Let me preface my remarks today with this tidbit: Beginning in September of 1960 and running through May of 2013, a tidy total of fifty-three years, I was either going to school as a student or part of a school’s staff. I feel that this gives me a pretty good perspective on that particular realm of human endeavor and enables me to discuss the topic with a certain amount of expertise.
So I’m just ranting this week. Forgive me and I’ll get back to being myself before too long.
From time to time, I have a flashback on my early education which took place at the Greater Rutledge Consolidated Elementary School. It was populated by the usual numbers of smart and dumb kids, rich and poor, goodie two shoes and ruffians, as well as cool kids and misfits. All in all it was pretty normal as schools go. As for myself, I was neither the valedictorian nor the class idiot, but as things turned out, I was able to secure a good foundation for my future. Amazingly, from that assorted collection of country bumpkins, there came future doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, men of the cloth, and even a scientist or two. The point is our little school in Rutledge wasn’t fancy but it was effective. As I moved on through high school, the same thing was true.
I give a lot of credit to the teachers and administrators. The emphasis was on the three “R’s” of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic and the big “B” which was behavior. There was also great emphasis placed on effort and work ethic and those two subject areas may have been the most critical to our success.
Job one was behavior. The prevailing philosophy went something like this: If you can’t conduct yourself properly, it is difficult to learn and you might even keep others from learning in the process. Thus a premium was placed on this characteristic and it was shared by parents. If you got in trouble at school you got in double trouble at home – no questions asked. Normally that entailed a trip to the principal’s office, which might very well result in a tanned backside, and then a trip to the woodshed at home. I have encountered both of these situations and my take on it is that it tends to sharpen the focus at school. I might also add that neither my psyche nor my self-esteem has been scarred by that approach to learning.
Another point of emphasis was that you were expected to do your homework and that it should be done in a manner that reflected an effort to do it correctly and to understand why those answers were either right or wrong. The message was to try hard and don’t take short cuts. If you did it that way things would turn out just fine.
We worked our way through school problems with text books that required reading, pencils that had erasers worn down to the nub, dictionaries and encyclopedia’s that necessitated thinking to extract correct information, and questions from teachers that required sensible answers. And it worked.
My observation on education in recent times is that we jump on every new bandwagon that comes along promising improved learning and higher test scores. Educators are subjected to a litany of acronyms for programs that are the answer to their prayers. My take on most of those acronym laden programs are that they aren’t worth the time it took to think them up or the money it cost the county’s taxpayers to pay for them.
Students have come to believe that the Internet is the answer to all their questions. Gone is the day of reading to glean information – it is the generation of copy and paste. Gone is the day of asking the teacher a question – just get it off the computer. Gone is the time of actually understanding why something is right or wrong – it doesn’t matter because the assignment is done.
We have become slaves to the almighty test scores while sacrificing effort, consistent work ethic, and the ability to think and reason. We have allowed our kids to fall into thinking about short cuts instead of understanding true efficiency and it is a disservice to them.
I’m not naïve enough to think that the world hasn’t changed and our students need to be able to function in a work environment that is technology driven, and I understand that there are students who still know the value of hard work, but it seems there are still far too many that have fallen into this trap of taking the easy way. Sadly, we are all at fault for letting that happen.
There’s no doubt in my mind that a return to the fundamentals of proper classroom conduct, reasoning through problems, teaching solid work ethic, and learning how to be efficient without taking shortcuts is a big part of the answer.
Without those tools no one can successfully navigate the complicated world in which we now live and our children and grandchildren will be the ones who suffer.
(Send comments on educational philosophy to firstname.lastname@example.org)