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My thoughts on education and the education system

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  • My thoughts on education and the education system

    Hi all, I posted this as a comment on BD's blog, but I feel like this is important stuff, and so I wanted to repost it here. The blog post was about female teachers marking male students more harshly than female students (just so the sexism comment doesn't seem out of context). As a place of learning and self-discovery (as this place is) I'm sure parts of it will resonate with some of you, and I'd appreciate any thoughts you guys have on it. Thanks!

    To me, there's several problems with the education system, which all starts from the very notion of the "school year." It started from the fact that the Western societies have generally been agrarian in nature - because for years we farmed fields and had to leave them fallow or risk destroying their ability to produce, we've applied that system to our education system - the summer holidays especially is essentially the fallow year of a field. However, learning and skill development doesn't work that way.

    There was a story I read a while back about a school in New York (I think NY anyway) which was basically an all-year round school, with much longer hours, but was achieving amazing results. Classroom sizes were smaller, and subjects were mostly student-driven. The human mind is an amazing creation and much more powerful than anyone gives us credit for. Once you light that spark of desire behind it, there's very little it can't achieve. Some (potentially informal) studies about results in this school and similar schools compared to "normal" schools showed that the summer rest actually causes more harm in children than good. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who's done exercise - stopping exercise for a while makes you lose some of your gains and makes it harder to get back into it. Why should the mind be any different?

    Think how a child first learns - discovery. The child sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes and gradually builds up an understanding. Education should continue in this vein - if you're homeschooling, that means not following a traditional syllabus or even traditional subjects. For a start, the subjects are mostly outdated in this world - things like entrepreneurship, financial knowledge, salesmanship, marketing etc are all much more useful subjects, as well as teaching children the value of self-education and following what interests you.

    Even something that's "universally" useful like languages are taught all kinds of wrong in school. If you ever learnt a language at school, cast your mind back and think of your first ever lesson. In my first ever lesson, and in almost every textbook I ever read, the first thing I was taught was to say "my name is" (je m'appelle, ich heisse, mi chiamo etc). Just think about that for a second... how many times are you ever going to introduce yourself. Only once per person (unless you or they are really forgetful!). Instead of trying to give you the words and phrases you're going to use THE MOST, they try and formulate a conversation (a conversation which I've never had word-for-word in any language, making the entire thing redundant) step-by-step.

    A language-learning system I really rate is the Michel Thomas system, and I download the trial version of the French one just to be able to give some examples (I've learnt basic Italian and decent German from this method along with Duolingo in German for reading/writing - at a total cost of around 25-30 for complete language learning). The first thing he teaches in the French system is that words in English that end "ible" are the same in French with a different pronunciation. The first "new" words he teaches is "c'est" which means "it is." The system then introduces new words and you construct real phrases in the target language, so that even after the first hour, you're already constructing sentences. It teaches you how to SPEAK the language, rather than preparing you for a test in that language, which is all that the education system is concerned about.

    Another thing in the UK at the moment is that education is a no-win game for the students. When students do better than the students of the previous year, everyone claims that exams are getting easier. Yet if the results get worse, it's because kids these days are stupider, lazier, don't appreciate hard work, misbehaved etc etc. There's a lot of political gain to be had from the education system regardless of how it performs and the only real loser is the students (and the teachers as well a lot of the time). I remember this was a huge point with my Nan who was a teacher - she felt it was unfair and discouraging to the students who she saw worked really hard for what they got and that their achievements shouldn't be cheapened in this way.

    But that's the name of the game these days. Education isn't actually for educating, it's for political gain and ensuring future conformity - uniforms, restrictive syllabus, no room for real deviation and it's frustrating.

    To me, any form of sexism in education is completely and wholly irrelevent. Why should I care if women are being awarded higher marks by other women than men, since I don't believe that the education system as a whole is worthwhile anyway. Parents should be recognising that education isn't just a til you're 16/18/21 game but that education is a lifelong endeavour and that you shouldn't leave such an important task to something as uselessly unqualified as the education system (note, system, not students/teachers themselves). Teaching a child how to think and learn for themselves is far more important than anything the education system teaches, because they specifically teach children NOT to think for themselves. People thinking for themselves doesn't help the government and so the system won't change. Parents need to be taking their children's education more seriously, which DOESN'T mean entrenching them further within the system, but taking an active role in guiding their children.

    I read a story about some home-schooled kids (all in one family) and one of them, at eight years old, was making quite intricate paper airplanes and then selling them to people for some extra pocket money. Compare this to the story above about a child getting punished for making paper airplanes. Which one do you think is more likely to succeed in life? The one who has his freedom curtailed and is punished for his creativity or the one who is encouraged to not only let it flourish but to go out there and try and convince people to pay him money for his creativity. One child is told what he should know, most of which he'll forget after his exams. The other one is learning skills that will be useful for the rest of his life.

