Friday, May 8, 2015

IMHO: The Biggest Fix for Education

My eldest just told me that on one of her college-associated tests (ACT? CLEP? She couldn’t remember which), she had to write on this question: should high school be extended to five years instead of four? Well, that led to a lively discussion on our part.
She could see pros and cons. On the one hand, some students need more time to learn what they need to learn in high school and to mature enough to be ready for what follows. On the other hand, she wasn’t confident that they would simply be allowed more time; she suspected the powers-that-be would just add more to the load of what they were expected to learn.
Here is the root of the problem with our society’s system of schooling, in my humble opinion: it is bound by time restraints. It is no secret to anyone – teachers, administrators, parents, students, psychologists, educational researchers and experts – that students learn at different rates. One student learns at a different rate than another student. A student learns one subject at a different rate than he learns a second subject. And a student may learn at one rate at one time of life or stage of development and at a very different rate at another time of life or stage of development.

The time involved to learn is a constantly changing variable. But our system of schooling does not allow for such a variable.
In order for a teacher to teach something to a group of students, all of the students have to be at about the same place academically, ready to absorb this particular new skill or information. If that teacher is going to teach that same group of students over a stretch of time, then over that stretch of time, the whole group of students needs to remain in about the same place academically.
So for one teacher to teach a class of twenty second graders seven hours a day for nine months, that means that all twenty of those students have to be at about the same place academically – in every subject – and progress at about the same pace – in every subject – for nine months.
What a ridiculous expectation! No wonder so many students struggle . . . and so many others are bored. And so many teachers burn out.
In a recent discussion about a math class at our school, I made the suggestion that the teacher could slow down the pace, since all the students are struggling at the moment. “But then they would be behind,” was the response I got.
Behind what, exactly? Behind the arbitrary point in the typical math curriculum that every student in the country of this age group is expected to be at by the middle of April? Should that really be our goal?
Maybe it's the homeschooler in me, but I so want to free all of our students from those time restraints. I want to tell them, "The goal is to learn Algebra -- the full content of it, and to learn it well. It isn't important how you learn it. It isn't important when you learn it. If you could do nothing but Algebra in an online course for six weeks and get it down pat, great. If you stretch it out over two years, sitting with a private tutor twice a week but get it down, awesome. The goal is mastery of the material, however and whenever that happens for you."
But people are so afraid of their kids being "behind" the rest of the kids their age. What if -- gasp! -- they don't finish high school in four years? Well, what if they don't? What if they are a year older and more mature when they start college? What if they actually have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college when they start rather than having to fake and float and eventually fail when you're paying thousands of dollars for the education? What if they come out of high school knowing that they know something and not just that they worked a system to get a signed document that everyone seems to think means something (but they know it doesn't)? 
What's wrong with taking more time in high school? 
Frankly, if we would have this mindset in the earlier years, it might prevent a lot of kids in high school from having to worry about "graduating late." I have all sorts of thoughts for how elementary school could be done differently. Not being an elementary teacher, I hesitate to promote my ideas much, but I still have them.
Can we just stop with the race to adulthood and give our kids some time? I'm sure they'd thank us for it, and I think we'd all enjoy life so much more.

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