*There has never been a good answer to the question, “Why do we have to learn this?” Asked millions of times by millions of students, it is invariably responded to by teachers with avoidance tactics or gibberish because very often the real answer is: you don’t.
We invest heavily in information from the bell curve, yet ignore much of what it tells us. We know ahead of time that students like Jane, whose classidemic test scores fall in the center or the left of the standardized test bell curve, will not do well in Algebra or Biology class, yet we are compelled to require that they take those courses. Why? In order to give them a well-rounded education??
Prizing twenty-first century American values over seventeenth century British values
In the 21st century Americans value the individual – especially our darling children and their special needs. Part of the problem in schools today is that the idealistic notion that all children should be treated the same, with the same opportunities and expectations, when children are clearly not all the same, effectively slows all the students’ progress.
Here we again find our soccer parents, this time clamoring for their child to be included in something for which he did not qualify. At first glance the issue might be seen as the parents trying to force their child into an activity, but the real issue is more likely that the activity that coincides with their child’s aptitude does not exist. They want their child to feel included, which is natural.
Forcing millions and millions of our beloved children, each one unique and special, up the same four hundred year old British achievement ladder is insane.
How many professors do we need?”
For many students, a solid ninth grade level knowledge of basic geography, arithmetic, science, reading, spelling, history, English and computers is all or most of the classidemics (plus computers) they will really need. Simply put, those on the right side of the standardized test bell curve aside for a moment, both society and our young people are much better off if we send high school graduates into the world that have gained solid ninth grade math, science, geography, history, reading, English and computer skills, than if we send them off with high school Algebra and Geometry courses under their belt, the subject matter of which they by and large did not comprehend and will never use as an adult, and who can theoretically solve 64 = y – 8 but cannot balance a bank account, which is what we’re doing now.
We must develop aptitude tests that can give us clues about each child’s abilities and inclinations as they advance through elementary school. By the time students reach the tenth grade parents, teachers and students should have a pretty good idea of at least some of the student’s areas of intelligence (high aptitude). The incoming sophomores should also have acquired at least most of the basic skills and knowledge expected of today’s graduated ninth grade students, with areas of higher or lower classidemic aptitude merely noted along the way.
Sophomores might spend half their days taking Sophomore Life Prep Courses which have been sparsely detailed above. The other half of their day could be spent taking courses prescribed for entrance into a community college or a university, or in areas for which they have shown an aptitude or an interest.
If, at the end of their sophomore year, students demonstrate all the required abilities and knowledge that indicate the completion of their Sophomore Life Prep Courses, they may chose an area of directed studies on which to concentrate during their junior and senior years. Choosing from New Tech, Mechanical & Engineering, Classidemics and The Arts based on demonstrated aptitude and preference, students spend most of the last two years of school studying and doing what they love … or at least what they are good at.
Now upper class students, they are able to spend half their day delving deep into their directed study coursework. Collegebound students would spend the remainder of their day taking courses prescribed for entrance into a community college or a university, and careerbound students could augment their course load with classes in areas for which they have shown an aptitude or an interest, along with a mandatory Life Prep Refresher Course. Additionally, all students would be required to take a Job Skills course, during which they would learn how to make change, mop floors, stock a shelf, wait tables, change a tire and take inventory, among other tasks.
Students are also given instruction on career possibilities in their area, whether they might consider their passion a vocation or an avocation, and some no-nonsense business advice from guest professionals.
By not trying to treat all children the same, with the same opportunities and expectations, when children are clearly not all the same, we free them to excel by lifting the limits imposed by the inclusion of students with dissimilar aptitudes. Now the Classidemics can get into some serious equations, the Artists into some smokin’ jazz, the Mechanics into a beast of an engine or robot and the Techies into some serious code – serious. If you allow artists to make art, engineers to create things, techies to improve tech and classidemics to do research all day, you won’t need grades and you won’t need to take attendance.
Let’s Get Busy
We must completely revamp high school curriculum with the driving philosophy being that all students are intelligent.
We must assess in what area each student’s intelligence lies and help them nurture that intelligence.
We must revamp the high school graduation requirements, including a set of national minimum requirements to receive federal funding, with a much bigger focus on life skills and a reduction of unnecessary Classidemics. (This will not be easy, as teachers are a passionate lot, often driven by a love for their subject and often driven by a fear of losing their job. A small committee of Education Professors and small business owners – and not teachers currently in the trenches – should be utilized for this.)
We must spend a LOT more on education. We need to provide a 21st century living wage for teachers, classroom equipment, student computers, internet bandwidth, IT systems, IT personnel, books, software, more teachers, teacher’s aides, art supplies and so on forever and ever, Amen.
In order to do that, it must be real to taxpayers. A few courageous school districts will have to put the plan in action as a pilot, with its progress and success documented. The NEA in conjunction with the Dept. of Education must then produce a series of TV ads titled, ‘America’s Youth in School’ and show the country a better way; better education, happier students, more productive young adults. They must market it like it is beer or shampoo. They must make it as real to today’s taxpayers as Walt and Werner made space travel to the taxpayer’s of the 50s and 60s.
And then, instead of acting like an undeserving step-child begging for just enough gruel to survive, as does the very typical mailer below,
Teachers need to stand up and say, “Damn It! We need more! We need more to do a good job. We need more to do right by your children. We need more to be safe. We need more to ensure that the United States of America will fulfil its manifest destiny as the most powerful, most advanced nation in the world. We need more – a lot more, and your children are worth it and their teachers are worth it and America’s future is worth it and it is time to pony up.”
We’ll be amazed
Back to ‘America’s Youth in School’ for a moment: There are a couple kids in almost any high school that could produce those ads. Really! We will be amazed at what our youth can do when left alone to do what it is they do.
Technology has matured so fast in the past ten years, and provides so much that was unavailable a short generation ago, that those born after the turn of the century have a perspective so intriguingly different from their elders that their visions surely stretch beyond the realm of their parents’ imaginations; that we literally cannot fathom all the wondrous things they will come up with.
We must empower them and their imaginations.
We must follow through with all the hovering and helicoptering and protecting and championing and bragging with some good ol’ fashioned tax dollars – lots of them.
We’ll be amazed.
He is also an accomplished teacher, conductor and composer, having penned numerous pieces including:
–La Vida and Fly With Me.
Teacher, web developer, Packers fan and proud American, Reeno’s usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on issues old and new. Reeno currently lives in Portland, OR.