    But asking which one is more likely to be a success is a loaded question, when society defines educational success by your exam results alone. What a sad indictment of the system.

  • #2
    Fully agree with you on just about everything that you wrote here. One of the biggest issues I see going forward in the world is the fact that the education system is built around continuing to support itself, as opposed to actually attempting to generate meaningful progress.

    There are a couple pretty big examples of this. The first is standardized testing within US schools. Essentially, it forces teachers to teach to the test, as opposed to any actual knowledge. Schools are then rewarded based on their performance on these tests, further encouraging fixed styles of thinking. In my opinion, the demise of creativity in the US can be directly attributed to the rigid style in which students are taught. There's a great video that I can't find the link to, but essentially what they did is they took two groups of children. One was a group of kindergarten-aged kids, and the others were in middle school. They asked them to list the number of uses for a paper clip. The younger kids, who were not indoctrinated, came up with an average of around 20 uses. The older children, who had been in the rigid educational system, came up with an average of 4-5.

    The other issue that currently plagues US education is the student-loan system and the push to send everyone to college. Essentially, this is creating free money and directly driving up the cost of tuition, which then allows colleges to continue to get more of this free money. This has made education a huge burden on people graduating, especially with the economy the way it is right now, with most graduates not having the skills they need to actually go out in get a job. Think of kids with $100k+ in debt, a philosophy major from an average state school, and a job paying $12 an hour trying to make ends meet. Shitty situation.

    At the end of the day, the issue is that the reliance and emphasis on this system prevents anyone from truly challenging it. And that's the crux of the issue. No one is asking the question, "What do our students need to learn?" They are simply assuming that the things we have been taught for years are what we need going forward. So the lack of creativity starts with administrators, who unfortunately, for the most part, tend to be looking out for their jobs and themselves, as opposed to really wanting to educate children. Teachers tend to be a little more balanced, but the bureaucracy that exists currently really doesn't have children's best interest in mind, only their own. Sad to see.

    I think the next 20-30 years are going to be incredibly transformational as we see the baby boomers move out of power and the millenial generation take over the reins. Education is one place that is going to be incredibly important to reshape over that time period, and I think there are some absolutely tremendous opportunities to create a system that can be truly amazing for students to learn in. It's going to require a lot of work, but I think that this is something that is going to be incredible to watch, and we have an unbelievable chance to do something really special with this.


    • #3
      It's funny one of you would open this thread because I was going to ask you guys about it, too... I am studying pedagogy and right now it is kind of my mission to find out what is wrong with the education system and how to change it. There are lots of issues that might be different from school to school, but I think the two worst (far as I found out) are that 1) schools are closed systems, thus preventing change and 2) schools force you to eat up answers to questions you never asked while ignoring or supressing your actual questions.

      I am currently working on some project to overcome the problems at hand, it's far from finished, but please imagine and tell me what you think:

      There is a place you can go to where you have lots of smaller and bigger free spaces that you can use, maybe some outside, some inside. You have access to a library where you can lend books, tools, ... to learn and create. There are special areas, maker-spaces, where you can make special things, like a kitchen, or artwork and handywork stuff. There is possibility for everyone (also outsiders) to announce or wish for seminars about any topic you might find interesting, and anyone can join in the fun. There is no obligation to go or stay anywhere.
      Tests do exist, as tests to give feedback to you and for requirements where it makes sense to do tests, for example mathematical tests. You do not have to do tests, but you will know which tests are required to, for example, enter another school.
      Since you do what you are interested in, after a while you might be good enough to teach others or work in that field, collecting more experience and also a certain reputation. This reputation, together with any tests you might have passed (passed/not passed, no grades) and documentation of your past work makes for far more useful information when you apply for any job, too.
      Any values or wisdom that a society deems essential for everyone is ingrained in the system of education, not a subject, for example helping others will help you gain reputation in your field.

      Just a small glimpse of what I want to create, any comments are welcome

      P.S.: There are an awful lot of people who are actively working for change, but they get repressed and divided a lot


      • #4
        I don't have a lot of time to read and comment at the moment but I want to bookmark this for later because I have some really strong opinions on schooling, which is the reason I chose to homeschool my own children. Some may see that as a "failure" because my oldest son has not been able to get by in the public school at all, however, I think that is due more to his personality and I don't think he would have done well had he started Kindergarten in the public school like everyone else either. He's actually EXTREMELY intelligent though math is not his forte. Still, once they presented him with Algebra he picked it up rather quickly despite missing some of the basic building blocks beforehand.

