School

Traditional school coursework does not usually make smarter or better people. Everyone needs the basic three R skills, but to a young person detail beyond that is pretty much a waste of student’s and teacher’s time as well as tax dollars. School serves as a convenient babysitter and helps to socialize children, but history, economics, physics and algebra minutia doesn’t do much more than superficially acquaint kids with some terms.

Learning that is important to living comes primarily from what is experienced. For example, love and concern from a teacher, fear of a bully and infatuation for a classmate all create indelible lessons remembered for a lifetime. On the other hand, the only lesson most kids take away after learning the Pythagorean Theorem and the date of the battle of Gettysburg is that learning isn’t fun and is a waste of time.

The sooner a person can get out of school, the better the chances for useful learning. Personal initiative, individual study, successes, mistakes, fear and pride out in the real world are the best teachers. These two volumes encapsulate the issues we face in real life and have taken me ______chapters and almost a thousand pages to cover in abbreviated form. The fact that essentially none of this material is covered in formal schooling is a testament to the failure of modern education.

Without sufficient life experience (which creates little hooks in the mind to which details can attach), or a specific need to apply information, learning just by rote goes into short-term memory (long enough to pass a test) and is then essentially lost. As mental calisthenics coursework is fine. As training for life it is woefully inadequate. Children are taught how to read (barely) but they are left unable to distinguish what is worth reading. It teaches about things, not reasons. It gives the false idea that life is scripted such that if specific do’s and don’ts are followed–papers are written and tests aced–that success will surely follow.

If in doubt about the utility of modern education ask employers whether new graduates (other than from trade schools) bring to the workplace anything other than tools they don’t know how to use. If an employer can find an employee who is motivated, eager to learn and a self-starter (all rarities), that is about the most that can be hoped for. From there the employer is faced with all the costs of training…and pay to the employee while doing it. In the meantime schools take a big chunk out of tax dollars and teachers get good salaries and great benefits. But the students they turn out are in no way ready to hit the ground running once they find a job. Nevertheless, educators – with their absurd lecture, note-take, regurgitate pedantic – mislead students into believing that they are receiving real training that can immediately command high wages and benefits. This not only does a disservice to the student but forces employers to repair the damage and bring new graduates back down to earth.

Understandably students spending years burdened by mountains of memorization are exhausted by academic demands and feel entitled to a reward, even though they intuitively know that the majority of what they have memorized is worthless. The result is a workplace filled with overpaid, under-skilled employees. Many see their stint with education as a price paid, a reason for entitlement and a burdensome part of their personal history, not an active and engaging part of their future.

Schools should effectively and thoroughly teach the basics that everyone needs to function well in society. Very general courses should be taught in all the disciplines to give students a broad overview of what knowledge holds and to equip them for a degree of self-sufficiency – like balancing a checkbook, avoiding credit card debt and high interest, writing a clear letter, preparing meals, fixing a plugged sink, sewing, checking the car oil and air tire pressure, changing the furnace filter and so on.

This could be accomplished easily within 6-8 years of school, but beginning at an older age since too much of education is wasted on the young. School days should be shortened and not begin in the early morning when growing bodies and minds should be sleeping. By compressing school-time, teachers would be forced to hit the high points that students are more likely to retain.

Specific training for specific careers should follow these 6-8 years with lots of hands-on practical experience and emphasis on problem solving. Before a student is released into the workforce they should be able to accomplish a job with competence. As things presently are, most degrees do not signify useful skills other than book reading and test taking.

Also, interspersed in the school curriculum should be coursework in intellectually challenging topics such as philosophy, science, religion, marriage, family, metaphysics, politics, sociology, ethics, logic and all the other fields of controversy in which everyone should make a lifelong study and contribution. Such topics should be taught using basic concepts and by encouraging synthesis, original thinking and hands-on learning, not with a dull memorization format.

Most of all, students should learn that mental growth is an ongoing endeavor and a basic human requirement for happiness. Continuous intellectual growth is necessary to make oneself interesting to others, to properly function in society, and to contribute to improving the world. Education does not end with a degree, it is a lifelong process.
Unfortunately, rather than school stimulating a desire for learning it can leave a bitter after taste that discourages intellectual growth.

Teachers should be accomplished in the real-world field they are teaching and be accountable at all times. Tenure is a crazy idea as is most socialism. If there is any occupation that should be under pressure to achieve performance standards at all times, it is teaching. Instead, unlike any other career, mere time can lock in a bad teacher for a lifetime. The best formula for souring young minds on education is to force incompetent and unlikable teachers on them. Education is not about teachers and their security, it’s about properly training young minds and motivating the intellect of the next generation.

These are all nice ideas, but education is not going to change anytime soon. It is too institutionalized, governmentized, unionized and tenurized. It likes itself the way it is, very comfortable and secure for all who feed from it. Never mind whether students, the workplace and society are really benefiting from it or not.

It’s not like there is some grand conspiracy to keep education boring, irrelevant and expensive. It’s just that those who write curricula and who teach know no better and find it easiest to stay in the same groove in which they were taught. Love of children and wanting to teach are certainly important, but not enough. Students who go through high school, then college, then grad school to become teachers are still students. Students teach others how to be students, not what life is really about or how to succeed in it.

It should be a prerequisite that before any politician presumes to run society that they have had at least a decade of proven success in the real world at real jobs. Similarly, a teacher entrusted with the future of the world (children), must have lived out in the real world and proven their ability to be successful at it. Particularly should this be so at the high school and college levels. Instead, too often students or those who were incapable or nonproductive in the workplace find a home in a teaching position. We must change the aphorism: Those who can, do, those who cannot, teach. It should be: Those who can, teach; those who cannot should go do something else. One on-line university that caters to those discouraged by traditional schooling has the right idea. Their advertising for professors says, “If you haven’t done it during the daytime, you can’t teach it at night!”

Speaking of the Internet, that may be the spearhead for a solution to education because it creates a realistic alternative to the traditional classroom format. Education will not change from within because it is too comfortable with itself like all embedded institutions get to be. The free market of Internet choices may create the pressure all institutions really pay attention to—economics. That will force the system to either become relevant and efficient or die a quiet death as their tuition resources dry up.

Parents are not above blame or absolved from educational responsibilities just because kids can be pushed off to school and taxes are paid. We should not surrender our children to an incompetent system. Home schooling or ‘unschooling’ (an actual movement you can search out on the Internet) are options every parent should explore. At the least, children should be engaged when they get home from school. They learn best by experience and example so parents who are themselves thinking people and are able to put what is being taught in school into context and to discuss and live intelligently the matters touched upon in these two volumes are the best teachers children can hope for.

For further reading, or for more information about, Dr Wysong and the Wysong Corporation please visit www.wysong.net or write to wysong@wysong.net. For resources on healthier foods for people including snacks, and breakfast cereals please visit www.cerealwysong.com.

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