Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Another education basher misses the mark

Joanne Jacobs did a piece the other day on another bashing of our education system. The bashing was a post by John Leo, and mercifully, this one seemed to focus more on college than it did in K-12. The post featured what was supposed to be a test for eighth graders in 1895, and it was compared to what today's college students don't know.

Here is some of what was on the "eighth grade" test:

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie', 'play', and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas .
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.


And here is how dumb young people are today: (This originally comes from an essay by Ted Gup in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

"Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries - China, Cuba, India, and Japan - not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses - half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975."


There were a couple of problems with Leo's bashing attempts, however. First of all, the eighth grade test turned out to be either a complete hoax or just dishonest. (Joanne reported that it's a hoax; a commenter on Leo's post said that it really was an eighth grade test from 1895, but hardly any of the eighth graders passed it.) The other problem is that by comparing the lack of social studies knowledge the college students demonstrated with any test, real or imaginary, it's clear that he completely misses the point.

The problem is not that young people today can't do well on a particular social studies test that they can study for. The problem is that they can't answer the same questions just a few months, or even a few weeks, after they've taken that test. The reason? They don't care! They don't care what countries border Israel, they don't care about Afghanistan, and they don't about the Civil War.

Do I care that kids don't care? Absolutely. I do everything I can to try to get my kids to care about the stuff I teach, and I know I'm not alone. But let's face it; we are not living in a culture that is conducive to getting young people to care about what has happened in history and what is happening in societies outside their own. But give them a test on TV, DVDs, video games, how to text, or how to use any other of the latest high tech gadgets, and they will dazzle us.

12 Comments:

Anonymous daniel simms said...

If the kids don't care, then why should we waste all the resources we do on public schools? What good is it doing, Dennis?

4/17/2008 5:28 AM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

And Dennis, I don't mean that as an insult. I mean it as a serious question that deserves some thought on the part of people that support public schools.

4/17/2008 5:35 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

I recently did a post on how schools need to change to meet the challenges presented by today's students. Find it at http://www.marturia.net/blog/?p=3234

4/17/2008 7:25 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

I'd agree. Why would this be a fair indictment of public schools? They're such an easy target in so many other areas! ;]

OK, seriously, for whatever reason "rebellion" seems the order of the day with teens and there are so many reasons put forth as to why. I don't pretend to be an expert on it. But they're smart enough to figure out that the enemy wants them to learn something, so they're not gonna do it.

Now, we *do* have trouble at home with rebellion in our child with autism. He has a tremendous difficulty understanding the difference between criticism of the PERSON and the ACTION. Both the school and I have the same areas of difficulties. It would be very unfair for me to blame the school for his lack of eagerness in tackling a problem.

Conversely my older "gifted" child knows that pretty much it's his education and he can take it or leave it. I've even tried to convince him to blow that taco stand, come home and make his own curriculum up and do WHATEVER HE WANTS and do you know what he said?

He feels the classes are challenging and feels if he came home he would be naturally lazy. He would not study the things he feels he needs to know.

But then he added (I hope to get my goat!!) that he likes his information doled out to him in tiny pieces, and that the state is the best one to determine what he should learn. And that we should never think for ourselves when the government can do it for us.

Um, thanks, kid.

4/17/2008 1:03 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Daniel, you and I are actually not very far apart on this. You don't think education should be compulsory, and you also don't think it should be considered a right. I agree with you on both of those things, and I really believe they are a big part of the problem of kids not taking their education seriously. The only difference between you and me is that I think the government should provide education (but it should be voluntary) and you don't.

Mrs. C., that was quite an endorsement from your gifted child: "We should never think for ourselves when the government can do it for us." I'm sure Daniel appreciates it.

And Ian, am I ever dense. Thanks for giving me your website. I will add it to my "Favorite Blogs."

4/17/2008 6:11 PM  
Blogger Charley said...

Dennis wrote: "
The problem is not that young people today can't do well on a particular social studies test that they can study for. The problem is that they can't answer the same questions just a few months, or even a few weeks, after they've taken that test. The reason? They don't care! They don't care what countries border Israel, they don't care about Afghanistan, and they don't about the Civil War.

Do I care that kids don't care? Absolutely. I do everything I can to try to get my kids to care about the stuff I teach, and I know I'm not alone. But let's face it; we are not living in a culture that is conducive to getting young people to care about what has happened in history and what is happening in societies outside their own. But give them a test on TV, DVDs, video games, how to text, or how to use any other of the latest high tech gadgets, and they will dazzle us."

