Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's Not Rocket Science

The debate over what to do about the sorry state of American education has been raging for decades and what seems to be missing from this debate is common sense. Teaching a child to read, write and do arithmetic is not rocket science. With a few books, a pencil and some paper all three can be accomplished quite easily for the majority of children. You don't need expensive curriculum, highly trained teachers, or computer software to teach the ABC's.  For the last few thousand years, and right up to the present in developing countries, children have learned their ABC's with a stick drawing in the dirt, and they have learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide with pebbles.  So why are so many children failing and dropping out of American schools? Because educational policy does not reflect this common sense. Rather than focusing on the relationship between the teacher and child, the natural curiosity of young children, and the hands-on approach to learning which is natural to a child, American schools put children in large classrooms and even larger schools where they are dehumanized, tested, categorized, micro-managed or ignored. For example, educational research has been done for years and years showing that smaller schools and smaller classrooms work, but instead of taking this research and DOING something about it, American policy makers simply layer on another gimmick.  A perfect example is the plan that one of our local public high schools has to get a grant for every student to have a laptop. While this is a nice idea, especially for students whose families cannot afford to buy them one, research shows that computers do not increase academic achievement in reading and writing.  High school graduation rates peaked in American in  1969 and have been going down ever since. Instead of layering programs, gimmicks and technology on a weak foundation it is time to use our common sense to restore that foundation.

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