These are my thoughts/notes on the subject of school, I add more as I think of it, so portions may seem disjointed, and it hasn't really been turned into a cohesive whole, just a pile of thoughts.
I have recently begun reading the "Teenage Liberation Handbook", by Grace Llewellyn (ISBN 0-9629591-7-0), I highly recommend it for everyone. Another amazing book is "how children fail", by John Holt, ISBN 0-201-48402-1 I just finished this book, it is amazing. Almost everything I say in this page (most of which are thoughts I formulated on my own) John said before I was born. It is really sad that this information has be available for over 30 years and yet public education continues to destroy generations of young minds.
Short version: I refuse to go anywhere where I have to get permission to go to the restroom (and I certainly won't send my child to such a place).
It is my view that formalized education is theft of the most precious resource anyone has: time. If some of the following seems venomous it is because the more I think about how much of my youth was stolen from me the more angry I get. It is a fact that the rate of synaptic growth in a pre-pubescent child is double that of an adult, so much of school is theft of the most valuable learning time in ones life (I actually noticed when this change occurred, I was 16 and for the very first time I had to read something more than once to remember it, only after this happened did I develop 'study habits', I didn't need them before).
Most of my education occurred in spite of school, I could hardly wait to get out of school so I could go home and learn things.
In the first few years of life most children learn to convert the fuzzy, 2 dimensional moving images from their eyes into a 3 dimensional model of the world This is an amazing feat, and they do it almost entirely by themselves without any external incentives. They then go on to learn how to decipher speech, talk, and walk. All of these amazing skills are acquired in just a few years. Yet it takes the public school system 13 YEARS to add a smattering of reading, writing, and science. Children are naturally curious. It is my belief that given the proper environment children will teach themselves all they need to know.
School is nothing like the real world. There appears to be very little correlation between how well one does in school and how well one does after leaving school.
In the real world one seldom has to work in isolation, in most circumstances people work in teams working toward a common goal. Teamwork is called 'cheating' in school. Never have I felt more alone then sitting in a classroom with 30 other students I am not supposed to talk to (or even acknowledge they exist). Again, other than in factories the real world is nothing like this.
I was a "problem child" from the first day of kindergarten (my mother got a call from the principal informing her I had the audacity to lead the entire class back out to the playground when left unattended). School was always slow, dull and boring to me. I refused to be the zombie my teachers wanted me to be. I was finally able to escape when I was 15 by taking the G.E.D. I have been told I was "special" and that most people aren't as "gifted" as I was. The "gift" I had was my parents didn't assist the school in crushing my spirit, they took my side and didn't punish me just because some teacher said they should.
I was diagnosed with ADD and my parents were advised to give me ritalin. Thankfully they refused. I am sure I would be a good little sheeple right now if they had. It is my view that ADD is a teaching disorder, and basically is just another way of saying the student is bored and hasn't had their spirit crushed yet. I can't imagine drugging my child just because a teacher cannot keep him interested.
Respect is something which has to be earned, teachers are given arbitrary authority and students are told they must obey a stranger. (and we wonder why child abduction is so easy, in many cases the child does whatever any adult stranger tells them to).
No matter how hard you try, you cannot teach something to someone they don't want to learn. Even though a great deal of time was spent in the 8th grade trying to cram the states and capitols in my head I don't remember them. (and don't see any reason to waste space in my head with this information, if I want to know I will simply consult a map (a skill I learned on my own)). Public Education seems to really like dates and places, as if memorizing numbers and names helps one to understand anything. I retained very little of the history I was taught in school, I learned far more history from watching a few hours James Burke's "connections" then the countless hours I spent in class.
Did anyone really care if Picasso could read? Could Mozart have written as much music if he was stuck in a classroom all day? I found most of what educators thought I should know to be uninteresting to me, and don't recall most of it. At that age I had no interest in world history or social studies in general. I still know very little about these subjects and don't really care. My life is quite fulfilling without my recall of the details of the ottoman empire (for some reason I do remember the name, probably because ever since then I have used it as an example of something I don't care about).
