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What's Really Wrong With—and How to Fix—Our Broken Education System

“Stuffing student’s heads full of ‘facts’ is not education; learning vision is.”

Public school pedagogy is problematic, but not because it overemphasizes “facts.” Actually, the non-content subject area of ELA - in many ways a model for other subjects - focuses on developing student literacy skills, including (on paper) critical thinking. (See the below ELA middle school standards in NY, where I teach.)

(h ttp://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/68elastandardsglance.pdf)

The practical problem with this is that it is a micro-skill pedagogy. Its method is to try to isolate and strengthen supposedly discrete literacy skills - as though the brain were hundreds of little thinking muscles, each needing to be individually exercised…or, to take what might be the true model for this, learning to read or write by isolating and practicing single features of grammar.

The effect is a general tendency to take away the ‘greater significance and meaning’ of the topic. As with grammatical rules, the meaning of sentences is entirely secondary to the grammatical rule being practiced. Likewise, in ELA, though the standards identify plot and character and theme, in practice, thinking about them is crowded out by cognitively narrow ‘skill-sets.’

This approach is really only prevalent in lower income public schools - where the presumption is that this is the only way to support ‘at-risk’ students’ needs.

Only countries like US, Canada and Britain have these problems and degrade education and teachers; plus have high tuition…All other countries do not have these fights and have surpassed them

Zoe Weil’s article is very worthy, but it seems to deal more with preconditions rather than goals of education. Obviously, this is a complicated subject; perhaps there will be more in Weil’s book. As an octogenarian and engineer, I am only a consumer of education, not a producer, but please permit me a few words. Everyone is concerned with education.

It is true, as Weil writes, the US is saturated with racism (I know, I am in a mixed marriage) with one of the greatest polarization of income and political power in the world. This affects all aspects of life, including education. Dealing with, and defeating, systemic racism and inequality will require mass movements, not just educational reform.

But the problems with our elementary school system appear even inside of good schools in neighborhoods where these flaws of inequality and racism are not so acute. For example, I grew up in a moderate size midwestern town that happened to be mostly Caucasian. Except for a couple of students, none came from upper class backgrounds, and even those did not stand above others for special treatment or social status. Most families with children in the school system were working class, both white and blue collar, (my family was white collar). The high school, and the system in general, was considered well above average for the state. Everyone agreed we were lucky with such a school system. I was a science “nerd” before the term was popular, and at the top of my high school graduating class of about 200. Being successful in science fair competitions at the time, I got a generous MIT scholarship. There I hit a brick wall. I was totally unprepared for college, especially at this level. After too much hard work, too much coffee, too much anxiety, and too little sleep, I did graduate with a BSEE - but the experience was so trying I did not wish to go on, although many thought I should, including myself. Friends in my dormitory who went to places like Stuyvesant High or Bronx School of Science did better, had study habits I envied, and tended to go on to advanced degrees. Foreign students usually did better as well. Many years later, I learned that remedial courses have been offered at MIT, not so much to improve English communication skills among foreign students, but so that incoming US students would have a more even playing field. As a group, too many were found behind, not only in basic STEM requirements, but also in those same basic communication skills.

Now it is true that many high school graduates are not headed to technical schools. But the same principle can by applied to other fields. If you speak with people who teach and administer in any good college today, you will find them complaining about the poor preparation of incoming US students. And this is regardless of income or race.

At the college level, the US educational system still justly has admirers, but this has been slipping a little. More parents overseas send bright children to colleges elsewhere than before. But our real problem here is at the elementary and high school level. One drawback is the lack of a standard syllabus as in many countries. There is also less ability to measure a student’s progress except by subjective judgements of teachers, since their unions are unfortunately positioned against the notion of objective tests. Some tests do have defects, and such a test is bad, but tests should be improved, not thrown out. Tests should be an indicator where a student needs help in mastering something without penalty, not as some use them, to weed out the student. How will a teacher know what a student’s problems are? As Peter Drucker once said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

The curriculum should also be examined. In my high school, a class called “English” tried to combine literature and communication skills; these should require separate treatments. Usually, the “communication skills” was merely a book report on some assigned reading, or a literary essay. The attempt to convey descriptive or analytic information about a real world object, process, or activity, took second place, if it existed at all. But in the real world after school, many students will be required to do just this in written reports recording their work. How many will write a book report or literary essay after high school?

