Educationally Challenged

April 30, 2007 at 7:02 pm Leave a comment

I recently saw an interview with Melinda Gates who is attempting to bring attention to the poor state of the American educational system. The good news is that our system is just broken in contrast to many countries where education is non-existent. But, whether we are considering the United States or a developing nation, I think the key to addressing the education challenge can be summed up in one phrase: maximize our resources by focusing on the educational mission. And, what is that mission? In my mind it is to empower people to realize their individual potential by providing them the basic tools to inform and educate themselves. And, by resources I am referring to time, talent and money.

Time is our most precious resource — especially when considering the attention span of children. Imagine if the educational mission could be accomplished in just four hours a day. This could increase attendance, better utilize short attention spans and save money. I believe it can be accomplished by designing an efficient and comprehensive curriculum that maximizes time via complementary learning and by focusing on an essential core curriculum of math, science, language and history. By complementary learning I mean that each class supports what is being taught in their other subjects. People say that if you want to learn a new word or remember someone’s name it’s helpful to use it at least three times. A complimentary curriculum would utilize the same technique on a daily basis. There is history and language to our math and science and there is literature to our history. By classes reinforcing each other’s lessons that are grounded in our practical world, I believe we can increase learning retention and understanding.

Both teachers and students make up the talent base and I fear that both are underutilized. First, I personally believe the American grading system is a societal cop-out. Students either know the material adequately or don’t. To say that one student is more familiar with material or not, but pass them on to the next level reflects our society’s failure to prepare them. Maybe it is naïve of me, but I truly believe we each have the capacity to learn. The challenge is to frame the message in such a way that the individual can relate to and comprehend it. We each have different learning styles and teaching methods need to take this into account. It seems to me that a mentoring system would best utilize the available talent. A teacher can present the lesson in the first part of the class. The second half should focus on insuring that everyone “gets it.” In every class there is a spectrum of comprehension. The brightest students should tutor what we might now consider “C” achievers and the teacher can focus of the stragglers.

In the United States we seem to think the solution to every problem is to throw money at it. If money were the solution, why are children in India better educated than American children? A major expense in America is the textbook that is bulky, expensive and constantly out of date. Our investment in this resource does little more than support the corporations that manufacture them. Lessons can easily be printed in inexpensive newsprint booklets that can be updated each year. Better yet, a standard curriculum should be available free over the internet. Computers are here to stay and affordable laptops would be a better investment in skills building and curriculum distribution. I looked on the US Department of Education website for a k-12 curriculum, but couldn’t find one.

I raised some of these ideas to friends who are educators. They commented that such ideals are not practical. While it would be great to have a four-hour class day, most parents have to work. I agree that they may not be practical now, but I find these “thought-exercises” in ideals useful in pointing out contemporary systemic failures. So what is the bigger picture here? The primary source of our education comes from our parents. To be blunt, our resource-intense economic system is pulling families apart with benefit neither to our society nor our environment. While the socio-economic puzzle can seem mind-bogglingly complex, many of our modern social problems stem from the fundamental flaw of a consumption-based, economic structure.

Education is a global issue and is the key to addressing many of the problems that plague our world such as over-population, environmental pollution, discrimination and ineffective government to mention a few. If we ever want to achieve the ideals of social equity and justice, I continue to believe that only a true democracy can lead us there and that requires an informed and educated public.

On the Web

One Laptop Per Child
http://www.laptop.org/

Gates Foundation Takes on Education
http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3076931&page=1

MIT OpenCourseWare
http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html

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Entry filed under: Consumerism, Education, People, Philosophy.

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