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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In 1995 I posted the Student's Bill of Rights. What has changed?

More than 20 years ago I wrote something called The Students Bill of Rights. Harold Jarche tweeted it to someone yesterday and I realized it was still available online after all these years. I looked at the list and got very sad. What has changed in that period of time? Here is the list:

  1. No student should have to take a multiple choice test or fill in the blanks test

Something has changed in this area. Things have gotten worse. Now we have Common Core tests, and PISA tests, and every school being judged on how their students do on these tests. (It is a rare adult who could pass any of them.)

2. No student should have to learn something that fails to relate to a skill that is likely to be required after school.

No good news here. We still teach phylla, balancing chemical equations, and the Quadratic Formula. The fact that almost no adult ever uses this hardly seems to matter to anyone in charge.

3. No student should be required to memorize anything that is likely to be will be forgotten in six months.

No change here. Students invariably forget what they learn in school within six months. You cannot recall knowledge without constant practice that uses that knowledge. Since most of what we learn in high school we do not use later, it is mostly forgotten.

4. No student should be required to take a course where the goals of that course do not relate to the goals of the student.

Good luck with changing this. Common Core and Ivy League admissions standards have taken all choice out of the hands of the student. Don’t want to take algebra? Too bad. Not interested in History? We don’t care. Now we have added coding to that list, which is almost certainly something hardly anyone will have to do in real life.

5. No student should have to spend time passively watching or listening to someone unless there is a longer period that is devoted to doing something related to what was heard or seen.

This has simply gotten worse. Thank to MOOCs there are now more people promoting lectures.   “Online” education mostly involves listening, and reading, and answering questions. Doing is less important in school now than it was 20 years ago and it wasn’t very important then. We used to teach trade related things in school, for example. Now that everyone has to go to college, good luck with finding an electrician.

6. No student should have to jump through arbitrary  hoops decided upon by a teacher or a school system.

No change. Things are simply worse than ever in that regard. Personalized learning which should mean we will help you learn what you want to learn, really means we will keep hammering on you in order to make sure you pass the test.

7. No student should be required to continue to study something that he or she has already mastered.

There has been some change here. Mastery learning is an accepted idea and some schools are allowing students to show they have mastered something and then allow them to push on after that. But, unfortunately that mastery is usually demonstrated by a multiple choice test.

8. No student should be required to learn something unless there is the possibility of that student being able to experiment in school with what he or she has learned.

We rarely let students go out on their own to try things, which is sad because in the age of sophisticated computers they could go out and try things without leaving school. But the idea of allowing students to experiment (by that I do not mean running an experiment where it is already known how it turns out) is rarely tried.

9. No student should be barred from engaging in activities that interest him or her because  of some breadth requirements defined by the school.

Why does a college require Art History of all students? Real reason: because they don’t want to have to fire the art history faculty because no one is interested in the courses they teach. So their courses are required. My son was prevent from taking transportation related course (which was, and is, his main interest) by Columbia University because they required that he take something called ArtHum. I told him to blow it off and he got way with it, but this isn’t always easy to do. Breadth requirements are always about making sure that there are students for faculty to each so that they can retain their jobs.

10. No student should be placed in the situation of having to air his or her views on a subject where the opposing view is not also well represented.

Arguing and defending one’s ideas is something one could, and should, learn in school. But there is almost  always a right answer that the teacher believes in, or the school system believes in, or that the other kids will try to enforce. School should be a place where you can say what you want without penalty. If anything, this situation has gotten worse with the advent of safe spaces and political correctness.

School is all about marching in step rather than about self discovery. This is very sad. The enforcers of this in the U.S. are the Ivy League colleges. They define what every student must take in high school and continue with that rigidity through the first few years of college. Freedom to learn what you want, when you want, is what school should be about, but it simply isn't easy to find places that allow that.

Online education, conceived correctly, can allow students to choose from any number of things that can be learned by doing. But, professors do not want change. They like not having to really work at teaching.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Meghan Markle's Big Test

I was amused by the news that Meghan Markle needs to take a UK citizenship test in order to marry  her Prince.   The NY Times printed one for us so we could know what she had to learn:

Here are my favorite questions. I like them because  I don't know the answers to them.  I believe they are beyond idiotic and in no way a test of whether is one is fit to be a citizen:

The Union Jack contains which cross?
St. George’s
St. Peter’s
St. John’s
St. Thomas's

How long did the Hundred Years War actually last?
99 years
116 years
200 years
75 years

Which is not a cricket term?
Maiden over
Sticky wicket
Virgin bat
Bowled a googly

Who built the Tower of London?
Dame Zaha Hadid
William the Conqueror
Sir Norman Foster
Lancelot “Capability” Brown

The Butler Act of 1944 did what?
Enshrined into law the rights of butlers to have first pick of a cottage on the land of their employers upon retirement
Establish a lifetime pension for servants of the monarchy
Provided free education for servants’ children
Provided free secondary school education for all children in England and Wales

Where was Shakespeare born?
Essex, England
Gloucestershire, England
Stratford-upon-Avon, England
Manchester, England

The British Royal Navy fought the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 against:
The combined French and Spanish navies

Why do Britons eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?

