12 March 2008|
Over the past half-decade, I've been a private tutor to some of the most privileged brats in Orange County. This vocation has afforded me a great opportunity, not just in being able to transfer my barely passable knowledge of quadratic equations and plate tectonics to my students, but for myself as well.
Working with the future of America has allowed me to learn more about the particular struggles each student faces in their daily battle with an educational system which is greatly outdated. The following is a list of observations and ideas about how to improve the current public school curriculum in the United States.
1) Too much emphasis on knowledge, and not enough on life skills
One afternoon I was tutoring a struggling 'D' high school student for an upcoming test in his remedial (err Intermediate) Earth Science course. This particular chapter was about volcanoes and how one is able to discern certain types of volcanoes from one another based on differences in physical characteristics.
But while I was quizzing this student, I realized how warped the accepted educational curriculum has become, especially in the hyper-competitive academic system of the US.
Here I was, forcing this underclassman to learn some mundane difference between shield volcanoes and strato volcanoes. Yet, this student can barely write a cogent sentence, or add two negative numbers together -- let alone understand the complex physics behind magma flow and volcano shapes. But my struggling student must learn the difference if he wants to graduate (or rather pass the high school exit exam).
This is a sticky situation- the student needs to memorize the minutiae in order to pass his classes, yet at the same time the skills he needs for life are not being addressed at all (e.g. writing, basic math, working with others).
2) No child left behind leaves everybody behind
The crux of the problem is that our current public schools' curriculum is based on being able to pass a high school exit exam rather than being useful to the student once they graduate and start playing the game of life.
See, the game of life is much different from the game of school. In life, we quickly learn it's not what you know, but more like who you know and how you sell it. There isn't a "No Child Left Behind" style exit exam when you apply for a business loan or grade a policy proposal.
3) The internet has leveled the educational playing field
The education you received in the classroom used to be invaluable (because you couldn't get that information anywhere else). But with the advent of the internet (and the massive amount of printed and filmed media that accompany it), anyone can be a Rhodes Scholar if they choose to invest enough time and money. All the knowledge anyone needs to succeed is out there. The only hard part is applying it in real life.
I mean, what is the point anymore of memorizing the dates of important Civil War battles if the information can be looked up in a matter of seconds via a search engine? Indeed, what is the point in memorizing the periodic table, multiplication rules or capitals of foreign countries if all this information is available in seconds on iPhones or computers?
It would be much more advantageous to the future career of students if a course was offered on entrepreneurship instead of trigonometry. Or a course on money management and investments. Or a course on maximizing the efficiency of the brain through mental exercises. Or even just a simple, week long class on how to make friends and meet new people. Any of these courses would be more useful to the vast majority of students than psychology or European history.
4) The amount of busy work given to our students is shocking
Over the years, I've tutored several dozen high school students. Nearly all of these students struggled with effectively dealing with the amount of work they were expected to complete every night.
This tremendous amount of scholastic vapidness dumped upon America's youth every night is destroying their reasoning abilities. After all, how can they learn to properly access what's important in their own lives, if their teachers are willingly blurring the line between trite and terrific? It's plainly clear in my experience that the current public school curriculum is not teaching our students to be free thinkers. Rather, it is simply preparing them for a life of monotonous rote memorization, devoid of wonder or excitement.
There was a time not so long ago when knowledge was considered superfluous and thus only a pastime of the rich. The meaning of the term 'a scholar and a gentleman' is that a person who is retired or relies on a private income (aka 'a gentleman') can thus have the leisure time necessary to acquire frivolous book knowledge ('scholar'). But at some point in the history of the US, the opposite conclusion was reached. Now book knowledge is deemed extremely important, so much that it comes even at the expense of applicable knowledge. I think a happy medium lies in between these two opposing viewpoints, but it's clear (at least to all my high school students!) that the American educational system has gone overboard in one direction.
5) One year too much
I'm not sure about your senior year in high school, but my own was not filled with academic enlightenment or a renewed interest in the Greek and Roman classics. No, an eighteen year old who's just been given a license to drive and the ability to procure a fake ID is not sitting home at night pondering the great Stoic philosophies of ancient Greece.
Simply, high school in America is one year too long. I would argue that little, if anything, is gained in attending high school for a fourth year. Jaded eighteen year olds have no business attending school with wide-eyed fifteen year olds.
Instead, a fourth year can be focused on a specific skill set- for example, students can take the entire year to learn how to assemble and repair automobiles. This is akin to the trade schools of yesteryear. Many of the students I've tutored would jump at the idea of attending a specialized trade school in their senior year (and actually learn a skill) rather than sitting in an Oceanography class learning about marine life they'll probably never see in their lifetime.
"No more teachers, no more books, no more students' dirty looks" - Alice Cooper