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Those Who Can't... - The Beginning Of My Ascendance — LiveJournal
April 13th, 2007
10:46 pm

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Those Who Can't...

I want to rant about education.

This has been building up in me for years (as many English teachers at parties I've attended have discovered), but juggernt's recent rhetorical comment brought it to the surface. I haven't done a non-Magic rant in a while, so why not give it a go and see if my muscles are soft?

His point was the oft-mentioned cliche that, "wouldn't it be nice if teachers were paid as much as celebrities and athletes".

As a person whose family and friends are filled with teachers, I have one thing to say to that, Puh-lease. Is 10-16 weeks of vacation not enough?

Have you seen what they teach in school these days? When we start finding teachers who know how to really teach, and realize what should be taught versus rote learning and archaic literature (Shakespeare, I'm looking at you), *then* maybe they'll start earning a bit more coin.

Our school systems are based on 19th century "what a gentleman should know" type of learning versus things that are useful for improving your life and improving society. Schools rush computers into the classrooms even though they've been repeatedly proven not to improve (and potentially hurt) learning or grades (duh!). Schools teach Latin and Shakespeare and 2-dimensional Geometry while ignoring basic economics and politics that might help students become productive and contribute to the society around them (or at least improve the quality of their voting). Where's the critical thought? Where's the ability to see biased writing, understand statistics and be skeptical of government and advertising? People and team skills? Anyone? Anyone?

You know what was, by far, the most valuable class for me in high school? Typing. It got me high paying jobs all through high school and university, and had me working with computers all the time learning word processing and spreadsheet skills. It is closely followed by Computer Science and Economics where I learned coding and decision-making skills as simple as opportunity cost. None of those courses are mandatory.

You know what was easily the most useless set of courses? English. That's a course you have to take throughout high school up here in Canada. I love reading and writing and in the appropriate situation, I'm not a bad speaker. But none of that is due to what I learned in English where my marks fluctuated wildly depending on my relationship with the teacher. What about French? Most of English Canada needs to take French and yet very few of us can actually understand a native speaker. Give us a red octagonal sign with "Arrêt" though, and we can both tell you what it means and conjugate it! Math? Why not un-inspire generations of children by making it boring and seemingly inapplicable?

That leads me to the worst crime - the methods of teaching. Teachers and textbooks make it look like everything is already known. I read Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and afterwards I wanted to jump up and start taking a degree in both paleontology and biology because I never realized how much is still waiting to be discovered. But all through school there was a feeling of nothing new to be explored and all the big problems had been solved. There are millions of kids out there who have memorized hundreds, if not thousands, of Magic cards and song lyrics and television shows (or improved their language skills with roleplaying games) because they're fun, but they can't figure out how to get kids learning the basics of primary subjects or inspire them to go into the sciences. We can't even get them to read!

Where are the goals? Some kids will want to make lots of money, show them how! Others will want to help people or learn about the world around them, still others will want to teach or lead or build or drive subways (though I can't possibly imagine anyone who really wants to do that - they deserve the big money). What do we do about that? Nothing! We teach them all the same subjects, the same way they were taught to us and to our parents before us. The theory is that if you teach the basics, the rest can be figured out, but we seem to have forgotten how to teach application.

I realize that this is somewhat similar to blaming government workers for the sorry state of the government. It's not entirely the fault of the educator, but they're hardly guilt-free, especially as many of them go on to help design curriculums and policy. There are lots of bad teachers out there, and there are lots of mediocre teachers out there. But similarly, there are lots of not-so-good actors and athletes and they're not making a lot of money either.

Where are the great teachers? The ones that inspire students, that challenge them? That make students better people for having attended the class, not just a bigger bucket of facts? Get them together and I assure you that within a generation, they'll be living in big houses and attending the best parties.

Granted there are different levels of education. It's been a while since I've attended primary schooling, but seeing how it turns out later, I suspect the beginnings aren't so different. And university education is just as bad - everything I learned from university was by accident!

The education system is a massive failure, and the teachers are its guardians and propagators. They don't deserve to be paid more until they start producing a better product. Unfortunately, I don't see the people demanding such an improvement until they become better educated!

Current Mood: rejuvenatedrejuvenated
Current Music: Alice Cooper - "School's Out"
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From:bonerici
Date:April 14th, 2007 06:19 am (UTC)
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Have you seen what they teach in school these days? When we start finding teachers who know how to really teach, and realize what should be taught versus rote learning and archaic literature (Shakespeare, I'm looking at you), *then* maybe they'll start earning a bit more coin.


backwards. would you go up to a car mechanic and say "I'm only paying you $5 to fix my transmission, and not a penny more until you fix it right!"

If you pay a lot of money for teachers, that means that people who normally would be doing brain surgery or financial transactions for a hedge fund would be teaching tots. The truth is that we don't value education that highly. The real reason that we have an educational system that keeps kids in school for years and years is that child labor is illegal.

All you have to do is repeal the child labor laws, and suddenly the schools would empty, and the competition for students would be so fierce that they would have to teach you something valuable.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 14th, 2007 07:00 am (UTC)

Where are the great teachers? or Paying for A, hoping for B...

