How to Make School a Better Place

Fairly certain today falls under the not-writing tag. Also bored, procrastinating-homework, and excuse-not-to-actually-write-something-good. If it helps, you can put imaginary semi-transparent CSS boxes around those and pretend they’re at the bottom of the page.

With that in mind, I’m going to go on a rant (filibuster, speech, sermon). If you do not like rants, too bad. Leave. Don’t read on.

If you do like rants, welcome to the site; I think you’re gonna like it here.

Before I actually start, though, an important note (disclaimer, warning, exoneration):

I AM PRIVILEGED TO LIVE IN A  COUNTRY WHERE I GET FREE EDUCATION. I RESPECT AND AM GRATEFUL FOR THAT, AND REALIZE THAT NOT EVERYONE GETS TO BE IN MY POSITION.

That said, the education system in the United States could use a few tweaks (adjustments, patches, changes). Listed are the ones I think would have the most positive impact on the nation as a whole, and as an extension, on the world.

 

#1 — Stop the Perpetual Focus on Advancement

At levels of school as low as kindergarten, or first or second grade,  school isn’t really that rigorous (fast-paced, thorough, intense). That’s because nobody expects kindergartners to do very much in the ways of academia—most of their minds aren’t even developed enough to comprehend basic math. For the time being, the lower tiers of education are less education and more a playful daycare. And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that.

My younger brother attended a highly unusual preschool. There, he was required to wear a uniform, sit quietly in his desk all day, show total respect and discipline throughout instruction, complete irrationally large loads of busywork, and design and conduct his own science fair experiment and analysis of it. In preschool. At one point in time, he was sent to the principal’s office as punishment for looking out a window daydreaming (lollygagging, wondering, staring into space).

Of course, that year at the preschool was his last. As soon as my parents realized the absurdity of the establishment’s methods, he was pulled out and sent to a much more kid-friendly environment for school.

At first glance, the case of my younger brother and his militaristic (martial, strict, demeaning) preschool seems extreme. Surely, there’s no way that school was popular, right? No self-respecting parent would make their five-year-old endure that, right?

Wrong.

You see, the playcare model of low-level education is rapidly deteriorating. Check that—the lower levels aren’t the only ones being affected. The fun, period, is starting to drain from schools across the US. But why?

The expectations for kids in school are slowly rising. To be an A-B student used to be a huge accomplishment. Now, it’s starting to look like A’s are just the expectation. To get more than 90% on a quiz used to be an accomplishment–now it’s “the bar.” To be considered a “good student,” it’s getting to the point where you have to sign off your entire life just to keep your grades up.

So, with these things in mind, the first thing I want to encourage is to stop placing so much importance on advancement. Sure, it might not fix the seemingly inexorable (nonstop, inevitable, unhindered) climb of parents’ academic expectations for their kids, but it would sure make school a lot less stressful.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I know I can say for sure that all my teachers ever seemed to think about was “preparing” me for “[insert number here]th grade.” In fifth grade, they said we had to be ready for middle school, because in middle school they do this, and then in eighth grade, it was high school we had to be ready for, because the teacher’s aren’t as lenient there as your current ones. And now, in high school, not a day has gone by without me hearing someone chanting (intoning,  mumbling, repeating) the College Mantra. Because the only purpose in going through high school is to get to college, right?

Disagree if you will, but to me this just seems wrong. Sure, it might provide motivation to some people, but for me, it just creates more problems than it solves. By placing the focus always on next year, there’s no focus left for here and now. This only enforces the already over-strong  idea that you only pass your tests so you can move on to the next unit. Why aren’t we passing our tests because we recognize that what we’re being taught has actual, practical value in the real world (barring some English classes, of course)?

 

#2 — Turn the Teaching Model Upside Down

I won’t spend too much time here–it’s already been extensively covered by others–but I do want to share my opinion nonetheless.

“Flipping” a classroom refers to doing things for homework that are traditionally done in class–learning at home. The problem with orthodox teaching methods is that they rely on a teacher at a chalkboard to talk everyone’s ears off–and that no one likes having their ears talked off. This model is flawed because it assumes that everyone in the class learns in the same way. While I’m not a huge fan of semi-scientific terms like “auditory,” “kinesthetic,” and “visual” learners (I don’t think it’s quite that simple) I do agree that no two people process new information the same way. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that having one person teach one way to a body of multiple students is probably one of the least efficient (effective, successful, sensible) possible ways to educate.

What “flipping” a class actually does is letting students learn on their own time, at home, and when and how they feel like it. This results in a major boost in interest levels in learning. Consider how you might feel if presented a jigsaw puzzle, and then forced to copy its construction step by step from a set of pre-approved instructions. It would most likely be one of the most pointless, boring, and uninteresting activities of your week, if not your month. And yet, there are hundreds of thousands of jigsaw puzzles sold every month. Why? Because people enjoy putting them together through their own methods. It’s an integral part of human nature (disposition, attitude, constitution) to want to figure things out on our own. The current most-popular teaching model in public education does just the opposite.

When you flip a class, you basically assign the what would have traditionally been the next day’s lesson plan as homework. Students go home and learn, through whatever method they see fit, the things they need to know from the lesson. Then, on arriving in class the next day, students go on to complete assignments based on what they learned the night before. The best part about this is that if someone gets stuck or doesn’t understand something, the teacher (instructor, mentor, professor) is there to clarify and guide. In the end, students learn much more effectively in this fashion. If you’re interested in actual results, you can Google “flipping a classroom” — plenty of research to skim through that supports it.

 

#3 — Shift Emphasis Away From What Was Done Wrong

This is something that has always bugged me about schooling, and it’s something that’s ridiculously deeply ingrained into the very makeup of education.

Suppose you take a test. Doesn’t matter which subject, what grade, or how important it is. It’s just a test. You complete it, and you think you knew most of the questions, so you feel pretty good about your score.

You get the test back to you. Scribbled at the top of the paper is your score. For the purposes of this post, we’ll say it was a 71%. A large letter “C” is inscribed to the right of the score, and notes cover the essay you wrote for the last question detailing every grammar slip, spelling mistake, and incorrect thing you wrote.

In current-day public education, there’s heavy emphasis on avoiding “bad grades.” If you get Bad Grades, you must be a bad student. If you get a lot of Bad Grades, you might have trouble learning things the same way as everyone else and so you are placed in a lower-level group in class so it can be broken down for you, because obviously you are a lower-level student, right?

Except that Bad Grade was only a 71%. That’s more than half.  It’s a lot more than half–it’s almost three quarters. From this percentage, you can extrapolate (guess, surmise, suppose) that you perfectly understood three-fourths of the material you were presented with. So why is that bad?

This is probably the biggest single flaw in the public education system. Somehow, for some reason, it was considered a good idea to place vastly more weight on the 29% you missed–a small percentage when isolated that way–than the whopping 71% you have safely tucked under your belt.

And this, dear readers, is what needs to change the most. Because you remember when I said that you walked out from the test feeling like you got most of the questions right?

You did. By a large margin, you did get the majority of the questions right. But even with that large margin, your superiors, friends, and family are still obsessing over the minority that you missed.

So even if they don’t see it, next time you get a C on something, congratulate yourself for getting a really impressive Bad Grade.

 

Cheers,

Kai

 

 

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