Saturday, March 13, 2010

What is public education doing to our children?

            Many of you know that I am a teacher at the DaVinci Academy of the Sciences and the Arts. I have recently become extremely interested in the quality of education received at the public school level. Looking back on my own experience in the system, mine was mediocre at best. As many of us have or will have children, I think it’s an important issue to discuss. I strive to open the discussion about this issue through the medium of the blog and hope that it becomes something worthwhile.
            Many of these insights and revelations come due to my reading of two books by John Taylor Gatto: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education and The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Prison of Modern School. You probably get some good hints about what these books theorize and treat by the titles.
            I want to open this discussion about how the school system affects children with three assumptions, which, by design, are heavily influence by my personal beliefs as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The assumptions are:
1)   Everyone, especially children, is natural curious about the world around them and the world within them. We have an innate yearning to learn and gain knowledge.
2)   Everyone inherently desires and strives to do what is right and good. We want to help, nurture, bless and lift others.
            These first two assumptions are true because of the Light of Christ (Moro. 7:16; D&C 84:46; 93:2).
3)   One of the adversary’s great tasks in leading to misery and captivity lies in extinguishing and smothering those two intuitive, even instinctive, longings.
            If those assumptions are true (and I strongly believe they are), one might conclude that Satan has found his way into our public school system. He may have even desired its creation. Here are the reasons I find that both possible and terrifying as I look around the school in which I teach (please don’t necessarily apply this to your child, this is just what I see and I want opinions and voices, even arguments).
·      Children are insanely bored with school. They have no desire to learn about anything trying to be taught therein except what they need to pass the class and not incur their parents’ wrath. They are apathetic with regards to acquiring knowledge. They neither know nor do they care about the world around themselves or within themselves.
·      Children who are unable to think deeply or critically. They can’t even concentrate on anything for very long. Their knowledge is all superficial and factual without any reference to its importance or practical application. History is a series of dates, sciences a collection of elements, math a smattering of formulas, English a set of rules and everything else a waste of time.
·      Children (and teachers) who are cruel and ruthless with friend and foe alike. With friends, their cruelty is passed as a joke with the idea that that’s how they display their friendship. With foe, the berating and belittling is met with little interference by the school and sends many children home crying and sometimes suicidal. No, I don’t think I’m exaggerating there.
·      Children with no principles or virtues. Work is the great abhorrence of the generation. Materialism surrounds their lives. They indulge in television, movies, music, computer and video games, drugs, pornography, premarital sex, alcohol and general waste trying to make up for the loneliness and misery accompanying their lives. Eighth graders at my school have asked repeatedly for condoms. Eighth graders.
·      Children with no personality, who don’t really know who they are or from where they’ve come. Their friends, with whom they spend the majority of the day, define their life. They are devoid of meaningful family relationships
·      Finally, children who are completely dependent on their teachers intellectually and emotionally. They wait for their teacher to tell them what to do and then regurgitate the information on a test for which they hope to receive the praise of the teacher and avoid a stern look or conversation.
            These facts remind me of my life during most levels of schooling and I witness it happened everyday at school. Maybe I’m just cued into it. Maybe I’m overemphasizing some point. Maybe I’m just plain wrong. But it’s no secret that our schools aren’t producing much of anything that could be identified as extraordinary or innovative. We’re cloning the minds of the youth with our state-mandated curriculums. We leaving them bereft of goodness and wisdom. We’re churning out the next set of corporate slaves, unable to work for themselves or be very creative, inevitably leading them to overconsumption and materialism and often debt. Are we satisfied with school? This is supposed to the greatest generation to inherit the earth. This generation is supposed to DO something. I heard that my whole life.
            We’ve got missionaries coming home early and often dishonorably at astonishing rates. They are numerous young men and women having children in their teens, to whom they give inadequate attention. That’s maybe the worst of the worst but is our adult population continuing the tradition of our Founding Fathers? A tradition of production, innovation, deep pondering and capability of revolution against tyranny and oppression? Or are we just living our lives not doing anything important or special, wondering what’s going to happen on our favorite TV show or how we’re going to buy whatever new toy there is? Is this what we’ve become? I pray it is not. I want your thoughts and insights.


Maryann Penman said...

I work as a teacher's aide in a public elementary school, and I agree with a lot of what you've written. However, not all children fall into the categories you've presented. And most of the teachers at my school are really and truly striving to reach their students in a meaningful way. Some kids just thrive at school, are excited and smart, are kind and happy. Others are not. I have discussed this with my friends and family, but have drawn a different conclusion than you.
I think the problem isn't the school, but the home.
The majority of the kids I talk to, who have issues with homework and who are bored and think school is dumb, have no parental support at home. Their parents don't do homework with them, don't teach them the value of learning, and don't show any interest in their school activities. Those students whose parents are actively engaged in their child's learning, are happy and do well. I have seen this over and over again in the children I work with.
Teachers can only do so much. Yes the school system is flawed, but most of that could be overcome if children were taught correct principles at home, and if parents would take a more active part in their child's education.