I don't think there is such a thing as a 'gifted' or 'slow' student. Every person learns things in their own way at their own pace. I was 'gifted' at math and reading and breezed through those classes (although I usually had lousy grades because I failed to do the busy work called 'homework' (good grief it isn't enough that you steal 8 hours a day of my time you want even more of it)). I was actually learning reading and math ahead of the class on my own most of the time because I found it interesting.
I suggest that every person who is 'gifted' at something is just interested in it and learning about it through their own motivation, and that those who are 'slow' are just NOT interested in that subject. What this means is that attempting to homogenize learning by grinding information up into bite sized pieces does a disservice to everyone.
Different people learn different subjects at different rates, no matter what rate is chosen it will be wrong for most of the class. Those who learn quickly will be bored and frustrated by the slow pace and those who learn a subject slowly will be frustrated by trying to keep up.
I have another theory which is the rate at which one learns something might be related to how interested they are in the subject,
maybe those who learn a subject slowly really don't want to learn it at all.
Much of the subject matter taught in school these days doesn't seem to have much practical use. Spelling in English is just a mess, and I see no reason for millions of people to learn arcane rules, get over it and let people spell things the way the sound (like everywhere else in the world). English like most languages constantly evolved, but now teachers are attempting to lock it down and force it to remain static and unchanging. This might be a worthwhile goal if the syntax of English was consistent, but I see no reason to attempt to preserve the disaster it is.
I have also been told that home schooling is not for everyone, I contend that public school is not for ANYONE (meaning any one person, there is not one person in public school who would not benefit from an alternate form of education).
The entire concept of teacher as dispenser of knowledge, with the student a passive recipient is flawed. True learning comes from doing and discovering something yourself. I don't remember many math formulas, but I commonly figure them out when I need them. This is because I didn't learn math by memorizing things, I played with numbers and their interactions. It was a journey of discovery. I DON'T mean to say I figured out all of math in a vacuum, I used math texts as a guidebook, but the experience was uniquely mine.
Today's job market is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Blue collar work is on the decline as we export jobs to 3rd world countries where labor is cheap, where white collar work is rising as the tech industries expand. Unfortunately today's schools are not producing white collar workers. The tech industries are being forced to hire people from overseas because they cannot find the talent they need locally. In 2000 congress had to double the number of HR1 visas issued to allow enough skilled workers into the country to meet demand (as I write this early 2002 the industry is in a temporary slump as it recovers from the dot com crash, but I predict within a year the demand will again exceed the supply). If America is to remain the leader in technology we must do something about the abilities of our work force. Part of the problem is school creates the wrong kind of worker these days. We don't need someone who can stand on an assembly line for 8 hours, we need independent thinkers who are self motivated and can solve problems with minimal supervision. We need people who can develop product specifications from scratch, research the components, find the assets needed and make it all happen.
Our current society breaks life down into 3 parts: 20 years (or more) of education, 40 years of work, and if you are still alive whatever is left for play. I prefer a much shorter cycle, every week I learn some, work some and play some.
Far too much of school focuses on memorizing facts which can easily be looked up in a book. It is as if they are trying to create someone who will be dropped on a desert island with no resources available to them. Fortunately the real world is an open book test, so in most cases one need not learn silly things like the names and locations of all of the Russian states (or whatever they call them). I know something far more valuable, how to obtain that information (glad I didn't bother with that one considering all of that information is obsolete and half of them are now new countries). I never learned my multiplication tables. By the time they got to them in school I had figured out enough number theory that I was able to just calculate the answers (all but 6 & 7 are pretty easy: 2 just double the #, 3 just add the # twice, 4 just double the number twice, 5 just multiply by 10 then div by 2, 8 (just learn base 2 and it become easy), 9 use the sum of digits trick, and 10 just throw a 0 on the end). 6 & 7 I still have to think about for a second, but I own a modern invention called a calculator, I don't NEED to be able to quickly multiply #'s (and it is unclear to me why the table stops at 12*12, sort of arbitrary isn't it? Also I wonder how many students failed to notice the table is symetrical and memorized each product twice). While others were memorizing I was figuring out why the sum of digits trick for 9 works (any # which is evenly divisible by 9 will always consist of digits which when added together recursively will always equal 9).