BINGO! NAIL ON THE HEAD! BULL'S EYE!

The methodology that is used today is "standardized"...each child is to fit into the "box" created by the scope and sequence designed by the "experts." As such, the kids quickly learn that to succeed, all they need to do is memorize the answers long enough to do well on a test. After that, it is flushed. We've all done it! I was Valedictorian of my graduating class. Do I remember any of my two years of Spanish class? How about Chemistry? How about Social Studies? How about Biology? NOT A BIT! And I got straight A's in all of them!

We don't learn what we don't use. We don't learn that in which we don't have an interest. By learning, I mean retention beyond the test.

The group school system with its standardized scope and sequence isn't causing kids to learn; it is teaching them to get by. Their hands are held as they are told each and every day what to read, what to memorize ("Will this be on the test?" is a common question.), what to do. They are never taught to learn, to teach themselves. And worse, they are never given the opportunity to really delve as deeply as they would like into a subject they truly love.

This entire subject reminds me of the movie, "October Sky," which chronicles the true story of some boys in West Virginia who had a love of space and of rockets. Even though they were in school, they had the time to take that love as far as they could...and one of them took it all the way to NASA! Our schools don't allow for that kind of specialization.

You can't make the students care; you can only show them your love and passion for the subject. Some will catch that love, while the rest will just endure it long enough to pass the test, wishing the whole time they were somewhere else.

Wouldn't it be better if they were somewhere else, somewhere studying something they actually cared about instead of checking off a box some expert said they needed so they could be considered "educated?"

OK...it must be late and I must be tired because although I think I'm making my point, it appears also that I'm rambling.

Charley
HomeDiscipling Dad Blog

4/17/2008 8:16 PM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

Actually, Dennis, I don't believe in having a government which compels individuals to support or submit to it, period. I believe in voluntary associations and interactions between consenting individuals. There would be nothing wrong with such an association establishing a school to educate children, so long as no one was compelled to provide resources to the school or have their children educated at the school.

In other words: I support persuasion and reject coercion, in education, religion, finances and in all other areas of life.

4/17/2008 8:35 PM  
Blogger Charley said...

While this idea will probably never come to pass, it's nice to think about!

Abolish Public Schools?

Before you get your hackles up...it's not a "bash the public school" article, but rather looks at the entire system from an economic standpoint and considers what would happen if a town were to actually eliminate the monopoly...

Charley

4/17/2008 8:37 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, there were certainly fewer epochs of US history to remember in 1895 than there are today, and fewer subjects were taught in school, too.

Let's also remember there were practically NO rules for capitalization a hundred years before 1895. Language changes. Who knows how texting will change spelling and grammar rules. Many of my students come into my class trying to write by license plate rules.

I'm feeling a little smart-alecky, today....

4/17/2008 9:40 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I just read Ian's post that he mentions in his comment. Although I do use some so-called "progressive" teaching methods, I have always had more faith in "traditional" methods. After what I wrote, and after reading his post, I might need to re-think my approach.

4/18/2008 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

You're making me blush - I mentioned it as a response to Daniel's "why do we still need schools" question.

4/18/2008 5:29 PM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

The problem is not that young people today can't do well on a particular social studies test that they can study for. The problem is that they can't answer the same questions just a few months, or even a few weeks, after they've taken that test. The reason? They don't care! ... I do everything I can to try to get my kids to care about the stuff I teach, and I know I'm not alone. But let's face it; we are not living in a culture that is conducive to getting young people to care about what has happened in history and what is happening in societies outside their own. But give them a test on TV, DVDs, video games, how to text, or how to use any other of the latest high tech gadgets, and they will dazzle us.

Dennis, you are perhaps the wisest person writing about education today.

The only thing I might disagree with is the phrasing. Many people use the word culture as if it's some sort of thing imposed on relatively blank and passive young people. It causes them to think certain ways, and like certain things, and do certain things.

I think the reality is a lot more interesting. Young people today have more choices about what to do with their time than any young people in history. Not only are there more choices out there but few parents make much of an effort to limit their children's choices.

With all those options out there, we have discovered, surprise?, that learning about the things taught in school is often not a highly valued choice.

(This seems to be consistent with what you say in your April 26 post, "It's the students, stupid!" But then you are a wise guy, er, man.)

4/27/2008 11:57 AM  

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