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Monday, December 19, 2011

Is Education Broken?

After blogging last week about why we even go to school, I found myself less enthusiastic to write about education than I had expected. I think because of the time of year. Finishing finals, ready for a new batch of students (we're on semesters) gave me a certain sense of exhaustion and great happiness to have two weeks off.

But as election season heats up, it's inevitable that we hear the phrase over and over, 'our education system is broken'. And that combination of words makes me furious. How can something so big, so experimental, so unique to each student, be broken? And yet, it's a buzzword that gets repeated over and over.

So, let's start with some facts. The idea of educating every child in America didn't come about altruistically. Child labor laws were written to keep kids from 'taking' the jobs of adults, and resulting in gangs of youngsters roaming the streets of big cities. That was when it became mandatory for students to stay in school until the age of 16. The moral of that story is that not all laws were made with the best interests of the kids in mind, or at least not to specifically benefit the kids. And that to this day, you have a certain segment of the population being educated who are a little more than...resistant to the idea of being educated.

I've never been one to wring my hands and lament the state of kids these days, or the way parents have changed over the years. My philosophy is to take the things you can't change in stride and to keep going. But lately I've become more frustrated than I've ever been with apathy. I understand kids who miss homework assignments and even kids who stubbornly refuse to do difficult papers. I understand students who do a first draft and refuse to revise. I've been there and done all of that. What I don't understand is kids who are not interested in anything. Who, when given a chance to research, stare blankly at the computer and ask, 'what should I do?", when asked 'what are you interested in?" their answer is "nothing."

To be fair, this response is not the norm. I love seeing classes get off tangent asking about things that interest them (not that I let them get off tangent, of course). This year when we began research, one of my Sophomore English classes was fascinated by Jack the Ripper, the other by Waverly Hills (a local abandoned sanitarium that is regularly listed among the most haunted places in America). I love seeing their fascination with events and places and people that until this point they may never have heard of. (we basically discuss papers from the past and topics and ideas in a big brainstorming session).

But, back to apathy, we have always had people in the population who were uninterested in learning. The difference today, is perhaps a push to educate them to the same level as the people who want to learn.  My solution (which no one will ever pay attention to, but still) is to allow the apathetic to go work at McDonalds and then provide them with incentives to finish their education when they are 25. Not a GED test, but some actual classes that could prepare them for college. And, since that's too complicated (though I do think that a good many young people would do better in high school and college if they weren't so young) to offer more and varied vocational classes. I'm all for creating an educated thoughtful citizenship, but...when learning is what the kids decide to rebel against, and when fundamental rebellion against the ideas of others is so much a basic of what our nation is about...well, you get a segment of our young population who simply do not do well in school, and who baffle and frustrate even the most well-intentioned of educators.

I wish I had a magic want that would fix education problems, but it comes down to....every student is different, every day is different, every learning opportunity is different. And when you are fifteen, staying up all night playing video games, dieting on Mt, Dew and crackers, and using all of your brain power during class to think of ways to sneak out your phone and send a text, all seem like good ideas.

Oh, to be young again....

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