Monday, June 20, 2011

We Must Re-think Education

This letter to the editor by a Jamie M. Gregory was published in the New York Times on June 16 2011.

The letter raises very serious questions about the child, the curriculum and the teacher. As I have argued on this blog before, it seems to me that the purpose of education is not to teach kids how to learn but rather to accomplish a curriculum or syllabus in preparation for an examination.

As an educator, I am constantly aware of the fact that half of what we teach students is useless. The tragedy is that we do not which half. So I shudder when teaches drive kids too hard with long assignments and loads of content heavy reading.

My attitude is that as educators we must constantly push back content and rote centered learning. We must make learning student active and discovery oriented. We must anchor the curriculum and learning on pragmatically meaningful concepts that are amenable to retention, transfer and application.

The goal of education is teach kids how to learn. Education should enable kids, as future citizens to be life long and situated learners. But for the most part the curriculum and the teacher both conspire to discourage the love for learning and inquiry. Kids cannot tolerate education beyond the school and homework.

As a child, I hated school. It was tough just getting through the day of instruction and never getting a chance to say what you think. I hated education because it was about adults telling me things I needed to learn without giving me a chance to tell them what I really thought about what they just told me.

In many ways, school signified death of the self for me. And I thought it was terrible because I also thought the teacher hardly expressed their own ideas. They merely taught what they read in the teachers guide. I grew up knowing that knowledge was generated by some remote oracle and passed down in tablets, books.

"We really must re-think education. Here is Jamie's letter.
As a public high school English teacher and the mother of a rising fourth grader, I am able to appreciate both sides of the homework argument.

I actively try not to assign "busy work" to my Advanced Placement language students because I don't think it's worth my time to grade it, and I want to cultivate a love of learning in my students that does not come from completing 20 grammar worksheets. However, homework is a necessity in certain courses and at certain levels, particularly in A.P. courses.

On the other hand, during my son's third-grade year, he frequently did not go to bed until 10 p.m. because of homework. The directions were often unclear, sometimes he did not have the materials he needed to complete the assignments, and the teacher often photocopied worksheets that were not even entirely accurate.

My son frequently told me that he hated school. Part of this I blame on the testing craze; mostly, though, I do blame his teacher. Teachers need to closely examine their practices, and principals should be actively involved in what happens in each classroom.

It is rare that I criticize teachers in today's blame game that is called education, but sometimes we can be our own worst enemies."

JAMIE M. GREGORY
Duncan, S.C., June 16, 2011
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya

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