On Modern Education
Speaking as an educator of almost thirty years, the free-thinking student is generally undesirable if that freedom of thought has no tether to knowledge of facts, ability to reason, or capacity for meaningful expression. We long ago abandoned teaching students how to think in the disciplined, rigorous ways that require the use of valid logic as the framing guide in which accurate and deep understandings of history, the arts, science, and mathematics can be brought to bear upon a problem, proposition, or idea at issue. Modern American pedagogy offers not even so much as a worthwhile mechanism by which to implement standards for effectively, consistently teaching and insisting upon proper grammar, even though mastery of constructive thinking and expression are at the very heart of shaping a young mind for higher expressive thought and communication. From long and grueling personal experience, I can assure readers that, unless one is very much in love with subject matter at its deep, technical level, teaching is no fun when it requires as much discipline, effort, and continuing thought on the part of the teacher as on the part of the student.
When I was the director of education at a school for court reporters, I had an English teacher with a Master's degree from a most reputable university. She resolutely refused to teach English grammar, even though the course to which I had assigned her was "English Grammar I." She hated grammar, did not understand essentials of it, and knew very well that "grammar is dead," anyway. She wanted to give her students "writing assignments" because that's what is important: all students have to do is write and writeand especially, they should write about their feelings and their opinionsand they will get the education in English they need. She stormed into my office one night after class, frustrated to no end because my curriculum was hard-core grammar, and she was supposed to have covered the topic of what are called "gerunds" that night, and she simply could not, for the life of her, understand what these gerunds were all about. She said, "F*ck gerunds." I fired her.
Ultimately, she was the winner in a way. The accreditation board for the school finally ordered me, under threat of pulling the accreditation, to abolished the two-course sequence in English grammar. I was told, "Grammar is dead."
It is important to point out that exceptional writing does not flow from perfection in form and grammar. I have invited a number of bloggers to contribute at Websites of Dark Wraith Publishing, and many of these writers are not top-notch grammarians; nevertheless, they are good or great writers, and that is why I deem their work important and worthy of publication and exposure to a wide audience. My assessment is good, too: the ability to write well is, to some extent, a gift, but it is a gift enhanced by elements of early life in school, at home, and in other venues that brought forth something special, perhaps not entirely well-formed in terms of grammar and composition lessons retained, but special nonetheless in terms of essential understanding of what makes for a good read.
People learn in different ways and, to some degree, at different rates; and it is surely insufficient to anticipate that teaching will, in and of itself, be enough. Some students will emerge of their own accord as great in math, writing, art, or some combination of areas; most, however, will have to be given years and years of prescriptive, structured, and (unfortunately) repetitive lessons to induce retention and usage. Higher-level expectations brought to bear too soon and in inappropriate venues do not have positive effect and can, in many cases, have disastrous long-term consequences. This is true whether it be the average fifth-grader being taught algebra or the college student being harangued to write and write, regardless of individual ability to form essential thoughts, much less the capacity to express thought in a readable way.
Specifically, that fascination with simply "writing" at the expense of writing from clarity of thought and productivity of expression has gone from brushfire in the 1980s to full-blown conflagration in the current era. Colleges have become nearly obsessed with "writing across the curriculum," holding seminars, pumping out e-mail newsletters, and going so far as to stand upon the precipice of evaluating teachers in part upon how much they integrate "writing" into assessment and evaluation at the course and classroom levels. The assumption, of course, is this: if students write and write and write, sooner or later, they'll write well and communicate meaningful thoughts about the subject matter at hand. (I must note, here, that I am valiantly resisting the urge to conflate this myth with the somewhat erroneous idea that, if a bunch of monkeys are allowed to type long enough, a Shakespearean sonnet will emerge from one of their pages of random characters.)
