Restructuring Education

A popular opinion nowadays is that “The teacher always knows best.” In a sense, this phrase is used to justify keeping the government out of the teaching curriculum, giving the teachers more room to teach what they want. People often fear that the government will impose upon schools what to teach, when to teach, and how to teach. To an amount I agree with this, however I believe we romanticize the idea of how much the teachers are actually capable of. At least in my experiences the teachers that spout “The teacher always knows best” were never that good of teachers.

I understand that teachers do have to go through a good amount of training and education before they are able to be in the classroom, but that doesn’t mean they’ve learned everything. Some teachers will create a strict system to abide by, using that same method every year to teach new sets of students. There is nothing wrong with a curriculum, but it is the flexibility of the curriculum that determines it’s strength. For instance, let’s take a history class. Every year the content will be mostly the same, but the way the students ingest information will fluctuate from year to year. One year students may be informed best by looking off a Powerpoint presentation and taking notes from a lecture; another year students may prefer to do book work at home at reconvene on everything in class. Some students like to do a lot of presentations, some like to do skits or projects, or whatever it may be. It is the social conditions of the class that determines how they learn best.

At this point, for being a student for the majority of my life, I insist that the student themselves know how to be taught best. It is the job of the teacher to work with the students to achieve that level of satisfaction with the students needs.

Another thing needed to be taken into account for a productive learning environment is the teacher themselves. Teachers are people too, but many times they don’t show it. I believe there is a direct relation between how much the students like the teacher, and how much progress the students make in the classroom. I’ve seen it many times before. If a teacher is too harsh the students will participate less, be more likely to doze off, and do less work outside of the classroom. Likewise, if a teacher is too lenient the students will take advantage of that, and the same results will be produced. It a takes a nice moderate stance. The teacher must be both liked and respected. And again, how the teacher gains both of those depends on the social condition of each individual class. It is a learning process.

I know that immediately some people will say “If you are strict enough then the students have no other choice but to learn.” And while this is true, if you are strict enough they will have no choice but to do the work and put up with it or fail, you immediately make them despise that subject. I can have an absolutely awful, mean, harsh math teacher, that gives so much work that I do to keep from failing, and I may be forced to memorize all that’s being taught, but that isn’t true learning. When those kind of conditions are imposed then it isn’t true learning, it is simply regurgitating. As a result you kill all genuine interest the student had with that subject, because they’ll associate that subject with the awful teacher they had. This is why I’ve seen students that are brilliant at a subject loathe going to that class, because they’ve had a string of awful teachers.

And the final method to be discussed here is to make learning a group effort. By this I don’t mean to constantly assign group projects, but to make class discussions a priority. For instance in a history class letting the students discuss the implications of certain events, by looking at the evidence what caused the events, what kind of social impact did it have, and so on. It always amazes me how much of history is open to interpretation. Or for a STEM class it would be beneficial to allow students to teach one another how to work out problems, give them sample problems, and work as a group to solve more complex problems. The social learning environment gives incentives for all students to be participating, instead of one or two students deciding to sit out.

For how much our society claims to value education, it’s amazing how little effort we put into creating the most efficient system. Hopefully education reforms come soon, or a few teachers at a time rearrange their method to fit with the changing generation. At the very least, society should invest in education. Because without it, there would be no society to be invested in.

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51 thoughts on “Restructuring Education

  1. You are very brave to write this and how true it is. I live in California where the teacher’s union is boss and writing what you just did is grounds for getting your house picketed, egged, TP. Teachers are in a tough spot, and yes, they are people too. Just like every profession, you have good teachers, bad teachers and most are average teachers, but just don’t tell the teacher’s union. They are under the illusion that they are all excellent teachers and it’s the school, curriculum, the parents, the students that are the real problems.

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  2. The problem I see is teachers pushing their own political agenda. My stepson was recently told by his music teacher “don’t be a slave to the system”….mmm now my stepson seems to have the attitude that having a job is being a slave, that’s not what we sent him to school for. I tried to explain to my stepson that getting a job is not being a slave if you enjoy the work, it teaches you many things and can be a positive experience. In life we need to stand on our own two feet and not be finically reliant on others, to do that you need to earn an income and a job is a form of that. It does not mean he will be tied to that job for the rest of his life it is just a start, a stepping stone.

