The Thursday Three #18

  1. Let’s make everyone’s lives easier and advocate for clearer writing instead of bureaucratic language pumped full of useless words. This article has an interesting perspective. Isn’t the whole point of writing to communicate so we can be understood?
  2. Here’s another good article about “middlebrow” writing and who buys the most books (hint: it’s not men). As I’ve said before, not everyone is a Faulkner or a Joyce or a Whitman. Writers write for the joy of writing, and readers read for the joy of reading — whether that writing and reading is highbrow, middlebrow, or lowbrow.
  3. Race to Nowhere looks like a good documentary to watch if you’re concerned about how our children are being educated. Today this “education” seems to consist of standardized tests, the Common Core curriculum, and a boatload of after-school activities to pad the resumes of third graders. Is it all too much? That’s what Race to Nowhere is exploring.

New School

There is so much I could say in response to this daily prompt.

You get to redesign school as we know it from the ground up. Will you do away with reading, writing, and arithmetic? What skills and knowledge will your school focus on imparting to young minds?

First off, I would definitely not do away with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic because we need them more than ever. But instead of just reading a story and having to memorize useless details to regurgitate on a standardized test, it would be far more beneficial for students to read nonfiction and learn to critically analyze what they read.

Getting a certain number of volunteer or community service hours needs to be mandatory for schools. I know that some school systems have already implemented this, but when I was in school, it was not a requirement.

I’ve ranted about this a few times before, but I won’t stop until it becomes reality: Schools and universities really need to teach kids about real-world stuff. Like how to cook meals that aren’t “pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds,” rent an apartment, buy and maintain a car, buy and maintain a house, understand insurance, have healthy relationships, and so on and so on. Yes, I know these things are supposed to be taught by parents, but it’s way too often that parents drop the ball or can’t be bothered.

High schools need to teach students that college is not the only path to success. College is not mandatory, and some kids will not succeed in college simply because it is not the right choice for them or they don’t have the right temperament for it. Also, grade inflation in high school and college needs to stop. If the student does excellent work, he gets an A. If he does poor work, he gets a D. End of story. When I was in college, students used to bug professors to try and get them to drop the lowest test score or shorten the page count of a term paper to 5 instead of 10, and the sad thing was that sometimes the professors would give in. College is supposed to teach you about the real world, and in real life, you don’t get your way by whining or slacking off.

Public School = Conformity?

Some say that a child who attends public school will grow up to become just another cog in the corporate machine – an unthinking, mindless conformist who is trained only to take standardized tests and is incapable of thinking outside the box. I think that’s a rather overdramatic view.

Sure, anyone who attended public school knows that it is indeed quite regimented: you’ve got your long list of school rules, you go to school at the same time every day, the bell rings at all the same times, you’re only allowed to wander the halls with permission, and you can only leave school when the bell rings or if you have permission.

But I don’t necessarily think the public school system’s schedule is what creates this supposed conformity. Getting kids used to a daily routine can make them more well-disciplined, but of course, there is such a thing as overscheduling your kids, and that is a blog post in itself.

They say that “teaching to the test” is part of what creates “conformity.” Not all children are good test takers, but are really smart in other ways. Some children are very good test takers, but they may not necessarily understand the material they’re being tested on. But in public school, children’s academic competence is determined by how well they perform on standardized tests – and because every student learns differently, that’s not fair.

The best of teachers recognize that standardized testing is a necessary evil, and they do prepare their students for the test, but that’s definitely not where their job ends. They ensure that each student is working to his full potential, and they genuinely care about students’ successes and failures. A good teacher does not encourage conformity in his students, but encourages them to think outside the box.

Teaching is probably one of the most difficult jobs there is, especially when you’re a public school teacher who has to worry about getting a certain amount of passing test scores to stay hired. I’ve heard that a lot of teachers wish they didn’t have to waste time “teaching to the test.”

Tests are indeed a good measure of progress, but standardized tests are too, well, standardized to be able to adequately test each student on his/her individual abilities – and public schools place far too much emphasis on them. Because of standardized testing, a truly brilliant child can get “left behind” if he doesn’t perform well on the test, and a slow learner can move along to the next grade if she happens to do well.

But I wouldn’t say that merely attending a public school turns children into little conformists. Not at all.