More ways not to approach educational reform…

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As most of you know, Don and I are teachers.  Sometimes it is
hard for me to resist commenting on what goes on in schools because I
don't want to turn this forum into a complain sheet about schools. 
There is a grand number of blogs that do a find job of that.

I am also a blog reader.  I have  over 300 blogs in my
Google Reader, 20 or so I check many times a day, another 20 or do I
check daily and most of the others I browse through when I get a
chance.  I have noticed that many of the  technology blogs
like to give their own complains about how schools aren't getting the
job done, mostly a criticism of the antiquated way in which we
inspire technology ability among students.  I can ignore most of
them, and do, but one stuck in my head today.

ZenHabits,  one of the ubiquitous
blogs that deals with organization, workflow and "life hacking,"
featured a story today on "27
Skills Your Child Needs to Know That She’s Not Getting In School

."  While I suppose the writer has a point about some of
it, this blog post is exactly the problem with the debate about
education.

Some examples from their post:

Let's start with the easy-to-utter
generalization:

Everyone knows that our school system, in general, is not
giving our kids the basic reading, writing, ‘rithmatic and science
skills needed to be competitive in the high-tech workforce of the
upcoming generation (at least, that’s the general assumption, and
we won’t argue it here).

I am amused by a blogger starting out
this way because I was tempted to say that "Everyone knows that
blogs are an unreliable source."  What about schools isn't
preparing people for the high-tech workplace?  We have a
high-tech workplace now and frankly, we seem to be doing okay
considering the awful educational system that today's workers went
through.  More importantly, who taught you that you can
generalize so dramatically to start a persuasive essay?  You
might as well start with the awful mantra that "research
says…"

I agree with the writer that schools
can be spending more time with personal finance.  But from
there, the list gets a little strange.  I suppose each of these
are good things.  I mean, who can argue with "schools
should teach passion!"   The rest of the list:

Thinking

  • Critical
    thinking
    . One of the most important skills not taught in
    school. These days, we are taught to be robots, to listen to the
    teacher and not to question, to accept what we are told and not to
    think, to be good employees and to shut up. If you’re an employer,
    you might want your employees to be like this, and if you’re a
    politician, you might want your citizens to be like this. But is
    that how you want your child to be? An unquestioning, naive,
    ignorant citizen/employee/student? If so, carry on. If not, just
    start introducing the habit of questioning why? And the skill of
    find out the answer. And how to question authority — there is no
    one right answer. Conversation is a good way to accomplish this
    skill.

  • Reading. Sure, we’re taught to
    read. But schools most often make this boring. Show your child the
    wonderful imaginative worlds there are out there. And show them how
    to find out about stuff in the world through the Internet, and how
    to evaluate what they read for credibility, logic, factualness.

Success

  • Positive
    thinking
    . While critical thinking is an important skill,
    it’s also important to have a positive outlook on life. Sure,
    things may be screwed up, but they can be changed for the better.
    Find solutions instead of complaints. And most of all, learn to
    believe in yourself, and to block out negative self-thinking.

  • Motivation.
    Learn that discipline isn’t the key to achieving a goal, but
    motivation. How to motivate yourself, different strategies, and how
    great it feels to achieve a goal. Start them with small, easily
    achievable goals, and let them develop this skill.

  • Procrastination.
    It’s a problem we all deal with as adults (and even as kids). Now,
    I believe that there should be a time for goofing off, being lazy,
    and having fun. But when there’s something to do that we really
    need to do, how do we get ourselves to do it? Learn the reasons
    behind procrastination, and how to address them. How to beat
    procrastination.

  • Passion. One of the most important
    ways to be successful is to find something you’re passionate
    about, and do that for a living. Your child won’t know the answer
    at a young age, but you should show her how to find her passion and
    how to pursue it, and why that’s important.

Social

  • Anti-competition.
    As kids, we’re taught how to be competitive. In the adult world,
    that’s how we behave. And that results in back-stabbing,
    undercutting, feelings of resentment, and other life-affirming
    things like that. Instead, teach your child how there is room for
    many people to be successful, and how you’re more likely to be
    successful if you help others to be successful, and how they’ll
    help you in return. Learn that making friends and allies is better
    than making enemies, and how to do that. Learn cooperation and
    teamwork before competition.

  • Compassion.
    Not taught in the schools at all. In fact, instead of teaching
    children how to empathize with others and try to ease their
    suffering, our schools often teach children to increase the
    suffering of others. Learn to put yourself in the shoes of others,
    to try to understand them, and to help them end their suffering.

  • Love.
    Compassion’s twin brother, love differs only in that instead of
    wanting to ease the suffering of others, you want their happiness.
    Both are crucial.