    Teachers have massive influence over our children, I believe a basic government democratic structure is require but with flexibility given to the teacher to incorporate additional information and methods. This ensures all students are given the same opportunity and are learning a bare minimum requirement, not dependant on what school the student attends.

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  3. I agree with the fact that many students learn best when the “curriculum” is flexible and individual needs can be addressed individually. However, the education system is based on making sure the majority of students receives an adequate education. Basic rules of the several principles [literature, math, science, art, etc ] must be addressed during the course of an education. I would like to give an example, and I really do not mean to pick on you, but to make a quick point I will. How many times in your presentation did you change tenses from sentence to sentence ? Perhaps instead of trying to hurry through the process we should realize that education continues throughout our lifetime, and therefore take advantage of what we are given now. No offense intended, Bill

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  4. You make several excellent points. I would like to add my two cents’ worth.

    Our society is founded largely on one way education. Teachers, preachers, lecturers, television, radio, newspapers, magazines–all dish out more information than they receive.

    This is an important distinction, because receptive and expressive language are coded for in different areas of the brain. The receiving station for the brain is called Wernicke’s area. People with strokes to this area can speak fluently but don’t understand any of it.

    Expressive language, like public speaking, acting, writing, talking, and the like, is coded for in Broca’s area. People with Broca’s area strokes can understand everything they see and hear, but can’t verbalize their thoughts.

    In other words, our society across the board over-emphasizes receptive language while neglecting training in expressive language.

    As you mention in the blog, group education works best. Also, getting outside the box, literally, and taking lessons directly from nature, which doesn’t rely on any speech, could be a win-win for people in places like California.

    My second grade teacher cemented my love for reading, because she held reading circles every day with about 6-10 students. She rotated the students so everyone got a chance to read paragraphs in the current book. There, we would take turns reading out loud from the book and discussing what we were reading, word meanings, pronunciations, and the like. Using this method encouraged students to help each other, while the teacher got to catch her breath and listen instead of talk.

    Finally, I would like to mention that unions just trade one overlord for another and work against parents and teachers. PTA’s used to be friendly places for parents, teachers, and administrators to get together with pot-luck suppers and discuss ways to improve everyone’s lot. Has anyone except me considered folding the public education system with the public library system? That would make for efficiency and send the message that education never stops.

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  5. Unfortunately the field of Education has a few demagogues who argue trends back and forth. I don’t think “The Teacher Knows Best” is the motto in the US at all anymore though (maybe you are abroad). The US schools, at least in the Northeast, have embraced much of Paolo Freire’s ideas that the students don’t need a teacher much at all and need to construct their own knowledge. This leads to teachers rarely lecturing but instead assigning lots of homework, student group discussions (which may drift), lots of projects (many of which may seem pointless) in an effort to engage students. This works if students are interested and have content/knowledge to contribute (or at least if they are simply interested). But you are quite right that what should be used is a variation of technique and an understanding that students have different preferences. Teachers are so burdened with testing, CORE requirements, special education individualized plans, LMS, lesson planning, school politics, parents, and classroom management (and in some cases dealing with some very sick individuals–several teacher friends of mine have been assaulted by students) that I can understand why it is difficult for them to get to the essence. (Note: I am not a teacher).

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    • I have a friend, a teacher, who was assaulted by a student this year on the first day of class. She teaches jr high. When the parents came in (note: the police weren’t called but in this case maybe they should have ) the mother immediately soothed the kid and asked if he was okay while she rubbed his shoulders and then verbally attacked the teacher demanding to know what she did to antagonize her son! Later the father pulled the teacher aside and said he was afraid of what his son might do – afraid he could be another columbine kid. Nothing was done except the kid was removed from yet “another” school.

      You are right on your other points. Some teachers, more than others, have the gift of teaching. Some can only repeat information they were taught. After Bush instilled his “No child left behind” and removed all enrichment classes that allowed kids to expand and create, education took a massive dive down. American kids fall in the lower registers of education compared to other first world countries but I believe many in power want it that way. The dumbing down of America is more evident every day.

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      • Yes, it’s in a terrible state. I had a neighbor who was hit with a brick in the head by one of his new students who didn’t even know him. That was in the Bronx. But I think that was still not as bad as another school in Yonkers where one of my friends has been repeatedly assaulted. It’s very sad that things like art have been taken away and certainly they never should have removed all of the trades. College is not the solution for everyone and a college degree appears to be worth less all the time! Especially if you are drowning in debt for it and no job when you get out. I should have been an electrician, not a writer/editor.