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I think the point of "the oft-mentioned cliche that, 'wouldn't it be nice if teachers were paid as much as celebrities and athletes'" isn't meant to suggest that teachers are currently underpaid, but that societal priorities are out of whack. The implicit assumption in this argument is that the more highly paid professions attract more competent people. By setting a teacher's salary to place them somewhere in the "middle class", we are suggesting that educating children is substantially less important than suing your neighbour, being seven feet tall and dunking a basketball, or making databases to perpetuate an inefficient bureaucracy. As a result, a person with above average ability (or genetic freaks) will focus on attaining one of the aforementioned, highly paid professions, while less competent people will settle into lower paying jobs (yeah, I know they're _really_ doing it 'cause they love kids and want to make a difference...).

By paying athletes and entertainers outrageous salaries and public school teachers relatively little we, as a society, are saying "I place significantly more value on being personally entertained for 1/2 an hour a week, than I do on properly educating children". This affects a teacher's ability to teach as well. Children who are public school age will generally be awestruck by a celebrity and, out of respect, listen to every retarded thing 50 Cent or Tom Cruise has to say. However, they will consider their homeroom teacher as some dipshit to be humiliated/ignored because if they knew anything they'd be famous and make millions.

I'm not sure I see where you're going with the rest of your argument...

"Our school systems are based on 19th century "what a gentleman should know" type of learning versus things that are useful for improving your life and improving society. Schools rush computers into the classrooms even though they've been repeatedly proven not to improve (and potentially hurt) learning or grades (duh!)."

Are you saying that schools _shouldn't_ rush computers into classrooms? They seem pretty useful (at least the one I'm using does) and why would you care if they don't improve learning what you consider to be useless information?

"Schools teach Latin and Shakespeare and 2-dimensional Geometry while ignoring basic economics and politics that might help students become productive and contribute to the society around them...You know what was, by far, the most valuable class for me in high school? Typing...closely followed by Computer Science and Economics."

So the most important classes for you were directly related to your profession? I would bet for physicists/astronomers/mathematicians basic math was pretty important. I would also imagine that for writers and actors english and drama were pretty important. Latin is probably a good basis for anyone who wants/needs to speak any of the Romance languages. Seems to me, it's a good thing that there was such a wide variety of classes so you could find what would ultimately be valuable to you.

"Where's the critical thought? Where's the ability to see biased writing, understand statistics and be skeptical of government and advertising? People and team skills?"

The short answer is University.

"What about French?"

HELLS YA! That's more of a problem with the official bilingualism policy than anything else. I would've much rather learned Spanish or Chinese. Then again, I still wouldn't be able to speak either of those now.

If you want to discuss the rest of the post, we can do it over the phone. For now I'll have to give you a C, but if you do a rewrite and address my comments I'll bump it up to a B...
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From:naughtybunny
Date:April 14th, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)
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I've been enjoying your recent magical rants, and I'm glad to see you posting this stuff as well. Good read. My 2c:

I'm a highschool dropout. It wasn't because I lacked intelligence, it's because I lacked motivation. I was in the so called "gifted" programs throughout primary school, and by 8th grade had knocked out trig, calc, algebra 2, and every science and english course available. Not because I was interested, but because they were available. After that, I filled my day with electives that I really enjoyed. In 9th grade, my day went something like this:

1st period: swimming
2nd period: orchestra
3rd period: band
4th period: lunch
5th period: jazz band
6th period: chamber orchestra
7th period: physics
8th period: social sciences

Ahh, now that was some useful education!

In 10th grade, I transferred to a highschool in Michigan that didn't accept those credits, and was told I'd have to retake all of the honors courses to get credit. By 11th grade, I realized I could be more productive (and make good money) by just leaving highschool and joining the workforce. Why go through the daily grind of learning and relearning things that had no application in the everyday world I lived in? So I dropped out and got my GED in 11th grade (saving myself a year of nonsense) and immediately started making 6 figures.

Over the course of my education, I can think of only 2 teachers that really made an impact on me. The first is my 9th grade social sciences teacher. His teaching method? Ask questions! Find out how we thought about the world, and why. He based his curriculum on why we were there, what we wanted to learn, not what the book said we "should" learn. The second teacher was my orchestra teacher in high school. She saw talent and drive in me and fanned those flames. She helped me learn new instruments (at that point I was just cello and sax) in order to get me into more music electives. She took a personal interest in my education, and to this day I thank her for it.

All that said, I muddled my way through school the best I could, given the state of our educational system. It's clearly flawed, and needs some serious attention. I'd be surprised if it got it though....

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From:yud
Date:April 15th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)
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Have you read The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto? If not, I'd definitely recommend it. It's available online here.

The book boils down to the fact that the public school system in America, as it exists today, was deliberately created for turning children into mindless corporate drones, not for turning them into independent thinkers. It's a very interesting read.
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From:glimmering_star
Date:April 16th, 2007 11:38 am (UTC)
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Oh Matt... I can't wait for you to have children.
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From:vienneau
Date:April 28th, 2007 06:42 pm (UTC)
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It will stress me out! I'll be constantly undermining their educators and encouraging my children to ask pointed questions. I tried it with my brother, but he never seemed too keen to challenge authority (except if it's my mom) - I'll have to make sure I channel a more aggressive nature into my progeny.
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