Maryann Penman said...

Thanks for the post by the way, very interesting topic :)

Blake said...

I want to leave a good comment, but my favorite show is on soon ;). Seriously though it sounds like you have grown up and want something better for the upcoming generation.
I really think that we teach to the average, and openly accept mediocrity. There are some programs out there to stretch young minds. The problem you mention isn't necessarily our education system it seems to me to be a general cultural thing. Though I do not have source to back this up; I have heard that out East and New England Area people do not treat being smart or educated as some snobby or uncool thing.
Here is my solution.
Give each kid the opportunity to teach the things they learn. Whether through tutoring, group teach, or a home teaching program. But get the kids to think about something other than how to fit in. And as I am a firm believer in incentives, there should be some sort of incentive that creates a better self interest in learning. I just wish I knew what it was.

Well Chris thanks for expanding my mind. I would love to talk about it sometime.

Kaeli said...

Well I know I just teach preschoolers, but we have talked a lot about this in my classes. We have to prepare preschoolers for Kindergarten, this is our main job. The way we see it as is that children learn best through play and first hand experiences. As a teacher at the BYU-I preschool program we always found ways to give them those experiences because we knew that was how they would learn best. We dont expect the children to necessarily remember things like the different color of frogs, but that is the way we teach them their colors instead of drilling them of giving them numerous worksheets that wont really help them learn at all. I think that as we get older and more into the school system you see less of teaching by these first hand experiences. Even in High School I remember things a lot better when the teacher showed us a first hand experience or actually let us see the real thing. I do not think things change as we get older. We still learn best through play, or experimenting with different ideas. When we actually see the real thing we are more likely to remember that concept.
I know we need some instruction, we give even preschoolers a little instruction. We also help them as they start to discover their world. I just wish the school system would understand the best way children and even adults learn, through first hand experiences.

Circe said...

What a well-thought-out post, and well-written. I like how much thought you have put into this and how you articulate your ideas. I asked Golda and Ruby if they're bored at school and they both said no. they both said, "I don't have time to be bored at school." I feel that the schools my kids attend are constantly striving to reach each child, from the administration to the teachers to the counselors. On the other hand, the people I went to college with who grew up in European, Asian and South American countries seemed to have a more well-rounded and complete education in terms of understanding the world vs. our USA-centric view. I love Maryann's comment that the home makes the difference. I completely agree with that. In teaching for me, (Ballet or violin) some children come with enthusiasm, expecting to learn and open to it. That is an attitude they gain when the adults around them are constantly giving them teaching moments. It's a habit they develop, to absorb knowledge wherever they go. Those kids are going to thrive in school, provided their teachers have something to offer. I have discussed at length with friends what it is that makes some cultures, i.e. the Jewish tradition and some Asian cultures, place more value on education. Why do children from those cultures so often succeed? I have a theory that it has to do with expectations, so I try to expect as much as possible from my kids, and demonstrate to their teachers that our family has high expectations of their education.

I hear about dumbing down, but my kids are getting a much more comprehensive and thoughtful education that I did. Example: they learn early on about different learning styles and which learning styles suit them best. They have more homework and more awareness of their grades, achievements and shortcomings.

Anyway...interesting topic, and one that we all have a lot to say about! Thanks!

C and MC said...

I'm going to answer these in hopes that those who posted check back. That hope may be in vain. I don't know if I'll answer all right now.

First, Maryann. I already posted my response on your blog. While I don't disagree that home life is important in education, your main points are essentially saying that my first two assumptions are incorrect. "Some kids just thrive at school, are excited and smart, are kind and happy. Others are not" and "The majority of the kids I talk to, who have issues with homework and who are bored and think school is dumb, have no parental support at home." This tells me that you feel that some kids are set up to fail by their parents and there is nothing that can happen. I think home life influences learning but to if my assumptions are correct, that should not present much of an issue, especially because kids are taken from their homes and families for 6+ hours a day.

Second, Blake. I think you're right that mediocrity is acceptable in our society. No Child Left Behind has only retarded the processes in schooling and lowered the standards of education and learning. I'm unsure about your incentive idea. I think learning is itself a reward, especially considering I believe children WANT to learn. I think oppurtunities to teach come naturally when you enjoy learning. You want to share.

Third, Kaeli. I think you're right that yound children learn well through playing and first-hand experience. In fact, I think they have trouble learning outside of that method. I do believe we become capable of abstract thinking as we get older and don't need to DO everything in order to learn it. I guess my issue with public education lies in its attempts to clone mind and make us the same thinkers. If that's not true why are there federal curriculums for every subject. It's ridiculous.

