Saturday, November 03, 2007

Changes In Education

I have a simple question. How much have human beings changed in the last fifty years? I don't mean who we are, I mean what we are. Physically? I think it's a valid question and one worth examination.

As a teacher, I am constantly being told that I have to be accountable. People want me to keep trying different techniques. They say education is failing.

Yet, teachers pretty much do what they did fifty years ago. We assign reading, we engage the students in discussion, we attempt to engage them through interactive activity, we take on the role of Socrates. We assess and check to see what the class isn't getting, target some students who seem to be lagging too far behind, and then we test to check for competency. Sure, teachers are constantly being told to work on critical thinking, to teach to the test, to do a myriad of other things which sound great to the community-at-large, but the basics of teaching haven't changed. Even homeschool teachers can't really teach differently, although they have the advantage of a smaller group of students.

So if education is failing, then what's changed? The teachers? Most teachers I know go through a four year program, majoring in their desired content area. They take two more years after that and get certified. Then, they take eighteen additional college credits over the next five years and assorted professional training experiences.

Over half the teachers graduating college leave the profession within the first five years, so those that remain to teach have accrued some strong knowledge of their craft and appear to have a degree of dedication.

So what has changed? Really? Why is education failing? I go back to the original question: are human beings physically different in how they are able to learn?

Or is it possible society has changed? Could education's failure somehow be influenced by a fifty percent divorce rate or the amount of single parents? Could it somehow be influenced by the amount of time students spend in front of a television, playing videogames or watching vapid programming? Could it be somehow influenced by the diets of the young, manifested by the obesity level in the country? Could it be influenced by the elements within the government who, desiring to implement an agenda of privatization and politicization, twist curriculum this way and that?

So what's changed?


Charles Gramlich said...

I think there are probably a number of factors. Low parental involvement and lack of home discipline is a big one. Another big problem is the politicalization of education. I know that states change the curriculi all the time, so that teachers are pulled this way and that at the whim of politicians.

SQT said...

When I was teaching grade school the level of parental involvement was critical. I saw it everyday. And it wasn't the working mom thing either, I saw moms who put in full day at the office spend more time with their kids than some hoity-toity types who had the nanny and couldn't be bothered to eat a meal with their kid.

I think good habits are established when kids are young. The kids who had a parent sit down with them and do the homework, or volunteer in the classroom just seemed more well adjusted. Divorce wreaked havok too a lot of the time. I didn't have to, but if the divorce was messy the kids paid the price.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I'd like to think its that many times both parents are working and kids are left on their own, but then how about further back than fifty years when both parents had to work just to live, not to live in the suburbs in a "Pleasant Valley Sunday" surrounding. My niece hated middle school because there were gangs and drugs and this is Burbank, not Chicago. She adored her teachers, though, and understood the kind of crap they had to put up with. Teaching hasn't changed, but in many cases, the students have just become a better breed of bastard.

Franki said...

I never feel like teachers should be held accountable for my children. If I don't feel my kids are getting the most out of their education, I have the right to change teachers, get tutors, change schools. No one is responsible for my kids except me.

Out here, we have these lovely tests called SOLs (Standards of Learning). How kids do on these tests determines how much money and notoriety each school receives. So the teachers are forced to teach the SOL, and not much else. Consequently, kids only learn as fast as the slowest kid in class. It's crap. I supplement.

Mark Rainey said...

Teachers are handicapped in so many ways, not the least of which is the fact they're often called on more as babysitters than educators. It's virtually impossible to discipline problem kids in a meaningful way, and with so little parent involvement in many cases, kids are able to essentially run amok -- making it damned difficult to adequately teach those who are good students. My day job is working with all former teachers, several of my best friends are teachers of various grades, and I've kept up with a number of teachers I had back from my day. The horror stories I hear keep getting worse and worse -- and the state-mandated testing is one of the biggest culprits of all. I think we're going to reap some awful results of this testing in coming years, as those who've been nurtured on this one-dimensional path find it impossible to think creatively and interactively. Most of the teachers I know who have retired thank God they're no longer in the classroom, given the conditions they'd have to work under. I admire anyone who can fulfill the demands of school politics and still be effective as educators.

Vwriter said...

