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Monday, February 13, 2012

Education: Falling Further Behind

When people still cared about learning and education.
In the spring of 1963 I had a chance to spend part of the day in my future grade school.

I still recall the experience today.  There was a single, large room in the basement of the local church.  All of the classes were there save for some older kids who were in different rooms.  Each "class" was separated by groups of desks.

There was a single teacher - a nun.

I was assigned a temporary desk where I sat.  Of course, at six years old I had very little understanding of what was going on.  There was "lunch" and recess.

One of the older kids showed me around the playground - right next to the grave yard.

That fall I entered school.  By then a new addition to the church had been completed and the basement school room was no more.  My first grade teacher, Sister Ann Joseph, was also a nun.

All the nuns lived in a rectory behind the church, next to the playground and graveyard.  It was a large, forbidding-looking building - dark and scary to a six year old.

Nuns in those days were tough - some had lived and worked in South-Side Chicago schools.  They didn't take any shit.

They also worked basically for room and board.  You didn't pay a nun like you would  a "lay teacher."  The nuns provided education as part of their "calling."  Not all the nuns in the rectory taught.  I suppose they just lived there until they died - the younger nuns taking care of the older ones.

If you were a lay teacher in 1963 the average salary was around $5,100.00 USD per year.  In 2007 dollars that would be about $34,200.00 USD.  My guess is that in 1963 you got paid only for the time you worked - about 70% of the working days in a year.

In 2007, in the local Penn Hills school district, teachers are paid around $51,000.00 USD per year.

This is almost 50% over the normal inflation during the same period.

And then we find things like this.  Basically states passing laws to require kids to be held back if they don't pass specific tests in third grade.

As a child there were few kids "held back" in my day.  Maybe one or two I can remember in my time in Catholic grade school.  To be held back your behavior was horrendous and you hand to work hard at not trying in school.  Particularly because the nuns viewed your learning as something God had ordained and they were required to properly execute or burn in hell.

Almost an educational jehad, if you will.  And the nuns were serious about it.

But now the jihad seems to be about money "federal funding."  Federal law, which provides money to school districts, requires that children reach a certain level of proficiency on standardized tests in order for the district to get the money it expects.

Now this federal/school policy seems to me to be at odds with "learning."

Almost as if the adults have set a bar for the children to reach without any consideration for what the child actually learns (save test taking skills).  If the child fails to reach that bar then the child is punished.

Yet isn't the job of the school to educate the child - whether or not its hard or easy, takes a little or a long time?

In 1963 the class was divided into three groups - based on your ability to learn.  Fastest learns in one group, slower in the next, slowest in the last.

This ensured that groups moved along at a comfortable pace. 

Today, again through laws created by adults, this is not allowed.  Everyone must pretend to learn at the same pace because that way everyone is perceived by the adults as "equal."  But this is simply like pretending not to keep score in a T-Ball game - the kids know the score - its only the adults creating a fiction that the score "doesn't matter."

Which is what's been done to education.

Now children will be punished by law if they "fail to take the test properly."

Seems pretty Draconian to me - kids are not all the same and certainly children struggling to keep up should not be stigmatized by law...

But that's what you get when the jihad becomes about money.

Learning ability and intelligence, just like looks, vision, hair color, facial forms, body type, stamina, over all health and so forth all vary from child to child.  And each child may have gifts in some areas and deficits in others.

Isn't it our job as adults to make sure the child learns?

Another thing common in the "olden days" was to direct children into areas where they were best suited.  For example, in my day farming was a key area.  Some kids just liked farming and weren't interested in "higher education." 

Why educate them as if they were going to college?  Would these skills help them if a cow fell and was injured in the field?  Many kids in my class were interested in various trades - cars, that sort of thing.  Again, perhaps they were gifted body men and liked doing that work. 

It seems as if education is now a business run by detached adults who care little for learning and care a lot about funding and money.

Little wonder we are falling behind the rest of the world in education.

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