Old methods and methodologies are the stuff of trash bins when it comes to academia. Our education system flits from one pop-academic airhead theory to the next, and I have seen enough of these brainstorms pushed into service to make me thoroughly suspicious of anything new, whether it be a new idea about how teachers should be "learning facilitators" or some new, high-tech toy the IT department has been suckered by academic-corporate marketers into buying for every classroom on campus. As the uselessness of one pedagogy or toy after another becomes too obvious to ignore, and as a new crop of academics desperately publishes reams of research to get doctorates or tenure, what do we get? Why, we get a brand new banquet of pop-academic airhead ideas, the latest and biggest of which these days is stampeding the ivy under the banner of "assessment," which is the Son of Frankenstein billowing forth from the "accountability" craze that expressed itself legislatively with the abomination of No Child Left Behind and other initiatives that have now fully infected and misdirected critical and precious resources in schools from kindergarten through college.
Whatever the academic fad du jour might be, the results are predictable: in K-12, teachers who are, themselves, the products of woefully inadequate education from their youth clear through to their suspiciously easy degrees in education are expected to impose upon their students standards that the students cannot meet because the teachers cannot teach to standards that are utterly detached from genuinely worthwhile arcs of education; and all of this happens in the context of administrators whose academic training is even more miserable than that of the teachers they oversee; and those administrators are flogged along by school boards comprising ambitious know-nothings cowering to the mindless masses of voters who will shoot down pathetically inadequate school levies, then go out and mortgage their lives to the hilt for their own consumption overdrive.
Do people want something better? No, not at the price they have clearly, unambiguouslyover and over again, from one school district to the next, from one state to the nextdemonstrated that they are willing to pay. No, not at a price that would include a direct cost in the fifty to sixty thousand dollar-a-year range for starting teachers; no, not at a price that would include giving up the economies of scale of giant, mausoleum-style, mass-education schools and replacing them with lots of small, intimate, localized learning centers; and, no, not at the awful price of resolutely and consistently standing up to pop culture by telling the kids, "No, no, no. Not television, not your iPod, not your friends at the mall. First, foremost, and every day and night, your studies... and I will be there to support, help, and believe in you."
The price of educating kids the right waythe way a whole lot of people know very well is the right wayis far, far too high.
Oh, yes, and one more thing. No more of this 'some people just aren't good at math or science or reading or whatever' nonsense. Do Americans have even the slightest clue as to how ingrained in our culture the excuses for academic failure are? Finding excuses for failure are so much easier than living for reasons to succeed.
As a side note, when the kids decry the difficulties of living in a household where parents insist upon high academic standards, those youngsters can be comforted with the certain knowledge that, when they grow up, they can go on the Oprah Winfrey Show and tell the world about how terrible their childhoods were. (Dear GOD! Expectations?! O, the horror... the horror!)
I need to address one last, really important matter, here. To be a good teacher means commanding respect rather than demanding compliance. The teacher who bullies, cajoles, threatens, and otherwise terrorizes students is doing nothing even remotely related to teaching.
The same goes for the society, itself, and its instrumentalities in law enforcement: we are ruining one generation after another of kids by terrorizing them with massive police raids at schools, making them accept that they have no privacy or speech rights we don't "let" them have, and refusing to deal with the school bullies who create miserable hierarchies of brutality.
And finally, the same goes for parents: violence in word and deed is not merely the raised voice, the threatening hand, or the inappropriate willingness to punish; violence can also be done to children by giving them the awful example of a parent unwilling to live a circumspect life, full of learning, occasioned by fun and games, and always willing to show love even in the most difficult of times. It is, indeed, hard to grow up; do it, anyway. It is also hard to remember being a child; do that, anyway, too.
Here's some good news. At the end of the day, nothing of what I wrote above is actually important, necessary, or even advisable. We are in the decline of Empire. Quite honestly, we would be wasting our time trying at this late hour to do for our children that which we willfully declined to do when we had some chance of making their lives better than ours. At this point, it is better to go out and spend that tax rebate check, bemoan the price of gasoline, and whine about all the ills of society that some new President should fix at the behest of an electorate standing in the breach of a society unable to cure itself through the will and personal sacrifice of its citizenry.
Here's one last piece of good news. Given the current state of our education system, only a few of today's kids will grow to adulthood smart enough to grasp who is to blame for the grim world in which they will live. At the very least, we had damn well better hope these kids don't figure it out before we are all safely in our graves.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Wrote Progressive Traditionalist:
Wrote kelley b:
Wrote Progressive Traditionalist:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Lisa Ranger:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Lisa Ranger:
Wrote Lisa Ranger:
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