It's kind of hard to get excited about this since schools are really social leftovers from the pre-internet era and hopefully will be around long enough to encourage teachers to feel fulfilled while creative minds find new ways to educate that won't involve so much social and political preaching and will instead concentrate on more important things like how to write long sentences.

It's the very fact of the current school system that has distanced parenting and from their children and children from their partents.

McLuhan was a little bit of a dufus and a wannabe cult leader, but at least he understood media- including its natural evolutionary destiny to replace schools with something actually effective and hopefully minus preaching platforms.

Schools are a horrible way to learn and should just be turned into the museums of social controls that they now are. Teachers could be the custodians and wear signs that say "I'm old and I want to lecture," or "I will one day be old and want to start lecturing now so I can get good at it."

No one would really miss schools if they just dried up and blew away. Today's kids know the answer- it's the information infrastructure and network that they and a few visionary adults will create if we could just get rid of the world's most inefficient and ineffective institution- brick and mortar schools and their mental production supervisors. Or, as they are known by most teenagers today, "the assembly lines of the mind and their wardens."

Teachers ideas of educational breakthroughs are online classes. Wow. How advanced.

And politicians and teachers are tied at the hip. The only good news about this Janusian duo is that they spend so much time railing about each other that the kids might actually go out and educate themselves via interactive media while the adults are bombasting each other.

Lana said...

I'm with Wayne on this one--today's children are anti-socialized like never before & considering their lack of much respect for life, itself, how can anyone expect them to respect their teachers (who are typically considered their enemies)? It's not only sad--it's downright frightening.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I'm Old And I Want To Lecture.

Vwriter said...

Hey, but we still have our looks.

M@ said...

You notwithstanding, there has been a real brain drain in education during the past 50 years. The difference now is that the industry once got the best and the brightest women, students that now go into law, medicine, business....

My ex-girlfriend got, I want to say, a 500 on her SATs. She now teaches ESOL with a Masters degree.

spyscribbler said...

A lot of it is the "teacher accountability" mindset. According to society, parents aren't responsible and neither are the students.

And I wish someone would explain to me why the teachers will be fired if I vote against the levy tomorrow, when our students are getting more money per student than 95% of the communities in the state. No one has been able to give me a good answer.

Sidney said...

I've been kind of wondering if Wii will improve the obesity problem any. No kidding, I do wonder that.

Anonymous said...

There are lots of factors. one of them being 50 years ago, teachers could whack a shit kid with little recourse. Times were very different 50 years ago.

Brad said...

The highest indication for the effect that can be called "learning" is teacher belief. According to Robert Marzano - and cumulative research - 'teachers that believe that the highest effect on student success is what the teacher does - results in 88% of the student success. Conversely, teachers that put the 'blame' for success on any other factor (parents, SES, race, etc.) only see 22% of their students succeed.
No one knows students better than the teacher. Every teacher needs to take every student - as they are - and take them to the next level.
"Compelling Conversations"
"The Report on 90/90/90" schools
and others - all agree...

If you believe, and plan for success - then they will succeed.

No teacher left behind!


Travis said...

I just wanted to stop by and let you know that your comment back on Oct 19 inspired my Peace post today.


Stewart Sternberg said...

Brad, I've always agreed with the idea that teachers create a positive culture. However, most approaches to education are based on the teacher and do little to take into account the sociological and cultural influences on the student. I remain skeptical just skeptical, I remain adamant in my belief that teachers are fighting a losing battle until there is a major change in our society as regards to education.

One paper on Education 909090 states :

Perhaps the most compelling argument against any research about success in high poverty schools is the observation that there are cases where teachers are doing all of the right things, and yet student achievement remains low.

I won't go that far. I think research is important and I think we should learn from it. However, 88% of the student's success? That's not giving much credit to the student. I would counter that statement with a study done in the seventies by Coleridge. I know that's a while back, but I don't think it's changed too dramatically. According to that study, the family provided the greatest influence on a student. After that? Peers. Then the media..and way back, teachers.

Hammer said...

Parents no longer put a book in front of their kids or tell them to look up an answer to a question in the encyclopedia. Kids are being raised by daycare, TV and Xbox

Vwriter said...

That study you're referring to in the seventeen seventies- that was done by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, right?