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The case against cooperative learning

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Do you want to know what's wrong with American schools these days? Yes, quite a lot, and particularly with the public ones. Yet certain trends permeate the whole scheme of education in this country, and one in particular has come to mean more than most. And it can be summed up in two words.

Cooperative Learning.

This is a fancy name for group work. The kids are assembled together in small groups to do a project, often made up of smarter students along with, ah, challenged learners, and the magic happens. Everyone learns and everyone's happy.

Except that those of us who remember such group work projects remember well that that ain't the way it happens. The smarter ones drag along the rest, and the rest appreciate that they don't have to work as hard while earning (yeah, right) a better grade at our cost.

But wait! The education elite have discovered a way around that. Simply assign segments of the project to individuals within the group.

But how does that help? If it really does anything at all, it means that the better students risk not knowing the object of the project (sorry, silly Suessian slip of the tongue) in its entirety because some parts of it aren't their responsibility. Besides, hasn't that made the project individual rather than group anyway? Why bother then?

To cut straight to the chase, why is it that we expect students who presumably don't know anything about something to be able to master it on their own especially (as is often the case) when working with other students who don't care as much as they do? Why is a teacher present anyway if the pupils, or some of them, that is, are expected to do their job? Further, how much time is wasted on these projects? How much more material could be covered, and how much deeper would the understanding and appreciation of a subject be, with a traditional pedagogue at the front of a classroom keeping things moving?

The entire idea of group work is patently ridiculous. It eases the teacher's job more than anything else by blowing it off on twelve year olds. All that can do is inspire them to become teachers, where they can collect a paycheck at others' expense. All the while, we wonder where America's work ethic has gone.

It has done nothing but follow its teachers.

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