By Professor Doom
I’m hardly alone in suspecting something has gone terribly wrong in education. John Taylor Gatto has done an amazing job of explaining what’s going on, identifying that our current system is designed to keep people ignorant, through a process of enstupidation. Beyond his excellent writing, I find what he has to say important because he has important credentials: he wasn’t just a teacher, he received big awards for being an excellent teacher.
This is important to me, because it was something I noticed in graduate school, and in the years immediately following grad school: the smart people were getting the heck out of academia. I noticed it at the time, but my sagaciousness fused with my stupidity, preventing me from connecting the dots: I figured I’d look better on the curve if there were less geniuses to compete with me.
Now, of course, I realize I should have taken the hint, and followed in the footsteps of the smarter people. That said, I don’t regret continuing my studies of mathematics, climbing upon the shoulders of the giants of mathematical thought that have come before me, and seen things only those few who also struggled through the climb have ever seen.
“Excuse me, professor.”
---one of these is the greeting I received many times when at a school of ill repute that mostly just ripped off students that didn’t know better. The other is from a more respectable school. I’ve leave the gentle reader to ponder, and guess which came from which.
I also don’t regret teaching; it’s honorable work, and when I’m at a legitimate school, I know I’m actually helping people to achieve their goals, or at least there’s a chance I’m helping. Sometimes I even get people to climb up with me and see the wonders of mathematics, though I’m content if I only help them to achieve their goals, if not also my own.
So, it worries me greatly when a teacher, one of obvious passion and ability, decides to leave the profession, not because of a higher calling, but because the teacher no longer feels there’s honor in the profession.
Much like police officers against the drug war, or psychiatric practitioners against psychiatry, it worries me quite a bit when there’s a movement within a profession to give up (or reduce) their paychecks, because they realize the profession is doing harm.
John Taylor Gatto is not a movement, of course…but it’s happened again:
So, once again, we’ve got a top teacher who has had enough. While Gatto left because he had learned that public/government education was harming students, this top teacher’s reasons are a bit different:
What is even more insidious, is that special needs students have been left out of the mix to fall by the wayside. By that I mean, while they are normally allowed to have helps for their disability (like having the test read aloud), they are not allowed any such thing with PARCC. Which means that PARCC is acting outside and above the law with a "survival of the fittest" standard. Starr demonstrates the irony of all the children becoming "left behind" in this new system.
Her issues aren’t merely with the insane standardized testing that is much of government education today, but also with the bizarre Common Core “standards” that honestly seem designed to (further) debilitate the ability of our children to think, to understand information they receive, and to distinguish the occasional glimmer of truth from the tsunami of lies. I’ve certainly written of some of the critical problems of Common Core, myself, so I understand her valid concerns.
One of her reasons for quitting, however, I can’t entirely get behind:
“I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere,” adding, “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”
I certainly agree the “one size fits all” pace is a bad idea to apply to every child in the country (doesn’t that seem, well, obvious?), but what’s so wrong with “drill ‘em and kill ‘em”?
Students are flooding onto campuses with literally no measurable knowledge, no noticeable skills. More importantly, they don’t have a clue how to gain knowledge, how to gain skills. Google is great for looking up information, mind you, but honest, after 12 years of even government education, students should know something without having to look it up. How many “man on the street” interviews with people that obviously don’t know even basic facts must we all laugh at, before realizing that these ignorant people are products of the modern school system?
In addition to some actual skills and knowledge, our students should also have some memory of how to learn things, how to learn skills. Unfortunately, skills are only gained through practice. Yes, it’s dull. Yes, it takes time and concentration (and that means turning the cell phone off for a bit).
And no, we don’t do that in schools any more, and our top teachers are quitting the profession at the thought having students do what it takes, what it has always taken since the dawn of civilization, to gain skills.
So, I’m sorry to see a top teacher leave, and I worry that it will start a movement where we lose all the best people.
But what worries me more? Nobody in the comments asked “how are our children supposed to learn skills if they don’t actually do any drills?” I ask the gentle reader to consider an 8th grade exam from a century ago, and realize that everything on that exam is learned through drill, study, and practice…activities that no longer exist in our schools, and that our teachers would quit rather than perform.
Realize also that almost nobody can do any part of that exam today. The valuable skills of a century ago are not valued today, but most people escape school with no skills comparable to anything on that old test that would be of value today. Ask yourself if maybe, indeed, something has gone horribly wrong in education.
Our best teachers are asking themselves that question, and deciding to do something else.