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        • Yes, learning a hands on trade can have good potential for employment. you are right, so many kids get out of college and can’t even move out of their parents home, let alone pay off their loans. But you are a writer and an editor? Are you not working in your field? I ask because right now I am in the middle of writing a book and it has been a big learning process. On one of my blogs – about Jamie – it has been writing that blog that made me realize i needed to write a book about him and the situation he is in. I’ve been editing as best I can and when I am done I will to have it done professionally. someone’s blog is probably not the best place to be writing about this.

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            • It is so difficult to get a book published that so many people have taken to self publishing. So the less publishing companies can do for writers – I heard that there is little up front money and writers bear the time and expense to set up a book tour, then why not do it yourself. I take a look to see what companies offer with editing and cover art and everything in between. It isn’t cheap if you are broke but if you have someone who knows what they are doing it is could be a better way to go. But those who do it all themselves and then slap up an e-book they shouldn’t be disappointed when it doesn’t sell. I’ve picked up some free e-books to see what self publishers are doing and some of it is pretty awful. It has to have the quality of a publishing house. I’m not an editor so I don’t know the things to look for. But if it isn’t the best that can be done, I’ll never write the sequel, that is already planned. If you read that first chapter at least I will know if I’m on the right track. It isn’t a story with a beginning, middle and end. Each chapter is stand alone on a different subject. I set a deadline I’d like to have the whole thing written by – June. I’m hoping to visit him in March and I need time to add everything else he tells me. There are also of resources and things people need to know if they have a loved one in prison, but it will be his experiences that will make it real. If you want to reach me by email it is sonniq56@gmail.com. Hope to talk soon, Sonni

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              • Sure, Sonni, I can look at it. Covers are not a problem– very easy to do that. The issue is marketing the book and getting the message out. That is the only reason to go with a publisher aside from editing. The well known publishers get the books on the NY Times Best Sellers etc. If you really want the books to sell, I suggest you get as many people you can to follow you on twitter to broadcast from there as well, make a FB page for Jamie and the book if you haven’t already done so and invite your friends and everyone to like it, and also get involved with as many groups that deal with prisoners/inmates/ as well as book clubs who would review the book. Getting in touch with as many amateur book book reviewers to review the book for you online is important and joining all of the book clubs can help build readership, too.

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                • okay – been there done all that! I think I’m glued to my computer. here it is 3:18 AM again! It seems every moment of the day is spent in front of my computer. But if you could read along with it I would SO appreciate it. I have a few people helping because one person sees something the other doesn’t. But you know what you’re doing, so if you could read a chapter after everyone else has and I get it as best as I can and put that on the blog, I have a fb page for the blog I have another fb page started that I am going to use only for the book. I’m putting info out everywhere I can think to put it. I have ten chapters so far and some have only had the first run through. Chapter one is on the blog, Chapter two are letters of his. Lots of grammar mistakes. I fixed the worst, but I didn’t want to correct everything because it would lose his personality. The next two chapters are being read by two people and then I’ll edit again. It is so important I do this right. His life depends on it. Question. My twitter acct is for the blog. It has his picture on it and my name under. I don’t use it for personal stuff. It is like the facebook page – blog stuff or things that have to do with prisons or injustice of some kind – and retweets of organizations I follow that write the same kind of thing. Do you think I should have another twitter page? I see some that are author pages with info that is only book related. I think I only have a bout 142 twitter followers and that has taken a lot to get it even there. I follow people here and there but I don’t have a lot of time to spend on it. It took me a year to get what I have. I started the blog about two years ago someplace other than wordpress and they had no community. I used to get excited if I had 3-4 views in one day! I’ve learned a lot since then.

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                  • Sure, Sonni, I’m happy to read it. I understand what you mean about not losing his voice by changing the grammar too much. I’m not really sure about the twitter question. I feel like you could broadcast posts about that book from the account. So I’m not sure I would do another one. Perhaps people who have one on a book and then one on an author…is when an author has many books? That makes sense. So I’m confused, where do you want me to access the already reviewed chapters? Are they just up on your blog or do you have them in another format you can send to me? Thanks.

