Re[6]: The school game

Dave Lewis (dkl@IWAYNET.NET)
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 23:36:10 -0400

Pardon me for the late and lengthy entry in this fascinating thread, but I
think the thread is an important one with implications for both k-12 and
university folks and how they need to collaborate. Of course it reaches far
beyond the subject of this list, but ya gotta start somewhere and this is
were it's happenin.

There's something to what Mike is saying -- as a k-12 practicioner in a
large urban district, I can attest to the fact that there are serious
problems with the public k-12 educational system. But, as Becky has so ably
pointed out, k-12 does not deserve all the blame that Mike is apportioning.

Regarding the disparity between teachers' salaries and professional athletes:
A) teachers don't help an entity earn money as a professional athlete or
entertainer does - you're comparing radishes and spinach
B) teachers earn _lots_ more than they used to (although the cost of living
in AA must be pretty high if the *average* teacher there earns $50k! it's
only about $35k in Cowlumbus)

I prefer to compare the amount of money that we spend per capita annually
for educating a kid and for housing and feeding an incarcerated felon. (No,
I didn't look up the numbers, but you know what I'm saying is valid.) And
okay, so I'm a lifelong liberal, but I strongly believe that a
better-educated populace is less likely to be incarcerated -- at least not
as often or as long. But the general population seems to feel that the less
money we have to spend on education, the better; and that we need to build
more prisons.

WRT universities requiring additional writing courses:
Remember that "schools" teach _all_ students, not just the college-bound.
As a matter of fact, only a small fraction (<20%) of our students go to
college. It makes sense to me that some more sophisticated aspects of
writing (hey, I'm not a rhetorician, just a k-12 practicioner) will be
encountered at university. (I don't recall having to take any writing
courses in college, but that was back in the '50s when kids were good and
learned what they were supposed to in high school. =8-)

The two major problems, IMHO, with the school game as currently played at
both k-12 and university levels are (1) the expected teaching methods
(lecture and rigidly structured, highly simplified activities, at least in
high school, which is my area) and (2) the disassembly of "knowledge" into
neat, easily-digested, well-ordered, (and, thus incomprehensible to most)

Almost all teachers - even some of those universally admired as "good"
teachers - teach as they were taught and as the system expects them to --
namely in the authoritarian, "sage on the stage" mode. If they didn't,
their kids might get excited, their classrooms might get noisy (and
_everyone_ knows that there's no learning going on in a noisy classroom),
they might work in groups (isn't that called 'cheating?'), and they might
write notes back and forth (also disruptive, isn't it?).
Almost all students - even some universally acknowledged as troublemakers
and poor students - understand the school game as it has been taught to
them over the years. Many chose not to play the game. (And they are the
ones I'm most concerned about - they games the _do_ chose to play really
scare me!) For the most part, college-bound students play it well. (After
all, the whole purpose for k-12 education is to prepare you to compete for
a seat in a well-regarded university, isn't it? Any actually useful
information or skills you might learn along the way are bonuses.)

Knowledge and skills are fragmented into "subjects" ('we don't care about
spelling here - this is a science class') and further fragmented into
"objectives" to be mastered, as measured by some inane multiple choice test
(A first-class lever has: (a) the fulcrum between the effort and the
resistance (b) the effort between the fulcrum and the resistance). Kids
playing the school game 'learn' bits and pieces of knowledge, but hardly
ever get a chance to try to integrate them into anything meaningful, much
less something they might be remotely interested in. They pass tests, they
do not "learn." Kids choosing not to play the game don't pass the tests and
drop out of school as soon as they can.

The solution is almost as drastic as Mike has suggested throw out the bath
water and the tub. (I think we have to save the baby, Darlene, she's what
the whole thing is about!) We do need a new model tub and, perhaps,
something different in the water -- to push the symbolism a bit too far.

We're trying to do things differently here, but it's not easy to change
almost everything we've always done. We're moving slowly toward
student-centered, technology-rich, project-based, integrated curricula.
(Part of the slowness is due to the perpetual lack of sufficient funds for
new technology and for the professional development required to acquire the
new paradigm.) Some of us, at least, are certain this is where we must
As Eric has said:
>>But if students were freed from that junk *and* were
>>given both the freedom to follow their own interests
>>*and* supportive guidance to help them pursue those
>>interests productively, then motivation would cease
>>to be a problem. Students who are driven by their own
>>passion rather than coerced by an Authority are unstoppable.
>>The big problem for teachers of those students is managing
>>to keep up with them!
And he could be talking about 3rd graders as easily as university 'kids'!


Dave Lewis | Don't be afraid to take a big step.
Educational Technology Specialist | You can't cross a chasm in two small | jumps. -David Lloyd George