I could go on, but these are just a few of the goals I would have preferred to see in Zoe Weil’s Psychology Today article.

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Surely Zoe, we need to re-wonder what education actually is, for any civilised and sane world:
All the best education seems to happen in humble, humanistic educational situations (e.g. Finland), almost always (I am not saying some kids at our ‘conventional’ schools don’t thrive and even enjoy them, but maybe these children, if this is so, have also got all their other needs met. I want to have schools where the parents and especially children inform what the ‘curriculum’ should include; where there is an emphasis on self-knowledge, who am I? What makes me engaged, brings me alive? What do I love? What am I good at?
Thanks to a healthy educational mileau, maybe I can also become clearly aware of any personal problems I have and get support to work on them
I think it is healthy for many teenagers to be bored in such a situation as it is, -for it does not address their being, their passions… ANd it is always more about capitalism rather than the child’s whole-istic needs!
Google this for a great wacth from a wonderful guy who died last yar, sadly
Sir Hen Robinson Changing Educational Pradigms to se the absuidity and also alterantives of what I mean

“I think it is healthy for many teenagers to be bored in such a situation as it is, -for it does not address their being, their passions… ANd it is always more about capitalism rather than the child’s whole-istic needs!”

Though the professional middle class is threatened, I’d say the evidence shows US-style education engaging and working for the four-year-college-bound professional classes.

In NYC, the specialized public h.s.'s are the goal and conduit to those colleges, and - at least in particular STEM and pre-professional graduate fields - do, indeed, mainly lead to jobs.

The prob’ is that - for reasons that go beyond money or how good a school is - the ‘goal and purpose’ of ‘doing well in school so that you can go to college’ doesn’t engage the majority of lower income students.

I’d argue this is a social class problem - that one type of college-oriented education in the pursuit of certain types of white collar labor has been overvalued, while ‘technical education’ leading to post-secondary training in a well-paying skilled labor trade has been devalued.

Think of it - there is actually no widely shared word for non-four-year-college choices, except understood as a deficit: the ‘non-four-year-college-bound,’ the ‘non-college-bound,’ those who ‘do not go to or complete college.’

All can agree some postsecondary schooling is necessary for career - but the current thinking narrowly stresses four-year, professional tracks, marginalizing and devaluing a contemporary working class culture of work and identity.

From an early stage, introduce preparing for work as a purpose - parallel to all the other academic and non-academic reasons for school (socialization, civics, the pleasures of reading, consumer awareness, the pleasures of knowledge for knowledge’s sake). Introduce this as a parallel purpose, support it with strong school programming, and see how interest spikes.

h ttps://www.gse.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/documents/Pathways_to_Prosperity_Feb2011-1.pdf

Well, I see education as spiritual: utterly for its own sake. I am not focusing on is economic connection at all. Of course, its; importnt; but that is not my focus.
By the way, how on earth have you managed to put a link there, when they usually forbid it here! :open_mouth:

“Well, I see education as spiritual: utterly for its own sake. I am not focusing on is economic connection at all. Of course, its; importnt; but that is not my focus.”

naturally, you are free to value education for that reason, and to recommend that approach generally.

my assertion was that many students find school “boring” because it does not offer career paths to the non-4-yr-college-bound - so that it is seen as irrelevant

i put a space after the first “h” of the link…vs the tilde most attach to start of link to get around the block

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haha I thought u did! Very cleva :wink:

Our education system is not the only broken one, many students in impoverished countries also lack access to quality education. The Borgen Project is one organization fighting global poverty through U.S. foreign policy!