Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Holding us back


School holds us back.

There are many, many things wrong with schools, as they currently exist, that fail to do what we claim to want from the, but are, as the kids are saying, not a bug but a design feature.

Schools are supposed to teach us to stay in line, keep quiet and obey authority.  That students leave with less creativity and independence are features not bugs.

This relates, in it's way to Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning by Peter Gray.  In that article, Dr. Gray discusses the flaws in both positive and negative reinforcement as teaching tools.

Today, I overheard someone discussing the book report her son had coming up.  He had, she said, selected a 400 page book to read and write on.  She was relieved that the teacher had managed to talk him out of this challenge and down to something easier.

I can think of no better example of what's intrinsically wrong with traditional schools.  In a school in which learning and improving oneself is the goal, overreaching can only be seen as a good thing, you're working the muscles.  It's only when the real goal is timed and graded that this could be an issue.

Believe me, I'm punctual.  I believe in punctuality.  I even suspect serial lack of punctuality is borderline sociopathic, although I admit that's probably an overreaction based on personal issues.  And, yes, I'm already broken by the system, something I definitely intend to address another day, which affects my punctuality.

I don't think our school system genuinely teaches that skill or any reason why it's important, aside from as an act of continued obedience, though.  I suspect that, in many ways, that makes it counter-productive in teaching it as a valuable skill and a courtesy to bestow upon those around you.

I think a child could benefit themselves, in knowledge, confidence and understanding the world, much more in challenging themselves to read the longer book than they gain reading a shorter one that they're more likely to be able to regurgitate some reasonably useless information back in order to achieve a competitive grade.

Yes, I thought all of these things all through school.  After my final breaking point, which was after school by a couple of years, because I was just that obstinate, I stopped thinking about it very much at all, except on rare occasions when someone would say something so outrageously pro-school that I'd go into an outraged rant, usually internally, but occasionally it would leak out.

Now that I'm raising a child and facing that future, I have to say I'm back to being a raw nerve.

At a work gathering at Kim's job, another guest described the work load at the kindergarten class she works in, and how little recess they got and how much homework they were given even at that young age.  I seethed.

I ranted at my poor wife later about it and she said, "She just works there, it's not like she can do anything about it."

And I said, "Yes, I'm sure she's the nicest guard at the Concentration Camp".

(Yes, I took the conversation to Godwin's Law territory that quickly.)

Now, I'd probably go for the less ambitious School is a prison! argument, which would sound mildly less dramatic.

However I phrase my response, I can only imagine Friedrich Fröbel rolling in his grave.

We respond to our students struggling more and more to learn from our schools by exacerbating all of the things that are causing the problem in the first place, and get, as one could only expect, receiving worse results, at least by the arbitrary standards we set. See Educational Reform by Daniel Greenberg.

And while it's undoubtedly more complicated on some levels, I think that it speaks volumes that school, as well as parents, knee-jerk to preferring a better grade, and perhaps a more timely assignment, to something that would be more likely to stretch this growing boy's horizons and exercise his mind.

You can say what you want.  I've "evolved" to hesitantly moving toward accepting a "school" type environment in my last post, Thoughts on school, but I was always a little open to something along those lines.

I'm not budging from there, though.  There's no way I'm sending my son to a public school.  Not even a consideration.

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