        I was homeschooled also, in the 9th grade, when I lived with my father, who was very nonconformist (and had a supposedly "genius IQ") and didn't think children should be treated like sheep. I didn't follow a curriculum but was given book after book to read and allowed to hang out at the beach all day, boogie boarding, surfing and playing in the water and the sand and I can honestly say I learned more in that year than all of my years of public schooling put together.

        I've always felt really strongly that children, and boys especially, should be allowed to learn ACTIVELY and learn about things they are interested in because a love of learning is what motivates a person to actually retain information. You can talk "at" them and attempt to teach them all day but if they are not engaged and interested it goes in one ear and out the other.

        My own style of homeschooling was/is a mix of Charlotte Mason

        and unschooling,

        plus I think the Better Late than Early philosophy is pertinent for boys. There is a book with that title by Raymond Moore (I think that's his first name).

        Found it!

        and throw in a little of Ruth Beechick because I think the 3 "R's" should be focused on to an extent

        Right now due to all the issues with my older son I have had to do some workbook style stuff with my others, which isn't near as fun and I don't feel they are learning what they could be once things calm down. What my philosophy boils down to is read to them frequently, HIGH quality books (also known as "living books"), teach THEM to read when they are ready (when they are ready is again pertinent), keep lots of interesting educational magazines and books within reach and take them on LOTS of nature walks and field trips to educational places. Keep television and electronic toys at a minimum and like right now we have a tv but it only has a couple channels so when they watch its PBS, which is at least somewhat educational. Once reading and exploring places becomes your favorite thing to do then you spend the rest of your life learning every day and writing and other learning can all be taught through reading. The only subject that it is really necessary to sit down and teach (after basic reading is taught through phonics rather than whole words) is Math. Sure you need some basic grammar but things like spelling and grammar flow naturally when you have done a lot of reading.

        My kids were always allowed to run and play and explore and create. I have FOUR boys so there is a lot of energy that needs to be gotten out. I don't have a lot of time to write out all my comments on this subject but I have a lot, maybe later!!

        I also want to add that the American public school system is actually based on the Prussian one, which is a bit scary. The point of cumpulsory schooling is really to enforce "socialization". In other words its brainwashing society into certain beliefs, starting when our children are young. A book that you might want to read is The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto who was once an educator in the New York school system.

        Oh and here is another book by him you may want to read (that is also probably easier to digest, lol) about how public education is actually dumbing us down rather than making us smarter.


        • #5
          Income taxes.
          The 8-5 workday.
          Large scale mechanized military.
          Huge governments.
          Men paying for dates.
          Central banks.
          Classroom learning.

          It's all just another item on a long list of things that used to work (sort of) long, long ago when the world was very different, that no longer work at all, but which society still uselessly clings to because of fear of change.
          How to have 3 hour meet-to-lays and nonmonogamous relationships with any type of woman:
          The Blackdragon Blog


          • #6
            Here is a short run-down of how education in the United States works:

            --They force you to sit in an uncomfortable position and cram your head full of things that the smart kids realize early on are just bullshit. What students actually want to learn about, is not taken into consideration at any level until the last couple years of college.

            --If you're unable to sit still and act like a sponge for trivia, instead of a child full of curiosity and energy for learning, you are sent to a therapist, who tells you there's something wrong with you and gets you addicted to drugs when you're a kid. Side effect: shitty self-worth for the whole rest of your life

            --If somehow you're able to pretend you care enough about something with no personal relevance to you whatsoever, for days that turn into months that turn into years, at the end of it all you realize you just wasted a whole fucking lot of time and money. And that you should have just followed what you were interested in from the beginning.

            Thank the gods I was able to figure this out before forking over more money and signing up for years of slavery as a "grad student."


            • #7
              Originally posted by Z View Post
              There's a great video that I can't find the link to, but essentially what they did is they took two groups of children. One was a group of kindergarten-aged kids, and the others were in middle school. They asked them to list the number of uses for a paper clip. The younger kids, who were not indoctrinated, came up with an average of around 20 uses. The older children, who had been in the rigid educational system, came up with an average of 4-5.


              • #8
                Winner winner, chicken dinner.


                • #9
                  School is really just babysitting for some couple's trophy children, training them to be another cog in the machine, but not really teaching them things that they'd need to get off the 9 to 5.

                  People go to school to get a job to pay the bills.
                  Some jobs only require about 6 months of training to sort that issue out.
                  The rest of the time you have kids learning irrelevant shit that doesn't interest them to keep out of their parents hair.