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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some suggestions re: education

Again, replying to a comment on the recent series of posts about Holt, Gatto, and alternatives to schools.

Gatto’s solutions (that word is too big – maybe “suggestions” or "proposals" would be more accurate) include things like:

Easyish stuff:

  • Shorten the school year. If schooling is bad, then less schooling is less bad. Free up the summers or winters for kids to work, play, volunteer, or study alone or with a group of their choosing.

  • Vary the school year; mandate only that kids have to attend school, say, 180 days a year. That way, kids who are interested in some seasonal activity, or whose parents have jobs related to the seasons can be free to attend or help out.

  • Turn one school day per week into a volunteer day on which kids visit farms, gardens, habitat for humanity projects, orphanages, old folks’ homes, hospitals, or something else. They can learn hands-on, on site. Plus, this will help to reinstate the sense of community that is largely lost when kids are pulled our of real life so that they can “learn” from books and blackboards and abstractions.

  • Replace one day a week with an apprenticeship day. Kids can visit and hang out with parents, parents’ friends, or other professionals or tradesmen as they work. Again, children are more likely to develop curiosity about and interest in something if they actually see, smell, hear, feel, and manipulate it.

Tougher ones:

  • Don’t make school compulsory. As it is, parents and children who disobey schooling laws are threatened with jail time. But it’s undeniable that, for many kids and in many cases (though probably not yours and mine), school is completely useless. If a child or family feels that such is the case, let them make their own decision about it. (Holt cites statistics, albeit old ones, that show that dropping out of high school doesn’t correlate with career failure, once you’ve controlled for other variables like race, family income, and location.)

  • Revive the idea of apprenticeship. If a child has an adult who’s willing to take him/her on, let it be. Chances are the kid will learn all the relevant science, math, social studies, etc along the way, once he/she has seen the need.

  • Give money directly to students, rather than to schools. This serves two functions: first, to reduce the amount funds wasted by excessive admin and corruption at the higher levels; and second, to increase the consumers’ amount of choice. Gatto doesn’t speak of vouchers directly – maybe that wasn’t a hot word pre-2000? - but the idea is that, again, individuals can do a better job of deciding what’s good for them than the government can. If children hate or fear their school, it’s unlikely they’ll be learning anything there; but as it is, schools have no incentive to make them happy, only to make them work. (Of course, it’s impossible to “make” twenty-five kids happy by shutting them up in a room with an adult they don’t know and then trying to control them,) Then, families will be able to influence schools with their dollars(/vouchers), rather than with mere complaints.

  • Increase the amount of cost-free, condition-free public facilities like libraries. Expand libraries to include places to practice music, art, carpentry, or to show films and have group discussions, etc. Many of these resources are now locked up inside of schools, where they go largely unused. This has the benefit of opening up learning to everyone and anyone, not just those who have been deemed the appropriate age for learning.

  • This one is a little more vague, but: reduce the competitiveness of school as much as possible. It seems to me that the whole point of grading is to make it easy for colleges to pick students to admit, and the point of colleges is largely to give companies a shortcut in deciding who to hire. Why should the beneficiaries of the grades, the backbone of schools, be the companies who will employ individuals, rather than the individuals themselves? Why not put the onus of finding a good employee on the company? To quote Jeff's last comment, some teachers are "able to get their students to perform "better" than others." Certainly there are some good things about this; but one should admit that for every winner who manages straight As, there is a loser who can't and who will suffer in the college and employment processes later. However, had the "loser" been given an opportunity to explore his own interests and develop his own potentials, he might have managed something a little better.

Granted, none of these suggestions can be instituted overnight or without first making some changes in transportation, safety, and other kinds of infrastructure.; perhaps even in the nature of work and our ideas about the importance of efficiency. This may all be difficult, but it's also all worth aiming for. I can’t think of a nobler goal for a society than cultivating the intelligence, creativity, and happiness of its youth. Nor can I think of a better way of creating a society worth sustaining.


the compeller said...

Admirable suggestions. But where do you think the line is, in terms of providing children SOME amount of structure? I know that there were certainly times as a kid where I didn't want to go to school, do homework, practice piano, etc, but was compelled by forces such as my parents to do so, and ended up being glad I did.

It's all fine and nice to say everyone should be able to make their own decisions about how and what they want to learn, but we both know that human nature generally compels us to take the easiest route. Often, to perform at our peak, we need an outside compeller, if you will. Much like why pro athletes still have coaches.

