Win Lose or Draw’s Commentary on Modifying Schools

Modify Schools

WinLoseorDraw’s commentary

Mr. Nader has two pretty good ideas, but he really hasn’t even come close to exhausting all the potentially positive modifications that we need to make to our woefully outdated school systems. As an educator for thirty-three years, I may have a little more perspective on the problem than Mr. Nader.

Our system of compulsory education was invented at the start of the industrial revolution, and it has persisted pretty much unchanged ever since. At the time of the industrial revolution compulsory education made sense because the nation needed an educated work force. Of course, we still need an educated work force, but the system has calcified into a monolithic institution where students are shuffled into classes they don’t want in order to fill teacher workloads. Schools need to be less about the needs of the institution and much, much more about the needs of the students.

Once the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are mastered in elementary school, we could be fostering student choice in designing individualized and personalized curricula. In middle school and high school students should never have to take a class they are not interested in taking. Will students always make the best choices? Of course not; but given a little time, they, with the help of parents, teachers, and guidance counselors, will figure it out.

Before I continue, let me comment on Mr. Nader’s two ideas:

  1. Yes! We should foster and facilitate civic engagement. In my experience, community involvement is a requirement for many scholarships and it is an after school club called Interact. However, it is not fully integrated into the school environment. Many students would love to do volunteer work in their communities, but, instead, they are forced to spend their time studying for classes they may not have voluntarily chosen or for the plethora of standardized tests that have significantly multiplied in recent years. I believe in the volunteer spirit of America, and our students could be a huge asset to our communities if we stopped warehousing them for most of the day. However, I disagree with the general flavor of Mr. Nader’s comment. I do not believe there are such things as “civic abdication” and “student apathy” in our schools. Or, if those things do exist, they would quickly disappear in a more student centered environment.
  2. Yes! We need to do more with physical education. Currently P.E. is one class sandwiched randomly into the school day where students learn to play dodge ball or some other sport they may not be interested in learning. Actually, they are not “learning” anything. They are just marking time until the bell rings. But many kids love P.E., and there is good reason for that. Two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks said that both the mind and the body need to be developed and nurtured. Our over-institutionalization of that basic concept has nearly destroyed the original idea completely.

Here’s how I think education should work:

We should keep some of the regimentation for the early years. Then, when students reach the age of about twelve, they should, with advice from others, chose their own classes.

If Mr. Jones has one student every day, I’m okay with that as long as that student is getting what he or she needs. If Mrs. Smith has three thousand students every day, I’m okay with that. I assume Mrs. Smith will organize her kids into small group, peer-to-peer, learning modules with teaching assistants to lighten the load.

There is no need to lecture thirty students. Lectures could be posted on-line and available to thousands. A lot of student/teacher interaction could be on-line.

Students would use their own laptops, just as students now supply their own pencils and paper. Students whose parents cannot afford a laptop would be eligible to check one out from the media center.

All campuses should be secured to eliminate intruders.

Non-load bearing walls should be torn down and folding partitions should be added, so classes of different sizes could be created in a few minutes to accommodate the needs of different sized groups.

Meetings could and should be scheduled; but, with the exception of mandatory meetings, bell schedules and the requirements to be in a specific place at a specific time should be eliminated.

Meaningless A-F grades should be eliminated. Teachers could create uneditable reports of each student’s level of mastery in each course. The reports could be supplied to potential employers.

Classes in the building and trade occupations should be as readily available as any other class.

No distinction should be made between middle school, high school, and college. Subsidized education should end when the student turns eighteen.

If students spend all day in P.E., then our expectations of those students would naturally be that they would most likely join the military when they turn eighteen.

Also, most academic classes should be hand’s on, problem solving classes. Let’s get kids out of those textbooks and give them something real to do.