The Kids Aren’t Alright

Posted on October 18, 2011 by

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Recently NBC held their second Education Nation summit, where, according to their site they “address the developments, challenges, and progress of the past year, as well as identify and explore new, exciting opportunities to reinvent America as an Education Nation.” What came out of that was a list. A list that came from the kids, the students that is, on what they felt was wrong, or important in the education system. Nicely summarized in Lisa Nielsen’s article in the Huffington Post, the list goes as follows:

  1. I have to critically think in college, but your tests don’t teach me that.
  2. I can’t learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.
  3. Teaching by the book is not teaching. It’s just talking.
  4. Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.
  5. Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.
  6. Even if you don’t want to be a teacher, you can offer a student an apprenticeship.
  7. Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.
  8. You should be trained not just in teaching but also in counseling.
  9. Tell me something good that I’m doing so that I can keep growing in that.
  10. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.
  11. Bring the electives that we are actually interested in back to school. Things like drama, art, cooking, music.
  12. Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas including teacher evaluations.
  13. You need to use tools in the classroom that we use in the real world like Facebook, email, and other tools we use to connect and communicate.
  14. You need to love a student before you can teach a student.
  15. We do tests to make teachers look good and the school look good, but we know they don’t help us to learn what’s important to us.

This was kind of eye-opening for me. And the more I think about it, the more I agree. Who’d have thought that the students would know what the students need? Instead we just cram down their throats whatever the “experts” tell us they need. Yet, with America falling so far behind in education, with most kids entering college and needing a semester or two to catch up on things they were supposed to have been being taught in high school (math, english, science, etc.) it’s definitely time we take a serious look at just what the problem is.

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but this list sounds pretty darn familiar to my Middle and High School experiences. I always got by relatively easy. Sure, I had my trouble spots, specifically math, and even more specifically Algebra 2. TANGENT: I once got a test back in Algebra 2 where my teacher, Mr. Park, told me “Billy, I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that you failed the test. The good news, however, is that it raised you grade.” Like I said, I had my trouble spots. But as a product of the American Education System, most of us, at least those who were recently students, have experienced this lacking in areas. I remember always knowing that tests was where the grades were at, and I whooped them. Give me a Scantron and  pencil and I was as good as Einstein.

But I also remember getting to college and taking my Analytical Writing class, and thinking, “I don’t know how to make an argument for/against this article.” The critical thinking just wasn’t there. I was taught rote memorization more. Even in my English classes where you would think you would need to think about meanings and such, not so much. In fact, when we read A House on Mango Street and the student teacher tried to tell us the meaning of the color Red in the story, I remember thinking, and later talking about, how stupid it was to do more than just take it as a story. What do you mean there’s allegories and stuff? That’s stupid, you’re stupid, this class is stupid. But the point is, these kids are right. They know what they need, something I never thought about. Perhaps it was because the education debate wasn’t such a hot topic even 5 years ago (or I just wasn’t paying attention to it if it was), but I always assumed the schools knew what they were doing, and I also liked almost all of my teachers, and they all liked me. Maybe it was because I was only making them look good on those tests though. Except poor Mr. Park, of course. Certainly I learned, I can solve differential equations and write a coherent essay now, though I probably couldn’t tell you how many electrons are in a Magnesium atom. But, this leads to the question, if high school isn’t preparing students for college, is that just making college a more expensive high school? Instead of teaching them new things, we spend a year or two reteaching them it seems. And with so many students now actually going to college, to the point where it seems that it’s expected of all students that they will at least be trying to get in to college, making it the norm rather than the exception, is it just pushing the actual “education” higher up? Is graduate school becoming the new undergrad? I sure don’t have the data or expertise to tell you, but it’s a question that’s been on my mind, and I thought I’d leave you with something to ponder, maybe you should leave your thoughts in those fancy comment boxes below too.

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