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                    • You are probably right about twitter. I’ve posted them there and re post every week because people miss things. On the blog are chapter one ( with a letter sent to Jamie from a reader that I think would make a good forward) I can also put them in an email with another one not on the blog. I’m cleaning up what I’ve already written earlier this year because I’ve learned a few things I can correct. Then keep writing. what is easiest for you?

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                    • Hi Sonny. It would definitely be best for me to edit it in Word. That way if there are any necessary line edits (grammatical fixes or questions/comments on specific lines that I can put into track changes, if you know how to view that in Word, it’s easy, or if not I can put them in RED.) That is better as opposed to just reading a whole thing and having to just write separate global comments on it. I can try copying from your blog into Word and see if that works and then send to you via email. xoxo

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                    • Because names and email address don’t always match I think I sent 2 chapters to someone else! I just realized that. So if you would, send me another email so it will be at the top. I have a folder for addresses re:the book but I missed yours, I think.

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                    • Hi there, Sonny, I just sent you another email, so please look for it. You can also check junk mail. I didn’t receive those chapters but it’s likely that if you mistyped my email they are just in outer space somewhere. Probably no worries. 🙂

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  6. I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours. I absolutely agree that you must find balance. I am in process of becoming a teacher and in the meantime, working as a paraprofessional. I have definitely learned and am still learning to be firm but fair. You don’t want students to walk all over you but you also don’t want students to be afraid of you and not want to participate. It’s important to be there for them but also be there to guide them. Again, great post!

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  7. The problems of our societies is caused by mediocre education. The parent’s priority is for the student to pass his or her exams and go to college. The principal knows that the more students pass the more parents enrol their wards in his school. In light if this the teacher has the obligation of forcing the information into the student’s mind so that they can regurgitate successfully during exams. Once that is done the teacher is marked successful and he recieves his annual bonus.

    It’s obviously a miracle if ingenuity survives this process.

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    • Our education paradigm is fundamentally flawed, for the reasons you bring out. It’s not “education,” in the sense of learning how to cope with life, solve real-life (read “relevant”) problems, or get along with others. It is assembly-line training for the worker-slaves of tomorrow.

      The control freaks of history, such as the Catholic Church, made reading and writing a sin for everyone except priests. The slave holding American South made it illegal to teach slaves to read and write.

      Now, the control freaks want to make sure kids learn only a politically correct agenda, to get politically correct jobs and work the rest of their lives to contribute to public pension funds invested on Wall Street and in T-bills.

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    • On that note about exams and college, a friend teaching HS told me he was pressured to pass all of his students but about 90% were reading at second grade level. They are getting essays written to go to college. He warned them that they will likely be unable to survive the first year of college and end up in debt with no degree to show for it! And that is another one of the lies that colleges and high schools are in bed with. The colleges want as many students in the seats as they can fit. The high schools try but they can’t keep kids in HS forever and they socially promote them. I actually wonder if a child has been failed by the system (and maybe also his community) to learn how to read by a certain age what the odds are he will be able to read successfully in high school. Reading is not just a one shot skill. It’s cumulative.

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  8. Great post, and I agree to degrees with just about all of it. This one in particular struck me because I just had a discussion about it with my wife very recently:

    “…I insist that the student themselves know how to be taught best. It is the job of the teacher to work with the students to achieve that level of satisfaction with the students needs.”

    My wife teaches college students, a majority of whom are freshmen. Hitting this balance is critical and something her mentors beat into her pretty effectively. She also struggles with it every semester. As you noted elsewhere in the post each student is different. She teaches mainly lecture courses. 4 or 5 a semester with up to 30 students in each class. You can imagine how difficult it is to project a consistent medium that can cover so many personalities and learning types.

    The first half of your statement is absolutely critical in order for the instructor to fulfill the latter half and the greater part of the bargain has to be levied on the student. The instructor can’t possibly have the time to dig out the necessaries for each person they are instructing. Students need to communicate with their teachers. They need to say what is happening BEFORE things go wrong, or at least as soon as they recognize that things are doing so.

    Great post, by the way. 🙂

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  9. You raise some interesting points. I moved a lot as a kid and had many different teachers. Few stand out in my mind but the ones who do were either so strict that all I remember is how much I disliked their class or they were the rarest of the rare. The ones who took time, had patience and the ones who found a way to engage me without my realizing how much I was learning. While I don’t have all of the answers, I know that our schools, teachers and most importantly students, are in desperate need of change.

