8/3/12

Is Your School Really Educating You?


Warning to students: your public school may be shortchanging you.


You’re told that you are receiving a world-class education; you are being prepared for college and career in the 21st century. This might be a big exaggeration. Chances are, you’re hardly being educated at all. You are probably not ready for a real college or a demanding career.


Did you hear of foreigners visting New York where merciless cabbies charge $700 for the ride into Manhattan? Tourists sometimes don’t know the most basic things. They can be easily tricked. Could that be you?  


First order of business, throw away the rose-tinted glasses. Be realistic about how much, or how little, education you have received.  


Start by focusing on what sort of educational experience you have actually had. Identify anomalies and deficiencies. Then you can figure out how to fix them. Here’s a checklist:


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1: Can you read fluently and with pleasure? Or is reading something you do poorly, and therefore you try to avoid ever needing to do it? If the latter, then you know you have been cheated of the most basic skill there is. You do have a right to learn to read. 


2: Can you do basic arithmetic with confidence? Can you multiply and divide, using the common algorithms preferred all around the world? If not, you are probably the victim of Reform Math curricula such as Connected Math, TERC, Everyday Math, and similar.


3: With regard to basic facts and knowledge, what information do you actually know? Can you point to Japan on a map? How many degrees in a circle? Why is George Washington famous? What’s a moon? 


4: Do your teachers actually teach? Or do they expect you to find or otherwise invent information for yourself? Why is the teacher there, in that case? Is there a realistic chance that you can reinvent the wheel, rediscover the rules of math, and formulate anew the facts and lessons of history, science, etc.?


5:  Is every activity a group activity? Are you always forced to sit at a table with 4 or 5 people? Are you supposed to learn how to do something by doing it simultaneously with other people? Do you expect to be driving a car with a group, getting married with a group, going to your first job interviews with a group? Why are you being made to work with a group--did you ever wonder this? Isn’t the insulting message that you can’t be expected to complete jobs by yourself?


6: Did you hear lots of talk about Prior Knowledge, as if what you learned  years ago is all that matters? Did your classes always seem to be mired in the past? Did you ever wonder, well, let’s get on with it, I’d like to learn something new? “Prior knowledge” can be a euphemism for running in place, which is the very oppposite of what a school should be doing. 


7: Do your teachers ask about your Learning Style? Are you being encouraged to think that you are a right-brain learner, or left-brain learner, or a visual learner, or an auditory learner, or a kinetic learner, or some other kind of learner that makes you different from other people?


(In the real world are people going to say, “You’re a visual learner? I guess I have to draw a picture for you? Haha!” Whether in a factory, on the battlefield, at an executive meeting, or family gathering, are other people supposed to cater to your alleged lopsidedness? Not likely. And let’s say for the sake of discussion you are a visual learner. That’s all the more reason why teachers should try to develop the other, non-visual parts of you.)


8: Are you constantly praised for no good reason? Self-esteem demands that students be given constant praise. But you know in your own mind that you don’t deserve the praise? Did you ever have a thought: who’s conning whom here? I’m not doing a damn thing and my teachers are telling me how wonderful I am.


9. Is there constant chatter about Critical Thinking? But there’s almost no concern with logic, rhetoric, reason, deduction, or even accuracy? If anything, didn’t you find that your school encourages you to guess, to approximate, to accept fuzzy answers and indeed fuzzy thinking?


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Summing up, doesn’t it almost seem as if your education is a guided tour to nowhere? You are taken all over the countryside but somehow ended back near where you started. 


You got older. Your tastes in clothes and music changed. You watched several thousand hours of television. But what more did you learn during all that time?


It’s almost as if you were deliberately prevented from being educated. In what ways are you now more fully prepared to earn a living, to perform a specific job, or to take responsibility? Truth is, public schools in the United States typically give a shallow, almost trivial education. If you want your education to be deep and substantial, you are going to have to make it happen yourself. 


For starters, you have to redefine education as something positive, wonderful, and worth working for. There is such hostility, or at least indifference, toward education. The schools themselves hardly seem to believe in what it is they are ostensibly doing.


For the future, it’s a matter of stepping up your game. Take charge of your own education. In not that many years, you will be a voter, an employee, a parent, maybe a business owner or a community leader. The more you know, the more you can help your society.


Try to read a newspaper every day, a magazine cover-to-cover every week, and a book every month. Identify areas where you don’t know much and reflect on how you can most quickly fill that void. There’s a website, or maybe 10 of them, on every subject. Online education is becoming a real force in education reform. Whatever you want to know is out there, readily available.


But don’t think of this as work. That may be a prejudice that your schools have given you. Think of it as fun. The brain likes to learn new stuff. The brain likes to be engaged. It’s wired that way. Humans are a learning animal. They want the fireworks of new knowledge.


That’s the secret at every level, for each teacher and every student. Celebrate learning. Think of education as something you chase after, not something you try to avoid. Demand more from your schools, and from yourself. 


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Here's a quick test 
(100 easy questions) 
that will reveal how much you know: 

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