both Maher and Legend call for a different way of living in America; a change, perhaps.

The school building, books and peripherals, teacher salaries, computers, and, often omitted, preparation time are all expenses that must be paid by every institution that claims to educate. These expenses, profits for education-profiteers, bean-counters seek to eliminate. Propping up the education system with different books, different teachers, and more technology doesn't matter much as long as "children" are treated as a gray, amorphous cloud of matter for idealized "teachers" to "educate." Students see the system for what it is, indoctrination, and what it is not, supportive of individuality. Many under perform. Some drop out. Others massage the system and slip by. Few enjoy the experience. Nostalgia will always regard school as a good time, since the lives of adults now are invariably more difficult.

Which brings us to security. Geopolitical and economic security are wrapped up in one another.* It is the tacit admission of successive iterations of the American government that a military establishment is regarded better as an investment than education. They "vote with their dollars." Afghanistan is a war zone now and the greatest achievements of the occupation are schools that have been built. Meanwhile, metal detectors and security personnel frame the entryways of some American middle- and high schools. It could be argued that the threats military forces protect Americans against are threats against the commercial and political American way of life, not the educational — unless the product known as "an education" holds that America's commercial and political way of life is sacrosanct.

Individualism, especially as practiced from 1945 to now, is both a blessing and a curse learned by children. Youth of three generations have walked this unpredictable path with the support (read: exploitation) of companies but without the support of education. Investment in education cannot guarantee a return on investment when so many of America's heroes, success stories, and captains of industry dropped out of college.

Which leads to my second, and most important point, kids don't learn like they used to. "Reading is FUNdamental" just doesn't fly anymore. Information out of a book is too slow and too dull in an entertainment-rich society. Instantaneous gratification is sought in all other quarters, but it lags in education. Delayed gratification is a big expectation when every aspect of modern western culture is geared to the opposite. Students have individual questions. Teachers can't possibly answer them all instantaneously. The hands-up, wait-your-turn rule is an artifact of a time when there was time to wait or an interest in raising a hand. Speaking at TED in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson remarked,

"If you were to visit education, as an alien, and say "What's it for, public education?" I think you'd have to conclude -- if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything that they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners -- I think you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn't it?" (09:45 mark)

For all those kids who want to be video game designers, or dancers, or are simply bursting with questions, what does the dull drone demonstrating a dearth of diligent duty to "an education" win them?

Schools, some of them still the asbestos-lined institutions that they are, need to be torn-down, rethought and rebuilt from the ground up. The whole world has changed. The old school of education is uniform: a child is an empty vessel to be filled with "an education" with which they will succeed in life. The future of education must be more organic a process. Every education received has particular basics: literacy, mathematics, logic, and so on. There must be more of a reward, a motive, for students.

I disagree with John Legend's stance on standardized testing. The high-level view is that there is no other way to determine the effectiveness of programs nationwide. Certainly, this has had a spiral of effects. Since it often determines funding, bad schools get worse. Underfunded (read: all) schools are induced to "teach to the test," neglecting student needs and education quality in order to secure funding. Students and teachers are, consequently, beholden to a downward spiral of annual judgment by the government.

There is no reason to expect that a public school system will realize monetary profit in the short term. Anyone who hopes so is ludicrous. The reason public schools exist is to provide fertile ground for a majority of childhood development. What is promoted as school now is chokes growth; a wall-less cubicle, a handwriting data-entry position, and the same food as is served in prisons. Spending on education now promotes national profitability in the future. Retrofit classrooms, hire more teachers, reduce class sizes, open the curriculum to interpretation, reduce the influence of standardized testing, and, most importantly show students that there is a future worth working toward. Give kids some hope. So far, mindless entertainment in a 1500-channel universe and MMPORPGs (including Facebook) are the best offers.

*The courts decide an election. Dot-com bubbles burst. A predatory energy giant fails. A single terrorist attack happens. Then, there is a global war —not a World War, a global war. The airline industry wavers. Some more highly publicized terrorist attacks, some earthquakes, a tsunami, and more hurricanes. Genocide in Sudan. Oil prices are through the roof and New Orleans is underwater. Money is lent out to cover debts. Food is turned into gasoline. Food prices go through the roof. Mexicans can't afford tortillas, Haitians are eating mud. People can't afford their homes so they stop paying their mortgages to gas up the SUV. More warfare and sabre-rattling between America, Russia, Israel, Hamas (because Palestine does not exist), Hezbollah (operating from Lebanon), and Iran. Iraq is a pile of rubble. An investment butterfly bats an eye, someone exposes predatory lending practices, investors lose faith, the system crashes because its rife with cancer. Banks fail. Mexican drug cartels step up the violence. The auto industry falters. People start to lose their jobs. Foreclosures cause people to lose their homes. More earthquakes, one in Haiti and one in Chile. That's just the past ten years.

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