I feel that understanding the concepts behind math is FAR more important than rote memorization.
I once had a program which would display a map of the United States and quiz you on the states and capitols. I played with it a bit, but was far more interested in how it was programmed then in using it to learn where the states and capitols were. I spent a few days (probably when I was supposed to be doing homework) pulling it apart and learning how it worked (it happened to be written in basic so that was easy to do). That skill has served me far better then learning the states would have. As time goes on I am slowly learning where states are, as I visit them (now that I have a context to attach to them it is pretty easy to remember quite a bit about them).
I only learned one skill from high school (I learned other things during that time, but not from high school), which was how to type. Of course I failed that class, even though I was the fastest typist there (the class was a semester long, and was entitled "Typing", yet after the first 9 weeks (which is all the time it takes to learn how to type) the class magically changed into secretarial skills, which I had no interest in. After a week or so of that I stopped attending (I instead spent that time playing video games at the local arcade, something which surprisingly (even to me) turned out to be useful a few years later when I began to write video games for a living). This sort of thing is typical, one learns the subject matter but earns poor grades for failing to be present every day (grading for attendance is clearly an artifact of schools getting paid per body each day) or failing to do busy work. I commonly heard "I know you know the material, and you do great on the tests, if you would just do the homework I could give you a good grade", to which I would reply "if you know I have learned what I am here to learn than your job is done, just give me the PROPER grade for what I have learned".
I CANNOT learn things in a vacuum. Given some arbitrary fact I am supposed to memorize I cannot seem to get it to stick in my brain. My entire recall is a web of interconnected data, without some context to attach this new fact to I don't know how to store it in my brain (which is why I can't remember phone #'s, they don't really mean anything). When I was learning geometry in high school whenever the book would present a 'given' (which is an arbitrary fact without proof) I would search forward in the book until I found the proof, read that and then proceed once I understood it. (the teacher had never taught geometry before and didn't know the subject matter, she was about a month ahead of the class in the book, within a few weeks I was way ahead of her, it was always fun to ask questions she didn't yet know the answers to).
I was told many lies in school (some in the name of "simplifying"). What a huge waste of time. First I learned the incorrect version, then years later had to unlearn the lie and learn the correct version. I would have prefered to have been told the truth in the first place, if I was deemed to young for that then just put off then entire thing until I am deemed ready for the "truth". (and don't get me started on the bullshit which they pass off for American history, never have I seen more dishonesty). How can any teacher expect any sort of respect when they are shoveling some of this garbage? It was quite obvious to me at a fairly young age that most teachers didn't really know very much, just could regurgitate what the textbook said.
Physical Education in public schools has always been funny to me, if school didn't lock kids in a box 6 hours a day they would be getting plenty of exercise on their own. First you tell them to quit fidgeting all day, then suddenly you tell then to run around. This must be designed to prepare people for desk jobs and daily visits to their health club. Probably what leads to the mentality of fighting to get a parking space close to the health club door (wouldn't want to get any real exercise on the way in
It is not in those who currently work in government's best interest to have an educated, thinking populous. It is much easier for them to stay in office and maintain the status quo if the general population doesn't question authority or think for themselves. So it is no surprise to me that that the rules (written by those same people in public office) which regulate public school behavior tend to discourage free thinking.
On "holding back a grade" Let me get this straight: If someone fails one subject you are going to prevent them from making any progress in ANY subject until they can pass the one they failed? This sort of least common demonimator thinking is assinine.The only result this can have is to make the student hate ALL subjects.
To quote John Holt "many or most children repeating a grade do no better the second time through than they did the first, if even as well. Why should they? If a certain kind of teaching failed to produce learning the first time, why will it suddenly produce it the second time? "
Did it ever occur to anybody that the reason high school students act like children is because they are treated like children?
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