Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Image of the Day: Summer Vacation

From Flickr user madmetal.

College is not for everyone.

Louisiana is on its way to approving a new curricular track for high school students, a bill intended to stem the high dropout rate in the state. Critics say the bill lowers standards in the state at a time when we are trying to "raise them."

“They don’t see any relevance in reading Beowulf and Chaucer and trigonometry,” state Sen. Bob Kostelka, a Republican sponsor, said of those students.

My brother went to college for two years, mostly because that was "what he was supposed to do," found it wasn't for him, and left. It weighs on him still, because we live in a society that looks down on people who don't get that piece of paper. It's the same mentality that has resulted in him thinking he's not all that smart, which is, of course, ridiculous.

I'm a big proponent of Howard Gardner's retooling of the notion of intelligence, which has been, and mostly still is - especially in schools - centered on linguistic and mathematical intelligence. Gardner broadened that to musical smarts, spatial smarts, naturalistic smarts, and so on.

So my brother, like many kids who didn't excel in math (which is really a reflection of the terrible way in which math is taught - fodder for a whole other post), or even in reading - has come out of school and gone into life with the pervasive sense that he "wasn't good at school," and therefore, not that smart. Myself, I did well in math and literacy, and had a very different experience.

But he can build things. Beautiful things. I remember he designed and built this beautiful shelf when he was in high school. I could never do that. He can look at things and see how they fit - spatial intelligence - a skill which I am sorely lacking. He's brilliant about nature, can identify nearly, if not every, bug in the backyard, leaving me asking him, "How the hell did you know that?" He's the one who taught me which side of the trees moss grows on, how to use it for navigation, how fossils form, and more. I wonder sometimes what a different curricular track, like the one in LA, would have done for him. Not that he's not doing well - he is. But for kids like him. Who really need school not to be so centered on math and literacy - or at least need to learn them in the context of pursuing their own interests, loves, and talents. Ironically, the one story he really loved in all of high school English was Beowulf.

Do we really want everyone in the nation to go to college? Nevermind that I don't really believe that college is job preparation, at least not for the vast majority of programs of study.

We continue to build up this sense that college is the only path, yet we really need people, at least economically speaking, to pursue other paths.

From NYTimes:
If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things. One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.
The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid.

Definitely not stupid work. Did I mention he's also a whiz with cars? I can barely change my oil. But I did good on those ol' reading and math tests!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Work Harder.

I do love when journalists who apparently know little to nothing about education and have little inclination to remedy that weigh in on the ails of the educational system in this country.  

In this charming article from The Economist, we hear again what is fast becoming a tedious argument.

Kids must work harder.  Longer.  Faster.  

The opener:
AMERICANS like to think of themselves as martyrs to work. They delight in telling stories about their punishing hours, snatched holidays and ever-intrusive BlackBerrys. At this time of the year they marvel at the laziness of their European cousins, particularly the French. Did you know that the French take the whole of August off to recover from their 35-hour work weeks? Have you heard that they are so addicted to their holidays that they leave the sick to die and the dead to moulder?

There is an element of exaggeration in this, of course, and not just about French burial habits; studies show that Americans are less Stakhanovite than they think. Still, the average American gets only four weeks of paid leave a year compared with seven for the French and eight for the Germans. In Paris many shops simply close down for August; in Washington, where the weather is sweltering, they remain open, some for 24 hours a day.
Perhaps we run in different circles, but generally when vacation time/maternity leave/paid time off in international contexts comes up in my circles, we lament not the laziness of the French but the insane frenzy of life here.  A year maternity leave.  Paid maternity leave!   Yes, those crazy French.

Anyway, the article then goes into how the only place Americans are lazy is in childhood, how children should instead be working 40+ hour weeks, 52 weeks a year.  And longer if necessary!  Damnit we'll work them to the bone till they learn!!!  Nevermind that there are things outside of school worth learning.  It's not the system that might need rethought, it's these damn kids today.  They just don't work hard enough.  Let's give them another 57 worksheets.

Hat tip to Wonkette, who nailed it.

Image of the Day

From Wikimedia Commons' Featured Images.