To begin the new season of “The Great British Bake Off”
To honor Ireland
To use up all the eggs, milk and fat in the home before fasting for Lent
To prepare for marathons

The distance between John O’Groats on the north coast of Scotland and Land’s End in the southwest of England is:
870 miles
1,000 miles
650 miles
999 miles

What did the Chartists campaign for in the 1800s?
Women’s right to vote
The right to vote for 18-year-olds
To raise the voting age to 21
The right to vote for all men, including those from the working class

What’s not true about British television?
U.K. households need a TV license to watch live TV, even on a computer or smartphone
You can be fined up to 1,000 pounds if you watch live TV without a license
Blind people get a 50 percent discount for a TV license
The BBC is the second-largest broadcaster in the world

In the 1960s, when a woman got married, it was not unusual for:
The church to demand she no longer work
Her employer to cut her wages
Her employer to shower her with maternity pay and child-care vouchers
Her employer to ask her to quit her job

Of course I am not British but I have spent a fair amount of time in the U.K. Oddly none of this ever came up. Just to be clear, we have a citizenship test in the U.S. too, which is just stupid. Here are some questions from it:

What is the "rule of law"?

A Everyone but the President must follow the law.
B Government does not have to follow the law.
C Everyone must follow the law.
D All laws must be the same in every state.

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?

A youngest member of the Constitutional Convention
B inventor of the airplane
C third president of the United States
D U.S. diplomat

The House of Representatives has how many voting members?

A four hundred thirty-five (435) 
B four hundred forty-one (441)
C two hundred (200)
D one hundred (100)

What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?
A Atlantic Ocean
B Indian Ocean
C Pacific Ocean
D Arctic Ocean

What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

A the Louisiana Territory
B Alaska
C Hawaii
D Quebec

I happen to be staring at the above mentioned ocean as I write this. I know its name, so I could pass the test, but how is that something that indicates that I am a good citizen of the U.S.? Wouldn't the real questions be whether I was willing to help my country if called upon to do so, and if I am good local citizen, a good neighbor for example, someone willing to help others in their time of need? I am rather sure that terrorists know the name of the oceans bordering the U.S. I am also quite sure that not knowing the number of representatives in the House means absolutely nothing with respect to being a good citizen.

So what are they really asking Meghan Markle to do? First they are asking her to make up for the fact that she didn't study British history in high school. What did she miss out on by growing up in the U.S.? Here are thing she surely missed out on learning:

1.Who the chartists were

I had no idea. Then I did something radical. I Googled it. Now I know. Except I have already forgotten it because I don’t care.

2. The distance between someplace in the U.K. to another place in the U.K.

I will not Google that. How could that possibly matter to me (or to Meghan)?

3. Who built the Tower of London.

I have been there are few times so I guess some tour guide mentioned it, but here again I don’t care. Should Meghan care?

Now, that is the real question. I can well see that the British might care that Meghan know a great deal about the new country she will be living in and representing. The questions in this test might actually matter to her in her new life. But to every immigrant wanting to become a British citizen? That makes no sense at all.

Yes, we have school. And school is about indoctrination. So what the demand that she pass this test is really about is that it would look funny if she didn’t know the stuff that every British school child has had to memorize.

It does make sense for her to learn some British history. And certainly she needs to know that she will need a license for her TV in the U.K. because surely that will be her responsibility in her new castle.

Of course, the real question is that if you are going to make people take a citizenship test, which makes no sense, but governments are rarely trying to make sense, what should be on it? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Questions about empathy for others
  2. Questions about one’s willingness to sacrifice for others
  3. Questions about one’s responsibilities in society
  4. Questions about one’s country’s responsibilities in the world 
  5. Questions about what a citizen can do to take action on things that he or she cares about.
  6. Questions about one’s civil rights and protections offered by the government .

There are things citizens should know about their new country. But these tests are pure nonsense, as is every multiple choice test that has ever been created. In real life we don’t take quizzes. As I have said before, the only government agency that gets it about tests is the bureau that issues drivers licenses and they only half get it. They have two tests. One that is completely idiotic, and another that actually tests to see if you can drive. 

The time has come to abandon multiple choice tests in every area of life, forever. Put people in situations (in simulation, or in real life) and see if they can do it.  No one needs to know how long the Hundred Year War lasted.