‘Education’, or, ‘Escaping The Handbasket?’
Posted by Foxfier on 2009/09/04
I’ve been thinking about education a lot the last few months, ever since I found out we’re having a baby.
There are two versions of this post– the one here, edited to avoid TLDR, and the one at my blog, with lots of parenthetical additions.
My folks were a major part of my education, growing up– mom and dad took us nearly everywhere it wasn’t too dangerous to simply be around, and explained things. Later on, they wouldn’t explain and would ask questions instead– my mom in particular was a very effective teacher of the lesson: “if you can’t argue against something you support, you probably don’t know enough about it to support it.” This teaching helps you see through a lot of reporting-a-story-instead-of-information things, and is part of why I like the internet.
For most of school, I was bored stiff in the classroom. So was my husband– my brother and his sister have similar stories, although they were both more like my sister in seeing school as social-time instead of learning-time.
Classes were even worse if the topic was something I was interested in– by the time I got to high school, I’d already learned how to read ahead in the text book and use that information to research elsewhere, and not infrequently the lessons were either outdated information or so shallow that it was worse than nothing. On the up side, I usually had my homework done by the end of class and I read a truly epic number of Forgotten Realms books from the school library, and towards the end of school a couple of teachers asked me to help other kids.
I do remember that even in the ones I was bored stiff during, there was *usually* some kind of extra information that I got from the teacher– especially Mr. Reiber, a great science teacher, who was very good at teaching folks tricks for figuring things out and worked stories into his class.
Needless to say, I’m already worrying about how I’m going to be even half the teacher my folks are; I don’t have a thriving ranch and 4H group to act as a classroom, and it’s highly likely we’ll even be living in town. Visits to Grandma and Grandpa can make dang sure they don’t get silly ideas about cows and horses, and there’s always the cats for some more non-human-interaction, but I look at how bad schools are compared to the ones I went through, and thinking of how piss-poor my education in history, basic art, poetry that is actually enjoyable to read, the years wasted in sex ed, the pathetic excuse for civic education…. I’m sure I can go on, but most everyone knows the basic direction I’m pointing, now. I’m not even looking at the quality of teachers– you know, the ones that copy out of the book on to the board and call that enough, or whose generally political hobby horse is a constant class mascot– just focus, for now, on the basic quality of the education being offered.
Yes, I’m even skipping this happy horse-pucky, for now.
When I got into the Navy, I got to experience a wide range of types of classes– general information classes during bootcamp, when everyone is so dead tired that the level of pre-existing education didn’t matter much, from A and C school– where everyone had tested high enough on relevant areas to qualify to be offered the rating, and the computer based distance-learning classes I took in my free time.
I’ll have to toss out the boot camp classes from this musing, since I wouldn’t wish that on anyone but a volunteer.
The “set-up-classes-based-on-how-you-test” — maybe rephrasing it as “grades” instead of “classes,” since it’s not a matter of what you’re allowed to learn, just when it’s offered to you– would probably work rather well, although it would cost a bit to organize the tests, grade them, organize the classes… there’d have to be some kind of a system to organize various learning styles, testing styles and teaching styles.
Organizing classes around what kids can do instead of what year they were born will have a lot of the folks who support “social promotion” bouncing off of walls, but it would probably make it so the kids who can and want to learn actually do learn without screwing over the kids who simply aren’t on the same level.
Now that we’ve spent extra money to get the kids sorted into specialty levels– keep in mind, just because you’re grade 5 on math doesn’t mean you’ll be put in grade 5 English, each subject would have to be independent of the others– we have to find a way to teach them all. Maybe big schools would have enough teachers to simply reorganize classes by skill instead of age, but some of the schools I went to had grade-teachers instead of subject-teachers.
So, solving a shortage of teachers specialized into a topic. Well, from the classes I took, I notice the two limits on class size are “how many will fit” and “will they get enough help?” The way that the “will they fit?” was avoided in my college classes was by having an e-class– so the remaining limit is “how many kids can a teacher provide sufficient education support to?” ShrinkWrapped has a similar post to my musings here, focusing on the “catch’em early” theory of, well, teaching kids to learn. It would take some smallish school experiments to figure out how much support kids who are learning from a terminal (E-Machines are about two to three hundred bucks, less than a year’s text books– if they are used in the place of individual books, this may be practical.) will actually need.
Depending on the student, you might not even need to physically place them in a classic school. I can see options ranging from homeschooling-but-with-a-proffessional-teacher to cubicle farms to the classic classroom but with a computer.
This could be twisted into a nightmare– think cubical farm with vast, centralized indoctrination (the type that shows up now is bad enough, thanks) and the kids taken entirely out of their parents’ control. (think this, or this, but better run) On the other hand, if done privately or locally, this could be a revolutionary change in education– putting control and supervision of what one’s kids are learning at the finger tips of parents, either in assisted homeschooling settings or by making it much less expensive to run a private or charter school. At the same time we’d be saving time and energy by NOT having to move kids physically from place to place– leaving more time for PE or study. It’s e-commuting for school!
Just like e-commuting, it wouldn’t work for every subject– little kid stuff, cursive, learning to read, learning to type, probably most music classes would need at the very, very least a TA on site, and probably need a real, live, physically there teacher. Even with these disclaimers, we could adapt for the dearth of teachers and improve the quality of the education our kids are getting, while making it possible for parents to be more involved.
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