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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

ADHD, Test Cheating Scandals, Ivy League admissions, and the state of education today

Today I happened to glance at Time Magazine on line and saw these three headlines on the front page:

Ivy League Schools Accepting Even Fewer Kids

Understanding the Rise in ADHD Diagnoses: 11% of U.S. Children Are Affected

What’s Really Scandalous About the School Testing Scandal

Taken together they tell an interesting story of our education system don’t they? Kids are behaving badly in school so we drug them into submission. Teachers are being judged by the test scores their students produce, so they are inclined to risk jail and cheat. And, last but not least, the Ivy League Schools are taking less kids (well, not really, what the Time headline writer meant to say was that they were getting more applicants and rejecting more kids.)

What story do these three stories tell when seen as one story? -- Wow have we made a mess of our education system! 

Now, let me provide three radical solutions to these three problems. They will be seen as weird of course. All I ask is that people think about them.

  1. ADHD: solution: close the schools. 

Yes, I know, that is too weird for words. I also saw an article about arming teachers and putting police in every school. The solution there? Close the schools.

School is an awful place. Do the adults reading this really remember school fondly? Do they remember sitting in classes and loving listening to the teacher and taking tests? Maybe you had a nice social life with the other kids outside of school, but school itself? It doesn’t work. ADHD isn’t real. It just means that kids can’t focus on doing stuff that bores them to death. I was always in trouble in school. They didn’t have ADHD back then or else I would have  been drugged too. I hated school (but somehow got to be a full professor at Yale before I was 30 -- I didn’t hate thinking hard, just school.)

The alternative? School is really about day care so I propose day care centers manned by specialty teachers who encourage kids to learn what they want to learn. This would be easy to do in an online age. Materials to learn anything could be available. Projects could be designed by experts and teachers could mentor kids who want to learn. Compulsory schooling is a dead idea. Only a matter of time until formal school must go away.

  1. Testing: enough already

Behind testing we find all the publishing and test grading companies, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and a cabal or business people who simply don’t care about kids. The tests test nothing worth knowing. Apart from reading, writing, and arithmetic, all the other stuff really doesn’t matter. Why don't we teach job skills in school? Why don’t we teach life skills in school? The reason is simple. We used to. But now everyone has to go to college. I am not sure why everyone has to go to college except that most every politician thinks so, every rich person trying to do good in education thinks so, and nearly every parent seems to think so. So it must be true. We could, of course, change the high school curriculum and teach stuff more useful than say algebra or literature, but we won’t. We could also build curricula  ( on line or face to face) where you can learn real job skills. I vote for that one.

  1. Ivy League School acceptance rates

Really, who cares? Kids who apply care, I guess. Parents (especially ones in New York City it appears) care. I never went to an Ivy League school. I taught at them but could have never gotten into them (since I hated high school remember?)

To put this in perspective, consider what you are missing if you don’t get into Yale. You are missing the possibility of majoring the the following subjects.

Anthropology (B.A.)
Applied Mathematics (B.A. or B.S.)
Architecture (B.A.)
Art (B.A.)
Astronomy (B.A.)

And those are just the A’s. Real job skills there eh? Or, consider G through L:

Geology and Geophysics (B.A. or B.S.)
German (B.A.)
History (B.A.)
Humanities (B.A.)
Italian (B.A.)
Japanese (B.A.)
Linguistics (B.A.)
Literature (B.A.)

Attending an Ivy league school is so important that a slight increase in applications causes headlines. But no one ever looks to see what one learns there.

Can you learn something practical at Yale? Harder than you think. I was a professor of Computer Science there. (Notice I left out the C’s.) But even Computer Science isn’t a practical subject at Yale. It is mostly theory. And the students don’t want to learn anything practical. They have been trained to think that they should be the intellectual elite and practice is well, too practical.

At a meeting of Freshman at Yale, back in 1981 when I was chairman of Computer Science there, I suggested that the best reason to major in Computer Science was so you could get a job. The students reaction: they booed me.

We have got something seriously screwed up in our collective minds about school and education. Learning is supposed to be fun. Learning is supposed to be useful. We seem to have forgotten all that and simply want drugged kids who perform well on tests and get into Yale. I taught a lot of those kids. They weren’t so interesting to teach, trust me.

1 comment:

Audrey Woita said...

Agreed...on all accounts. Closing schools and hiring specially trained teachers at day care to support those who ready to learn (Montessorian).

As a public school teacher in Los Angeles and Colorado, I agree that schools are not for thinking or learning but test-taking.

Please continue to share your opinions...doubt you need encouragement but here's some from St Louis, anyway!