I’m going to weigh in here on the debate raging in the halls of the Texas legislature regarding class size in the lower elementary grades of public school: the whole system is flawed and needs to be scrapped.
How much money do school districts really need to effectively educate their students? Does money spent equal educated minds? Based on the drop out rates and test scores, I think not. Public schools would do well to take a page from the homeschooling handbook and learn that less is, in fact, more.
Jesus taught with a stick in the sand. I can think of no more effective teacher than He, and even those who are not Christians but who have read his teachings would agree that He was full of wisdom. Effective teachers know how to encourage maximum learning out of a minimum of supplies.
It seems to me that many school systems are confusing the means of educating with actual education. Today they spend many tax dollars on laptops for every student (as well as paying for maintenance and repairs to those laptops). Back in the day when I taught public school, the system used tax dollars to purchase reading books that none…read NONE…of the teachers actually used because they realized the content within was drivel. Instead we raided the school’s storage room and dug out the old reading basal text readers, some of which I recognized from my own schooling!
Some of my best teaching moments happened when I gave students a piece of paper with a squiggle drawn on it and had them turn the squiggle into something. Then these first graders wrote a sentence about the picture they created. We learned about the mechanics of handwriting, grammar rules, the components of a complete sentence, and main idea, all without using a fancy colored workbook. Simple, but effective.
Modeling is the key to effective teaching, and having the chance to do something with what they’ve learned is the key to lifelong learning. This structure simply is not possible in the factory-like atmosphere of today’s public schools. Students are viewed as products, and the grades they progress through are like assembly lines. We input information in their brains in the same format, day in and day out, year after year, and expect them to turn into well educated young adults when they reach the end of the line. Unfortunately, many students are not cut out to be the kind of products that public schools want to produce. Johnny is more suited to working while standing up. Sitting still makes his eyes cross. He was created to take things apart and put them back together. He spends so much energy making himself sit still that he doesn’t pay attention to the teacher’s lecture. Even if he could pay attention to the teacher, he wouldn’t be able to remember it because his brain needs the chance to take the concept apart and put it back together again.
The factory school concept doesn’t work well for Amelia, either. She’s so bright that her hand is always raised in the air to answer the teacher’s questions. She challenges the status quo in her thinking, and her need for precision in questions leads her to give answers that, although are not what the teacher intended, are, in fact, logically correct. She frustrates her teachers because she asks tough questions, and she in turn gets frustrated and browbeaten when her technically correct, logical answers are counted as incorrect by teachers who want all their students to be and think the same.
This sameness is why our educational system is failing. Treating students — and teachers — as if they are all made of the same cloth has produced generations of followers and not very many leaders.
I could write on this topic until my fingers bled. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Weapons of Mass Instruction that details a teacher’s journey through public education — it is far darker than the everyday person would have thought. As I read more, I’m sure I’ll find more soapboxes on which to opine!