Sunday, January 25, 2009

Edjumuhkashun Reform Part 3

The purpose of Education has been lost.

Numerous politicians and pundits have, as of late, gone on record as saying that, “We need to better prepare our children for the ‘International Job Market’”. I ask if this is truly the case.

Education has become a sort of mediocre mass-production assembly line of children that can pass standardized proficiency tests. The tests that were supposed to simply be a gauge for fine-tuning the process, have now become the goal, indeed the point of education in its entirety.

Emphasis is on the “skills needed to succeed in the workforce”, rather than any real personal development.

Education used to be about training citizens. The promotion of self-thought, self-reliance, and independence were the highest ideals.

Facts and figures, the “3 R’s”, history, these were all presented in repetitive fashion to ingrain them indelibly into the minds of the young, but their ultimate purpose was to give the student a basis for personal growth.

Some students weren’t made for academia, and dropped out before graduation. These students went on to learn the skills of their respective jobs at their jobs. Be it farming, industrial labor, or other various occupations, they didn’t need to have graduated from secondary school to achieve success. Many industrial success stories come from just such individuals.

Other children went on to continue their educations at institutions of higher learning. Colleges and universities trained those with the money or intellect (or both) to view the world from a higher plane of thought. Perhaps not too surprisingly, they too were taught their skills in the workplace of their choosing (or circumstance).

Today, we have an illusion that all children need to go to college, that they should all be five to six figure income winners. We have a misrepresented idea that all children are destined for greatness. I suppose that it might be considered quaint, but I think that the individual at the corner store who succeeds in keeping their business open for decades is great. I hold in equally high esteem the people that perform the “little” jobs that make the earth continue to spin on its axis. Most of them do not have higher educations, and some of them, I’d wager, do not have high school diplomas either.

Colleges and universities have become trade schools. There was a time when any higher field of study, chosen only for its intrinsic value or interest, was sufficient to make one eligible for a role in business. Outside of careers in law or medicine, two fields inherently requiring specific study, any degree could be considered preparatory for higher end job markets. Even science has only in recent human history become a specialist field of employment.

Another disturbing development in education is the idea that children’s interests must be pandered to. Rather than base the process of learning on the principle that the child should want to learn, we have sacrificed much of its integrity in order to bribe the child’s attention. We demand less, so we receive less. Children are inherently curious about the world around them, and once acclimatized to the idea that learning is not always a flashy or fun process; they accept the necessary tenets of repetition and reinforcement much more easily.

Computers have become the prime example of this errant methodology. I have heard scads of politicians pontificate time and again over the need for a computer on every desk. Why? Didn’t children ever learn anything prior to the invention of the computer? Didn’t the science required for its development need to be refined through ages of trial and error, a process of generations? Did President Garfield need a computer to write Greek with one hand while writing Latin with the other, and speaking to an advisor at the same time? How were these things accomplished?

They read books, and good ones at that. They had teachers who taught with the techniques listed above. They had discussions, and field trips (to real fields, no less), and projects, and science fairs, they wrote ad infinitum, and all the other things that still exist today, but are being pushed out in favor of sitting a child down in front of a glowing screen that is a pale and cheap substitute for real-life-hands-on learning.

Computers are excellent tools for research and communication, but they are not teachers. Furthermore, they certainly don’t offer any real advantage to the learning process. Instead, they serve mostly to distract with flashing lights and colors.

Another argument for their wide-spread inclusion into schools is that children need to learn how to use them in this day and age. This statement will always strike me as ridiculous.

When was the last time you needed to teach your child how to make their own “Myspace” page, complete with glitter background, animated gifs, and other assorted sense assaulting nonsense? How about finding the latest songs on the internet by the trendy band of the week? Word processing programs and other such software are intuitive and user-friendly. Computers and children go together all too well, and I would argue that no child requires a formal education in anything computer related unless it deals specifically with programming, or a highly specialized computing program.

For the record, the last time I received a formal education in computer skills, I was taught the “BASIC” computer language. That has brought me untold riches, let me tell you. Technology is by its very nature a quickly advancing thing, and the only real way to learn how to use it is to jump right in and do just that. Most children now have access to computers and the internet, and with proper adult supervision, they can learn all they need to know about those things very quickly.

I have gotten off topic some, but I hope you have understood my thoughts here. We need to return to a more practical approach in learning, a more pragmatic philosophy about education in general, and for God’s sake;

Turn off the damned TVs and kick the little bundles of energy outside where they belong!