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  10. Learning to speak, debate, with the aim to
    Solve problems not to ‘win’ is so important. Totally behind you in the group discussions you mention –
    Talking is an art form and benefits from constant practice.

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    • I would add that conversation is an art form, where discussion takes the form of “Yes, and . . .” rather than “No, because . . .” or even “Yes, but.”

      The latter two set up an argument and block forward flow. Alternatively, “yes, and” is the stuff of improvisation, that keeps people thinking on their feet and generates an easy give-and-take rhythm. Monologuers, repeaters, bad listeners, or vague ramblers are forced to change their habits or be left out. Good conversation makes people want to turn off the TV and cook up a hearty meal instead.

      And, in tribute to France, I have to say the French know how to party, bless their stricken hearts. The French are infinitely more civilized than the British, if you consider food tastes and the fact that they traded with the Native Americans instead of slaughtering them. And they certainly have some of the best literature in the world.

      And the music . . . C’est la vie. Send food to France, if you want to help out. They’ve certainly done their share for us. Starting with the American Revolution, but that’s another story, another day.

      Sincerely,
      Libby Belle,
      an alter ego of katharineotto.wordpress.com

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  11. I think your lamenting about not having the ability to speak your mind in the classroom, I think that a teacher is a teacher and that teachers do what they know, writing about a teacher is one thing, and it is true there are good and bad teachers, but, you gotta admit, that some teachers get it right others dont, who cares where the classroom is, education happens everywhere around us, you just got to learn what your learning, some places you know how to learn, other places you dont, you have to challenge what you think, and then learn when you challenge yourself to go and learn, CARPE DIEM, without the preaching. Ha

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  12. Your post and many of the comments have made some very valid points in general. But unlike physics, education, as a field of study, seldom follows the cause and effect analysis. Assumptions about education, teaching, and learning are made without regard to any real verification as to the underlying truth of their statements or theories. The idea that when a teacher “teaches” the student “learns” is an absurd statement. One, there is no direct evidence of cause and effect nor is there really a measurement. On the other hand, if we say that the individual teaches himself what he knows whether such acquired knowledge is true or false, then we have stated a much stronger assertion that can be measured in some manner. That is, we can extract that measurement through memory recall with some surety that the measurement, while not completely valid, is good enough for our purposes.

    There is the social and to some extent, the political problem of what should be taught in the public school system. Here we find the need to “teach” (I would call it presentation) what knowledge is acceptable for all students to learn given the need for an equal access to education. But that in itself is a problem. What is equal access to education? Indeed, most of our measurements of our public school systems appear to stress equality of the individual and equality in learning rather than opportunity. Among many educators, the goal is to make sure that all students have equal access to obtaining the score of “A” on their tests and report cards. Thus the curriculum becomes dumbed down to assure such goals. It’s the group average that matters, not the recognition of individual variation that is be condemned. Exceptional children are not wanted. The average receive the basic resources, and the disabled given the lion’s share of the resources. The cost to “mainstream” an autistic or retarded child is often four times the cost per average child, sometimes greater. “Special teachers” must be made available at a salary level of at least twenty five percent more than the “ordinary” teacher and sometimes at double that salary. But it more than a simple question of money. The average child will incur a penalty for politically correct mainstreaming. Those children will receive less attention and instruction time due to the disruption caused by the “special needs” child. Clearly then, equal access is not for the average child.

    Perhaps we should discuss our expectations of our public educational system. The idea that we are training our children to take their place in society with the knowledge of civics and an understanding of the need for law to triumph over lawlessness. Well, all those good citizens of Bridgeport Conn just let you down. The newly elected mayor is a Democrat who, during his previous term, had been convicted of sixteen felony charges that included corruption, bribery, and other serious public offences. The man serves a couple of years and then upon release, won the Democrat primary and then trounced his republican opponent by a two to one victory. Given that in America our voter turnout rarely exceeds sixty five percent of the eligible voter population, we may safely conclude that the average individual (think school child now grown up), just voted for a fraud and a crook and did so overwhelmingly. But surely our public education should have prevented such a travesty of political action. Surely the democratic party should have prevented that man form evening running. What about the concept of fairness and equality we preach at our children? Obviously it was necessary to elect a crook to keep the Republicans from winning the mayorship. Clearly the idea that an informed and educated electorate would elect the best candidates to office is a farce.

