Education; The Lost Art of Engaging Students in Public Education and Universities

“No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike.”
General George S. Patten, Jr.

There is a high school in a poor section of the Bronx called the Theater Arts Production Company School. Report card grades were released in the fall for New York City’s 455 high schools, and the highest grade went to this school. It is a school that believes that no one should fail!

The principal’s instructions as codified in the teacher’s handbook states that all teachers should grade their classes in the same way: 30% of students should earn a grade of A, 40% should earn B’s, 25% should earn C’s, and no more than 5 % should earn D’s. As long as they show up, they should not fail. According to a New York Times article on January 19, 2011, “…even students who missed most of the school days earned credits. They also said students were promoted with over 100 absences a year; the principal, rather than a teacher, granted class credits needed for graduation; and credit was awarded for classes the school does not even offer.”

One teacher discussed a student who was absent 98 days in one year. This student was promoted to the next grade, earning credits for classes including cooking, yoga, and independent study. The school does not offer a cooking class. The principal, Lynn Passarella, created an independent study course called cooking, which was given after school. “I don’t know how they think they are raising these kids to think that they can do what they want with no consequences and still get good grades,” said a teacher who left due to an illness. “It’s just so wrong on so many levels.”

The city is opening an inquiry into the practices of this school.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, ACTA, confirms that many students aren’t learning very much in their first two years of college. As troubling as it is, it comes as no surprise to ACTA. Their study of more than 700 top colleges and universities, which enroll more than 6 million students, documents that, “…students can graduate from college without ever having exposure to composition, literature, foreign language, or American history.

“To be specific, our study found that less than five percent of schools require economics and less than a quarter have a solid requirement of literature. Of the more than 700 schools, sixty percent received a “C” or worse for requiring three or fewer subjects.”

Is it any wonder that students learn little and do little, when colleges today expect little of them?

So what is to be done?  The goal is not simply to have more students with diplomas, but rather to graduate students who have a rich and rigorous education that prepares them to think CRITICALLY. The ACTA is reaching out to 10,000 of these colleges and universities to address this national scandal.

Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, asks, “Why is anyone surprised to find that standards and expectations in our colleges are too low? High school graduates, a rapidly dwindling elite, come to college entirely unaccustomed to close reading, habits of disciplined analysis, skills in writing reasoned arguments and a basic grasp of the conduct, methods and purposes of science.”

Can there be any question why America increasingly finds itself at a competitive disadvantage when our K–12 public education and higher educational institutions are failing to do their job? By the way this failure from a post secondary system costs more than twice as much per pupil as the average expenditure in other industrialized nations. We outspend and we underachieve.

President Obama in his State of the Union Address last night wants to “invest” in education. He and the Department of Education can pour billions, even trillions of dollars into the public education system, but nothing will change because MONEY IS NOT THE PROBLEM. We have Industrial Age educational institutions at the K-12 and college levels. We do not have a Technological Age educational system. We continue to educate as if our population will be working in factories, or as bank clerks, or manufacturing zombies.

Our teachers/professors are secure in their chalkboards and books, notes and standardized tests, lectures and authority. As a matter of fact, most of the instructors in the first 2 years of college are NOT PhD professors. They are graduate students, who are making little money teaching while they work on their higher degrees. Research and graduate education dominate American higher education, placing undergraduate education at the margins.

As a result of our perpetuating the past in our teaching methods and material, our students only know rote learning and how to respond to mediocre, standardized tests to receive grades. There is no vital connection made in the classroom between learning and life, much less any affection for voluntarily using one’s mind in the rigorous, sustained, and frequently counter intuitive way that leads to innovation and the advancement of knowledge.

This is the century of innovation! This is the century of technology! Our children have daily access to worldwide communication, to instant knowledge via Twitter, Google, Facebook, iPhones, iPads, etc. They know when someone in the world is assassinated the moment after it happens. They are exposed to worldwide events on a daily basis! This generation is smart, inquisitive, hip, curious, and able. They DO NOT like being bored by someone holding a piece of chalk in their hand.  Most of their learning occurs outside of school. What a comment on Education in this country.

This is the generation who invented a whole new language; Mouse, Apps, Email, Domain, Emoticon, Firewall, Flash Drive, Gigabyte, Hyperlink, Icon, jpg, JavaScript, LOL, Adware, Avatar, Bitmap, Blog, Bluetooth, Malware, Browser, Cache, Megapixel, codec, Cookie, Desktop, Motherboard…You get the picture!

These are not idiots! This is a generation trying to sprint into the New Age while being anchored in the Industrial Age by their Industrial Age teachers, buildings, and thinking. Let’s catch up and then lead them forward into a life of rigorous and sustained Lateral and Critical Thinking.

It’s NOT about money. It’s not about billions and trillions of “invested” dollars!

“I skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Wayne Gretsky

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  1. February 1, 2011 at 9:28 pm

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