Finally, Circe. I've read your blog enough to know your kids do enjoy learning. I think you are right about expectations. I try to expect great things from my students. I just don't think they come to me capable of independent or critical thought. Sure they learn about vast amounts of subjects but to what end? Learning for the sake of learning is important, yes. But what of the kids who, while loving other subjects, do not want to learn about certain things. Why should they be forced to learn specific things they don't care about? Why not let the children find their way into subjects instead of being forced to learn. And if they don't have time to be bored, when will they get the opportunity to discover themselves. I'm a believer in self-directed learning. Many of the great people in history never went to a state-mandated school. What is the value of compulsory schooling when greatness is achieved much less often?

I'm rambling here. I love that people are interested in this. Thoughts, responses, opinions? Bring them all.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris! I've never commented on a blog before. Elias had to show me how. In fact this is the first time I have even looked at a blog. Marianne left a link to it on my computer and I completely forgot about it until tonight.
So, anyway, compulsory education, is the topic. American schools and are they a waste of time. I know everyone is worried about education and everyone seems to want to fix it and the government has tried many, many things. I'd like to believe our forefathers started it because they loved learning and wanted all children to have it for free. But in the back of my mind somewhere (probably from a history class I took sometime in my "worthless education") that the reason they decided everyone should be made to attend school is so that we could be educated enough to govern ourselves. As I recall there were many of the men who wrote our constitution who were very concerned about the masses having a say in government when they had no experience or education. So, someone had the idea that if we were to govern ourselves we needed to be schooled in the basic subjects (english, history, u.s. government etc.) Education did not used to be about getting a job. It was about becoming an intelligent well-rounded and experienced people. I believe in free education with all my heart and I am more worried about education that is better for the elite and worse for the poor. Example, private schools and charter schools. The only divisions should be by ability and age within the school which changes each few hours or days so all students can get the help they need on an individual basis and still mingle with all the students thus learning tolerance, appreciation and acceptance of everyone's strengths and weaknesses (and still there would be people who were not tolerant, people who do not appreciate and do not accept). A child should be in a class that is challenging to them but not overwhelming in each area. I believe we are re segregating our schools after all that work it took to desegregate them. First, schools were separated by boys and girls, then blacks and whites and now, rich and poor, or good neighborhood and bad neighborhood. Humans are so good at dividing themselves into categories aren't we. My kids have had mostly wonderful teachers and a few that were not great but who were teaching curriculum that I agreed with and were not hurting my children. I would never want to give the power for my children's education over to someone I had no control over. In many countries, I would not have a voice to change my children's education. I would have to just do whatever the government says I have to. I love feeling some control over what my kids learn. I think the things you are talking about like teen pregnancy, drugs etc. are becoming a problem for us because the end of the world is supposed to be this way. It was all foreseen by many prophets. The same thing happened in the book of Mormon a million times and it was never caused by the education systems of the Nephites and Lamanites. It was caused by pride. Pride in our schools is causing more hurt that anything else. Too much government control because they think they know what the children should learn instead of letting the teachers decide. I believe we are not appreciative enough of this land of milk and honey that we were given as a gift and that we won't love our opportunity for free education until we don't have it anymore. Evil is unning rampant throughout all our schools, our government, our wards and branches, our businesses, and worst of all in our families. But I do not think we should change the structure of the family, the schools, the government, the church, the business. Instead we have got to change ourselves within the structure to create the best things we can for ourselves and our children and most of all for the part of our human family that is a mess.

Sarah Robinette

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, I would love to take over and raise other peoples kids. In Hamburg Germany, I saw a young mother with a 4 year old boy buying drugs at McDonalds. I was sick inside for weeks, I can't imagine why God would let that child be raised by that mother but I also don't want someone taking away my children because they think they have a better idea of how they should be raised. I still hold family as the most important thing we have. Even than education, and yet families are lying to each other, divorcing each other, abusing each other, cheating on each other, and worst of all, in my opinion-ignoring each other. I don't believe we need a new family structure but rather we need to improve each part of that family on an individual basis. I believe we need to turn inward and make sure that each of us are trying to be better people and are watching ourselves for signs of selfishness. No government will work if the people are selfish. No school system will work if the people are selfish. We have got to figure out how to care for our whole human family and do what is best for all of us and not what is best for some of us. We also have to allow for agency, we have to allow people to do horrible things. I don't know why yet but God does.
Besides, if the school system you grew up with was so bad then how come you are so intelligent, creative, hard-working and fun-loving. You don't seem like a child that has grown up in a system that causes people to all think alike and run down and bored and forced into non productive jobs.
I don't believe children should be able to learn just what they are interested in. They need adult imput. They must learn a variety of things that will open their minds to things they would not have understood if they had been allowed to choose all their subjects. Would any of them study war? And yet without that study would they understand how to prevent the same mistakes that were made in the past? Or would they allow themselves to be made slaves rather that fight for their freedom in a war? When it comes to education - so much is at stake. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath. Let's work within the structure we have to make it better and better. If we start over we will have to relearn all we have through years of mistakes. I'm glad you are a teacher and you can really make a difference in our public schools. I would want my kids to have a chance to have you for one of their teachers.
Boy, am I ever rambling - this is fun! I like blogging!

Sarah Robinette