Too often, our public schools are crippled by wrong-headed theories and methods. They might be shadowy and hard to see; but their presence can be the reason a school is failing. It’s crucial to shine a spotlight on these bad actors, and send them packing. Then we can adopt ideas and methods that work, for example:
1) Insist on real reading. The wrong way is to make children memorize English phonetic words as if they are Sumerian hieroglyphics. That’s the sight-word approach. Instead, children should learn letters, then the sounds represented by the letters, than the blends of those sounds. Children can be reading in first grade, by the second at the latest. Anything less means the school officials are not competent.
2) Demand real math. Children learn to count to 50, then 100. They add and subtract two-digit numbers, then larger ones. In the fourth grade they are multiplying and dividing two-digit numbers, then larger numbers. They move from the simple to the difficult, with mastery. This is the basis for a math education. They should go on to decimals and fractions, probably in the fifth grade. Only when children master these basic skills can we talk about algebra and geometry. Reform Math, incoherent and hostile to mastery, should be avoided.
3) Teach foundational knowledge. There are hundreds of things that everyone needs to know. How many feet in a mile? How many ounces in a pound? What is a moon? What’s the equator. Where is Japan on a map? As an adult, you probably forget the great number of things you know without ever thinking about them. That’s vital basic knowledge that allows you to pursue more specialized knowledge. A student learns this essential information from kindergarten onward, a few facts each day. That is what all schools have done since the beginning of time.
4) Celebrate memorization. Young children have excellent memories and enjoy using them. The early grades are a great time for learning a second language. Everyone should be able to recite poetry. One way to quickly identify bad schools is that nobody is required to know anything. In the old days, a teacher might ask, “What is snow made of?” A student answers, “Water.” This exchange is possible only because the student has memorized the information. Having lots of knowledge in one’s mind is the basis for critical thinking, creativity, and higher academic pursuits. Too many public schools play a game where children are supposedly going to engage in critical thinking even though they know little.
5) Encourage independent, self-directed work. Too much in the public schools is based on the theory of Cooperative Learning. Groups of kids sit around a table. They lose a sense of themselves as having independent minds. Socialists like that result. But it’s not good for children when they need to solve problems in school or throughout life. Everyone needs to be able to go to a website or encyclopedia, read up on who Cleopatra was, and present that information to others, ideally with some personal judgment or conclusion.
6) Tell teachers to teach. Many schools put too much emphasis on so-called Constructivism, as if children can magically create the knowledge they need in life. Teachers are being downgraded into so-called facilitators, who are told to stand around. Many facts need to be taught directly; many complex subjects need to be explained at length. That’s what teachers have always done. Students are entitled to sages on stages. That this commonsense wisdom is sometimes ridiculed shows how confused our experts have become.
7) Praise precision. So much in modern education tends to favor sloppiness, fuzziness, looseness, lateness, disorder, guessing, vagueness, and what might be called intellectual softness. There is a lot to be said for serious doses of precision and hard facts. Thinking like an engineer now and then is good for a student’s character. Measuring something to a tenth of an inch is constructive and satisfying. Students should be able to use a protractor to draw circles and shapes. To be a graphic designer, an athlete, a scientist-- in these very different activities, people need to practice and perform precise steps.
In summary, education should prepare children for life, for a career, for doing something useful to make a living. Let’s bring real work and the real world into the schools. John Dewey, that great pretender, talked about this but only as an excuse for eliminating academics. The proper road is to use academics and every other activity as preparation for the real world. For example, if a child learns about great art, is that knowledge separate from the real world? Not at all. Students learn about design and colors, about the tools and skills needed to produce art.They learn why some art is considered better than other art. Years later, the students might be selling real estate, working in a clothing store, working on a magazine, trying to start a business, raising children--that knowledge about art will be useful.
Junk the bunk. Time to get serious about improving public schools.
ARTICLE; “56: Top 10 Worst Ideas In Education” (get rid of them)
ARTICLE: “A Bill of Rights for Students” (a common sense curriculum)
VIDEO: “Good School? Bad School. How Can You Tell the difference?” (a quick blueprint for reform)