    Finally we come to the point of effective learning strategies and best teaching practices and theories of education. Toss them all out the window. Learning requires three “things”. The action of interest, that is, paying attention to the material to be learned. Chomsky posited that there was a learning acquisition device located in the brain. He was wrong, very wrong. We learn our language the hard way, through pattern recognition. Yes, Skinner was wrong about the pure rote learning of language, but not by much. Our brain doesn’t contain some rule of grammar machine or device, we learn our grammars through pattern recognition. That infant spend most of his or her waking moments looking for clues to the world into which they are born. The visual cortex has cells that will recognize straight lines, vertical lines, horizontal lines, lines at various angles, and so forth. As infants we spend a great deal of time learning to recognize our environment and the individuals within it. The same goes for hearing. There are some 146 or so phonemes the human brain can recognize. English uses about 36 of them, Spanish fewer. Why is it hard to speak and understand Czech as a second language? It’s the number of phonemes we have forgotten and never use any more. So pattern recognition is really a function of brain cell specialization in some instances and memory. This is learning. We memorize some critical amount of knowledge (facts, data points, etc) that allows us to abstract patterns. then as we learn more patterns and more knowledge we can draw from the similarities and extract information in an abstract manner that increase our range and ability to learn new ideas. There is a reason for learning addition and multiplication tables, they give you the basic patterns upon which to built greater mathematical knowledge. There is a reason why we need to learn about verbs and subjects and grammatical order. True, we already know what these things are in our verbal use of language, but the written language is an acquired second language and relies a great deal on visualization of the verbal language. We teach ourselves. What we need in learning is the occasional guide who can point the way through the tangle of information and experience.

    Those are my points in this discussion. Keep writing, you help to educate others.

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  13. You are very perceptive as a student. I like much of what you have to say about teaching. Some of your commentators are very insightful too. Let me offer just a couple of things as a former teacher of 31 years. Good teachers are rare, and great teachers are priceless… but we pay them at the same level of compensation… even if they are terrible. Prison guards in Texas generally make more per year than a Texas teacher does. Garbage workers in cities make more too. Everybody thinks they know how teaching works. Lots of people, especially politicians, want to tell you exactly how to do the job. They will even pass their opinions as laws and punish teachers who don’t agree. People who know science and math well enough to be good science and math teachers can make so much more money doing something else that we have practically no competent science and math teachers. You can’t teach well if you hate kids. You can only teach well if you love kids, and they usually can tell exactly how you feel about them after the first day. Respect is earned. But teachers have to earn it every single day. And it usually only comes from students. It rarely comes from higher authorities in education. You end up earning ten to a hundred times what they actually give you. You have to have a heart bigger than Texas to actually do a decent job as a teacher. And you have to be crazy, or border-line mentally incompetent to choose to be a teacher. But I hope you will use your keen insights to actually consider being one.

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    • In line with your experience, I just found a great blog by a teacher who just quit mid-year because of all the standardized testing. It was one of the WordPress picks. The blog itself is excellent, and the comments make it even better. The blog is karareevesblog.wordpress.com.

      Individual voter-citizen-taxpayers are taking education into their own hands. Yippee! It’s about clucking time they reminded Washington and Wall Street who funds their retirement plans. Also, the blog world is one of the best educational tools we have going, until someone is willing to pay taxes to regulate it.

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  14. Very Dauntless and Laudable Write up.
    Many a time it’s the concerned community of teachers that nurse their interest to be elected in government to bridge the Government-Teacher dilemma. Unfortunately this is not the trend.

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  15. “The teacher always knows best.”

    It depends on the context…for younger children then control is required to ensure that a certain order is maintained and because there are some clear basics to be taught.

    For later students then the student knows best in that they will learn best when they want to learn and when they are being stretched and stimulated.

    Later in life we search for the teachers we need or want and we as students then know best what we need as well.

    in all cases the teacher should be given respect and the student must recognise the teachers need to maintain control. This is always better with a velvet glove rather than an iron fist of course.

    Incorporating all this into a complex system is challenging but you will see attributes of it. The teaching in Harvard is much different than to say an infants school (or in military school of that matter!)