AZ said...

I am moved by these last two posts, Kroy! (even more by your responses to the comments on your post, than by the initial post itself!) It all makes me want to have a hand in these changes, to think about how to re-make education, but where to begin? I had many of the same thoughts after reading the "Faulty Towers" article in The Nation about the crisis of higher education. It feels hopeless, even as there are these concrete ideas.

All this has also made me think about one of my favorite This American Life episodes of recent memory, Kid Politics. I actually loved all the stories in it, but was very stimulated by the one on the Brooklyn Free School. You should check it out.

SandfordWrites said...

It's common sense to me.

My wife's brother is an agricultural engineer. He didn't fit into school and never did well but when he had the opportunity to get an apprenticeship to a farming machine company he really achieved. He work art time and studied engineering which required advanced math.

I have to politely disagree with what jefe said. I don't think Gatto wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If Gatto wanted to abolish the school system then I would agree with it. Gatto is speaking about making adjustments so we can fill other sectors of jobs with qualified applicants.

Its not really a matter if its about what Gatto wants or what we want. The truth is, are these changes necessary. I would say that they are not unnecessary but necessary either. But they need to come from somewhere wither from goverment or from business.

We have a lot of academically educated people with no jobs because the job sector for their jobs are unfilled. BUt we have a ton of demand for trade jobs.

The solution is good for children. My thinking these days is my own education, though its admirable what you are proposing for our children. Many of us had problems in school that we just had to deal with at the time. Some of us our looking for re-education and we can't get far.

Clinton had this to say about our structural problems. It is a pragmatic offering with what we have right now.

"For the first time in my lifetime, literally in my lifetime, when coming out of a recession, posted job openings -- that means they'll hire you tomorrow morning if you can do the job ... are going up at twice the rate of job hires. ...

There are two reasons for this. One is more than 10% of us are living in houses where the mortgage is worth more than the home, so we can't move. And that's cutting down on labor mobility, which has always been a big strength of America. But that's way the smaller problem.

By far the bigger problem is the jobs that are open don't have applicants that are qualified to do them. There's this huge skills mismatch. [There was a] huge college dropout in the last decade because costs went up 75% after inflation, and because the economy went down people had to drop out to work, and they cut back on a lot of intensive skills training.

We ought to have a list of every job that's been vacant for more than three weeks, by state, and just give 'em the money to train people immediately. And they ought to be able to do it while they're on unemployment. Give it to the employers if the community colleges and the vocational programs won't do it. ... You know how many jobs that is? Five million. The unemployment rate could go down under 7% if no bank made a single loan [and] if no corporation invested any of their surplus cash -- if we just made sure that tomorrow we had qualified applicants to go fill every posted job openin"

What is clear is that our lack of flexibility is hurting us and keeping many from going into professions that many of us would rather do or give us time to try on different things without a huge debt to pay off.

SandfordWrites said...

It's funny. I commented on this but it didn't seem to post.

Gatto's suggestions are common sense to me.

My wife's brother didn't do well in school but when getting a job for an agricultural company he convinced them to give him an aprenticeship to become an agricultural engineer. The apprenticeship was work and study and he did well with that.

These types of opportunities are available when people leave school but many people don't have time to play around and explore until after they finish school and even then we are discouraged from pursuing it.

Anthony Bourdain, has said that when he told his parents that he wanted to be a chef they couldn't have been less pleased than if he said he wanted to be a criminal

A friend of mine is interesting in food and running a food business but she was heavily pushed into academia and now an Ivy League Education later she still dreams about these things.

This is discouragement comes because we are encouraged to believe that the pinnacle of education is a phd., an MBA, a law degree or a medical license

We have to stop thinking in terms about white collar being better than blue collar or that the highest pinacle of education is a Ph.D. There aren't enough jobs for people in professional classes.

I don't know if Gatto mentions it but these problems are problems in a society that is consumer driven and highly regulated. The risks of starting a business or the low pay of is endemic to a system that "values more not less."(Causabon's Blog).

As it is we live long enough to pursue this things are at least dream them. But I think seriously about these things from the comfort of the couch and my cushy job which contributes no solution to these problems accept by what I refuse to purchase.

It's okay in any case if that's all you can do but why maintain the status quo if it doesn't work anymore?