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On Reading “The Element” – Part 5

December 14, 2009

This afternoon, while on my lunch break, I was working my way through the last few chapters of The Element, and I started reading the final chapter, Chapter Eleven – Making the Grade.

In it he talks about education reform, which is a subject near and dear to my heart, and something that I hope to have great influence on in my life. He rails against many of the now-common critiques of education systems:

1) Focus on Reading, Writing, and Math to the seeming exclusion of all else,

2) In America, the negative changes caused by the “No Child Left Behind” policy,

3) The elimination of arts programs from most schools,

4) The steadily growing number of high school drop-outs,

5) The devaluing of the college degree, pretty much world-wide.

I’m not sure how, exactly, to affect reform on the education system, but it needs to be done, and it needs to be done in a way that will help us move forward into the 21st century, instead of trying to fix what’s wrong with the system that mostly got us through the 20th century.

Dr. Robinson makes a very good point that hadn’t occurred to me before. In the early part of the book, he talks about the fact that public schools came into being right around the time of the Industrial Revolution, at which point, in order for industrialized economies to survive, it was very important to focus on math, writing, and reading. While we certainly shouldn’t ignore those subjects, as we head further into the 21st century, we need to shift our priorities.

It will be very important to start teaching second languages at a very young age. Children should have gym every day, not just recess, although recess is important. There should be time in every day for not only reading, writing, math, and science, but also music, art, and other creative pursuits.

Classes should be structured by ability in each subject, not by age-level, and students should be encouraged no matter what their aptitudes are.

As for testing, standardized test shouldn’t necessarily be completely out, but I think that they should be taken as a more “broad, national sampling” idea, than an “every student, every year” idea. Someone was talking about the idea on NPR the other day, although I can’t for the life of me remember who. Basically, the test for ability would be given to a small percentage of each school’s student base, which would be selected at random. That way there would be no test for the teacher’s to “teach” to, and it would be a much more accurate reading of how students across the country are doing.

And, of course, if a school consistently under-performs, then, instead of cutting funding for the school or whatever backwards solution they have with No Child Left Behind, the troubled schools should be closely evaluated and a positive solution should be created to help bring the school up to par with the rest of the nation.

These are just rough ideas, and I’m sure they have some downsides and other issues that will need to be worked out, but something has to give, and if we’re going to change it, we might as well work to restructure the system into something that will actually benefit our young people going forward into a future that none of us can truly imagine.

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