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  16. You are so right. Throughout history one is considered a good citizen as long as one allows authority to think for him or her. And so even now there are no sufficient attempts at nurturing independent thinking. The irony is that TRUE education is supposed to bring about enlightenment and solve societal problems and these can only come about through independent thinking.

    I don’t blame teachers at all. I have been one and I know they play their part. The problem has to with the politicians and educational policy makers. There are politicians in Africa who don’t see any use for the arts and humanities subjects. Can you believe that? At a time when Africa critically needs visionary policy makers.

    In my country they have succeeded in rigging the minds of the youth so that everyone of them wants a white collar job that leads to pension. Any job that does not make one sweat is, in my opinion, devoid of spirit.

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  17. I have spent most of my adult life working in offices, highly paid and good at my job, but desperate to be outdoors working with my hands. The money churners’ intellectual disdain for manual labor is absurd. I love being as self-sufficient and free as possible. This means working for myself in a way that profits everyone.

    I worked hard to earn my freedom from authority’s abusive reins, so now I’m collecting Social Security, helping to bankrupt the government so it will quit making false promises.

    I consider myself an inventor of public domain technology, things that make my life a little easier. I think like an engineer and always have. I believe it is an innate ability in those who do work with their hands, because they understand spatial relationships in a way no book worm can fathom.

    That’s an important reason standardized tests fail those who, like me, enjoy creating tangible products from beginning to end. Keeping information in the public domain bypasses the tendency to competitiveness and information hoarding for antiquated cost-intensive protections like patents and copyrights.

    I learn so much by designing and building or knitting my own projects, simple things, like an indoor perch for my rooster. I inherited closets full of potentially useful stuff from my pack-rat parents. I now want elbow-room to develop these resources into useful products that I can either brag about or sell. Various work stations are in place, with sewing, knitting, outdoor, woodworking, small engine repair, animal food and supplies, etc. Wood storage. Compost.

    This, to me, is science, education, and a whole lot of fun. Shared projects, like plays, concerts, or school programs, can get everyone involved. Contests for do-it-yourself inventors, with scholarship money attached. Scavenger hunts for reuseable stuff.

    There are infinite possibilities that will get individuals doing the jobs they pay government to do. Remember, the government needs teachers more than teachers need the government. A teacher who earns students’ respect and love will always have work.

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  18. There is one point that was missed. Education is changing because in politics, the conservative and therefore Christian element is being added to education and history books are being changed to reflect how they want history to change. Although there are others, I will make only one example. Slavery. Some want books to reflect that it was kind of immigration, not kidnapping. They want books to express the idea that the slaves really did have it good – with free housing, food and clothing. If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes fact, and kids will believe what their teachers taught them. Teachers have great influence over students and the more the religious right have control and people like the Koch brothers buy government – from the school boards on up, then teachers will teach the biases they are told to teach.

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  19. I know a lot of teachers, including one who happens to be the mother of my children, and the thing you’re missing is that teachers are individuals. I told my kids years ago, when they ran into their first ridiculous teacher, that this was part of education, too. They had a teacher who used to challenge them to “look beyond the text” in life, at what people are trying to sell them, or make them think–and they had another teacher who opened class each day with a few words read straight from The Drudge Report. Really. There are smart teachers, geeky teachers,and the history teacher is the guy all the hometown parents remember as “an idiot, but a great wrestler.” He doesn’t wrestle any more, but he’s still an idiot. By and large, however, you have a mainstream of teachers who take their jobs seriously–more seriously than a lot of the students who just don’t care. On top of this, you have elected politicians who grandstand about “accountability” until the schools are saddled with extensive, unproductive standardized testing that really accomplishes nothing. My wife would love to do all kinds of cool multi-media stuff, to depart from the curriculum and explore new ideas, new modes of communication, but out of the required 180 days her kids have something like 19 days of high stakes standardized testing–and those stakes are so high for the community, the school, the teachers, and the students, that every other moment of class is dedicated to servicing those tests. There is no flexibility to customize teaching styles for each particular individual student–because she only has so much time–40 minutes of planning plus another 30 minutes at the end of the day to plan, grade, and take care of students who missed tests and homework and need to make it up– and there are so many kids (average of 22 per class, 5 classes a day in her rural school, but city schools often approach 40 kids per class, 4 or 5 sections a day).

