Concerning ‘education’ at large…

I’ve had it up to ‘here’ and way beyond with folks bewailing the quality of public education in the States. No one seems to know what to do to improve this mess except to demand more tests. More tests will not improve education on any level. It cannot work. It does not work. Never has and never will. Test taking has nothing to do with real learning.  I say toss the whole test taking industry into the trash bin immediately.  If I had my way grades would also zoom into the trash bin. Why? Because they’re just ‘grades’ and they do not accurately measure learning either. Either someone ‘learns’ or they do not. Learning cannot be forced. IF something has been really ‘learned’ then it can be applied/used/put into motion by the ‘student’. 

Based on experience, I know of a few things that DO work when it comes to improving the petri dish that is classroom education.  Consider this my ‘gift’ of the season:

~~Optimal student to teacher ration is 1 teacher for every 14 students. This is NOT a newsflash–it’s well-known and been documented plenty. 

~~Oh yeah, an invested teacher can do a lot with 14 students. And 14 students can get a lot from a teacher who wants to teach.  A teacher who wants to teach might be described as someone who wants to engage students–not keep them at an intellectual taser’s length distance. With 14 students’ in a class, a teacher has not just the time but the mental wherewithall to address each as individuals.

~~Textbooks need to ‘go’ away.  Why employ a textbook when there are so many BETTER books to use for teaching? Yes, this means a teacher would have to search out tomes that would best serve their teaching goals–rather than have some textbook dictate what’s on the mental menu every single day of the school experience. Yes, this is ‘work’ –but it is work that pays off for both the teacher and their students. Everyone’s ‘mind’ can be engaged in material that is appealing and fresh.

~~Speaking of ‘fresh’–what the hell is with teachers who use the same material, the same lesson plans, the same approaches year after year after year? They’ve got to be bored to death mentally. I’ve heard many say they are bored to death by doing the same material the same way time  and time again. Guess what–a teacher’s BOREDOM is conveyed to their students who are in turn bored and then see no reason to actively engage with the teacher or subject.  IF a teacher doesn’t like teaching, doesn’t like their subject, doesn’t like students then they ought to NOT be teachers. If they’re bored they need to get ‘un-bored’ or depart the classroom.

~~Teaching ought to be an engagement in the act of discovery. This involves embarking on a quest to explore, question, and think independently. Often this throws out the bathwater of  absolute right answers. (No–this does NOT mean that one plus one no longer equals two in math. Although in an alternate reality it might…) In the words of Northrup Frye, one strives to “educate the imagination” so that it can creatively address all sorts of ‘questions’ until suitable responses are discovered.

~~More than a daily ‘lecture’ ought to go on in any classroom.  Dialogue is very useful for exploring thoughts and new concepts.  Arrangement of students desks/chairs so that they have eye contact with each other and the teacher encourages dialogue.

~~Oh yes, there is a useful ‘rule’ to employ in regard to ‘dialogue’/communication/communication  —Distinguish between what a person ‘says’ and the person themself when debate/arguing/disputes arise. It is one thing to say, “That is a silly answer.” It is another to say, “You’re a silly idiot.”  Mutual respect goes a long way to developing positive communication. People can’t all like each other– but they can all respect each other.

~~Yes, schools are stuffed full of students with terrible home lives.  Social issues abound. What are the causes of these social issues? My take is that our culture is bankrupt–it has nothing to offer but the goal of consuming as much as possible. Nothing is valued  except money.  

Enjoy the ‘holy days’, fruity-cakes, eggnog, new game boxes, cars, and other toys.   What’s going on in the classroom of life’? hmm?

Out of the box learning in action:



  1. Yousei Hime said,

    December 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Wow. I agree with you on almost everything. I would add converting to a year round school. Several countries have this (Japan among them), and studies support the belief that students retain more in a year round schooling system as opposed to summers off. I am totally on board with the 1:14 ratio. I’ve thought that for years and years. Some students are fine without much one on one, but others, like my two rascals, would really benefit from more time with their teachers.

    Best of the holidays to you too. (And lots of eggnog! 😉 )

    • December 23, 2009 at 5:45 pm

      Yes, year round schooling makes a lot of sense.

      Alas, no eggnogg for moi, Yousei. Sounds yummy fun but however much I might like the nogg, the nogg does not like moi. You are welcome to double my share!!!

  2. blissbait said,

    December 21, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    YEP. Agree with all of that, Buffalo Woman. I could write reems and reems on this subject. Seriously. Thanks for speaking Your mind on this. There are MANY who agree with You!!!! Happy Holy Days to You too and Big Hugs. Namaste. 🙂

    • December 23, 2009 at 5:43 pm

      Well Bliss I might need a lobotomy before the “holy days” seem ‘happy’ to moi, but the sentiment of well wishing is much appreciated.

  3. December 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I forwarded this to my wife. She’s a teacher at a Montessori school, and I think she will totally agree with you. (That’s why she’s Montessori and not in a public school.)

    • December 23, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      Hey Dennis the Vizsla! Montessori-ahhh the fresh air of something/someone on the ‘right’ track. Your wife is WELCOME to add her ten cents to the ‘education’ conversation.

  4. Ikiru said,

    December 24, 2009 at 4:45 am

    I know in my own experience in public schools in the US that lecture, discussion and *thinking* was generally avoided in favour of memorisation and tests that simply measure how much you’ve memorised (as opposed to actually *understanding*)– in other words, true/false questions, multiple choice, that sort of thing. Such an approach teaches children what to say and what to think, but not HOW to think.

    This has disastrous consequences– with basic scientific literacy for example, where people don’t really understand what science is or how it works. From that ignorance, it is easy to misuse the word “theory” etc.

    I believe in many other developed countries they don’t have “tests” — they simply have “papers”– in other words, you have to write extensive essays on the relevant topics to show that you really understand the internal workings of subjects. This is more of a challenge for students, but it is also more of a challenge for teachers because reviewing such papers takes more time than going down a checklist.

    This difference is especially indicated not just at the high school level, but at the collegiate level. For example, in the US, to get a degree in, say, architecture, you would not only take classes directly relevant to that field, but also so-called “core curriculum” classes (which generally take up to 1/3 of the total required courses for a bachelor’s degree). These classes (basic maths, English, certain science fields, history, etc.) would normally have been covered in high school equivalents in other developed countries, which is why their universities do not have any “core curriculum” classes. If you went to university in Australia for a degree in architecture, the only courses you would be taking would be directly relevant to that field.

    We are doing such a massive disservice to the future generations to the US. We simply do not value education or intellect. Look at the federal budget: who gets the biggest cut of money? The military (over 1/3 of the budget– not counting veteran spending, an additional 18%). The US has a long history of distrust of intellectualism (George W. Bush and Sarah Palin and their supporters being two prominent examples).

    We haven’t even begun to VALUE education. In order to excel in intelligence we have to WANT it. Badly. And that simply hasn’t happened yet. The problem is not just political, but cultural, and that to me is the most dismaying thing about the US.


    • December 24, 2009 at 5:07 pm

      Agreed to everything you’ve expounded upon, Josh. I think the operative word here is VALUE in a meaningful way–not just the ‘price tag’ sort of value that prevails in here in the States. Our cultural values are why we’re in the snowballing mess we’re in on multiple levels. Education that produces independently thinking people is THE best defence against facism and totalitarianism in a FREE society.

  5. December 27, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Totally agree with you on this 47whitebuffalo! Thanks for posting this piece.

    • December 27, 2009 at 10:31 pm

      Hi Gabrielle. Thanks for your support. Post has been ‘brewing’ for some time. Finally it came together. lol.

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