  • Listening.
    Are our children taught how to listen in school? Or how to talk at
    someone. Perhaps that’s why many adults don’t have this critical
    skill. Learn how to truly listen to someone, to understand what
    they’re saying, to empathize.

  • Conversation. Goes hand-in-hand
    with listening, but the art of conversation is something that isn’t
    taught in school. In fact, kids are taught that conversation is bad
    in most cases. But in most cases, a conversation is what is needed,
    not a lecture. This is an extremely important social skill that
    should start in the home. Learn to converse with your child instead
    of talk at him.

Practical

  • Auto.
    Why cars are needed (no, not to look cool), how to buy a practical
    car, how to take care of it. How the engine works, what might break
    down, and how it’s fixed. Should be taught to both boys and girls
    (that should be obvious, but I had to say it).

  • Household.
    How to fix things around the house and keep things maintained.
    Plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling, painting, roofing, lawn,
    all that good stuff. The tools and skills necessary to do just the
    basic maintenance and repairs. And how to know when to call a
    professional.

  • Cleaning.
    Too many adults grow up without knowing how to do laundry, to clean
    a house properly, to keep the house clean and uncluttered, to have a
    weekly and monthly cleaning routine. Teach your child all these
    things instead of just telling her what to do.

  • Organization. How to keep paperwork
    organized, how to keep things in their place, to to keep a to-do
    list, how to set routines, how to focus on the important tasks.

Happiness

  • Be present.
    For some reason, this extremely important skill is never taught to
    us when we’re kids. In truth, the younger we are, the more natural
    this skill is. As we get older, we start thinking about the future
    and the past, and the present seems to slip away from us. Some
    skills for living in the present would go a long way.

  • Enjoy life.
    Kids don’t have much of a problem with this, but some awareness of
    its importance and how to do it, even as an adult, would be helpful.
    Set a good example of this, and your kids will follow.

  • Find purpose.
    Whether this is a higher religious purpose, or the purpose of making
    your family happy, or the purpose of finding your calling, having a
    purpose in life is extremely important. Teach your children the
    importance of this and show how to do it yourself.

  • Develop intimate relationships. The
    best way to teach this is to develop an intimate relationship with
    your child, and model it with your spouse or other significant other
    (within appropriateness). Teach them the skills for developing these
    types of relationships, talk about the importance of it, and how to
    get through the bumpy parts as well. There are bad times in every
    relationship, but with the right skills of communication, empathy
    and compromise, they can get through them.

 The rest of these fall under two
categories.  They either are things that should be integrated
into good, solid classroom instruction already like "reading"
or things things that simply should be taught in the community or
home, like "cleaning the house" or "developing
intimate relationships."

Best yet, the writer suggests that we
teach these things this way:

A note on how to teach
these things
: These subjects should not be taught by
lectures or textbooks. They can only be taught by setting examples,
by conversation, by showing, and by allowing the child (or teenager)
to do these things on their own (with supervision at first). Once
you’ve talked about the skill, showed your child how to do it, and
let them do it under supervision a few times, give your child the
trust to do it on his own, and to learn from his own mistakes. Check
back every now and then to talk about what he’s learned.'

 So, how does this belong in
school again?

What is the point of this criticism? 
It is that the debate on fixing education is almost completely broken
itself.  Some thoughts:

  1. Stop asking schools to do things
    that sound good but have no practical reform.  I can't tell you
    how many times I have sat in a staff meeting or had a conversation
    with someone outside of schools and listened to a well-meaning
    person say something like "we need to teach kids passion!"
    or "we need to guide them in finding their purpose!" 
    Yeah.  We do.  But what does that mean for reform? 
    Not a damn thing.

  2. Stop expecting the schools to
    parent.  I know, it is heart-breaking to watch people without
    parenting try to survive in society and there is some things we can
    do in schools (although it is not things we can legislate or build
    into the curriculum) but schools aren't equipped to parent in any
    sort of consistent or meaningful way.

  3. Stop expecting a curriculum to improve teachers that can't
    teach.  This list asks teachers to teach "critical
    thinking" and then repeats the oft-uttered criticism that
    classrooms only teach orderly response and not to challenge
    authority.  The reality is that this has nothing to do with
    WHAT we are teaching kids but HOW we are teaching kids.  The
    teachers that teach these skills teach them in their classrooms or
    in the debate practice or on the basketball court no matter what
    their subject is.  Until we find a way to stack schools with
    THOSE teachers and not the ones that aren't encouraging that view of
    the world, no reform will matter.

Everyone went through school and many of us have kids in school and I
think we assume that makes us qualified to be an educational reformer. 
But, this discussion deserves more than that.  It really does.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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