    And half of the kids don’t care. They don’t do the out of class assignments and homework that would assure them a C, and then they don’t study for tests, and then they fail and come to her at the end of the semester, begging. She lets them turn in homework, do read and response assignments, for credit–she thinks it’s foolish to not accept late stuff because, “getting them to learn is hard enough, getting them to do it on time is an entirely different battle.” Given those options, few do the work. She often hears failing students say, “It’s easier to make up classes online in the summer.” But my wife’s job performance rating is tied to that attitude. She has 7 students failing right now, out of about a hundred, and another ten or do at risk. She called every parent and requested a conference to discuss what’s going on. Two opted to talk with her at length on the phone, one expressed frustration and the other said “I’ve given up on him.” Seven others never replied to multiple attempts of contact, 5 scheduled meetings then didn’t show up, one hung up on her, and two came to school for meetings. How do you work with that?

    I could go on, or I could have said it simply: the teachers that care are the majority, but they are crushed beneath a massive pile of disinterest and bureaucratic nonsense. On top of that, they have to listen to everyone and his brother go on and on about how easy teaching is, how bad teachers are, how overpaid they are, how entrenched and lazy and selfish they are. I’d never do it and, frankly, I don’t know why my wife puts up with it–except that there are always a few kids, a handful in a good year, who are highly motivated, hard-working, and determined to make something of themselves. They’re why she does it.

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  20. I enjoyed reading your post on Education. I have a learning disability. When I was young there were many teachers that dismissed my condition as being lazy and unwilling to participate in class. When I knew answers these same teachers would not let me participate or let me answer their question. It was always the brightest that they picked. I stopped participating all together. I stopped doing homework as well. I dropped out of high school and went on to auxiliary educational schools with the hope of getting my GED. That didn’t work until I began taking correspondence courses. This propelled me to work at my own pace. It permitted me to complete my high school education with honors and later on complete my college education with honors as well. I graduated with honors and this provided me membership to the Delta Epsilon Tau International Honor Society. I never gave up on education even if I was able to graduate at a later time in my life. Most people do give up on dreaming about achieving educational goals. I applied myself and achieved my goals. I always thought and felt that school didn’t work for me. I learned that there were other ways I could complete my education. Libraries are very special places to read about subjects. This helped me to prepare for my educational goals as well. I have a lot to be thankful for. It was my decision as an adult to apply myself for the completion of my educational goals.

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  21. As an ex-teacher, I found your post interesting and insightful – your experiences of the US system offer an interesting counterpoint to mine in British schools. Will follow. Glad to liked my post, also.

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  22. Really great post. I’m currently reading a biography of Einstein. His largest issues with education were how strict and stringent they were, and he sought self-education because of this inflated authoritarianism of teachers

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  23. I am a retired teacher. While I understand your reasoning, I disagree with your premise and conclusion. That being said, I am in complete agreement that many teachers are unworthy of the title or the responsibility that comes with it. Clarity of thought and skill in conjunction with verbal or written communication are seldom found in any but the most gifted, whether student or teacher. The vast majority of both are hard pressed to muddle through with a modicum of academic achievement, let alone manage to demonstrate excellence on either side of the desk. To claim, however, that students, in general, have a better understanding of learning, modes of learning or optimal methods of fostering and facilitating learning than those who have been schooled in those topics is a misguided over simplification of the problem. Students who are capable need to seek out and take full advantage of every opportunity for interaction with equally gifted teachers. We are out there, if you undertake the search. ;o)

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    • The only reason I make such a claim, is that I find the students know themselves best. But while they may be ignorant of what the individual teacher has to show them, they know what is truly best for themselves. I think there may be a semantic difference here. You say students should take advantage of every “equally gifted teacher” but my definition of a gifted teacher is one whom listens to the students on how to guide them. I’m curious though as to what you think makes a gifted teacher.

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  24. I am a teacher and I find this article to be particularly accurate. Especially when you describe the difference between a ‘compliant’ or an ‘engaged’ learner. True learning comes from engaged students who investigate topics of relevancy that they can make meaning from…

    “I can have an absolutely awful, mean, harsh math teacher, that gives so much work that I do to keep from failing, and I may be forced to memorize all that’s being taught, but that isn’t true learning. When those kind of conditions are imposed then it isn’t true learning, it is simply regurgitating”

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