Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Education & How To Fix It

Some say education is broken because people want it that way, that it reflects society's wishes.

Isn't it more that very few of the public has much say, or much concern, about what is included in curriculum, preferring to focus on budgets and on what is kept OUT of the curriculum?

In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynmann, the Nobel Prize for Physics winning scientist tells of spotting errors in his son's math book. Thinking he'd be welcome, he attended a school board meeting and asked that the texts be changed. He at once learned that fixing errors, even in math texts, is so cost-prohibitive, and so onerous a chore, that no one ever does it. He further learned that school boards had little to no say in text content. And he was outraged to learn that the errors were of no concern among the majority on the board, which was much more focused on budget, and on keeping their pet peeve issues from making inroads.

It's a sobering, chastising story and should sicken everyone. We've fallen to absurdly low levels in education, science, math, medicine, and even art, thanks to government meddling and high-handed textbook publishers.

Why blame publishers? Their outrageous prices for their texts have translated into stagnation for curricula in financially strapped school systems. They need the money to keep the building from falling down -- although most schools are falling apart along with all the rest of America's infrastructure, also thanks to government greed and neglect, and don't get me started on the outrageous spending for football teams, stadiums, and so on, to the neglect of all else-- so they defer and delay buying new texts year after year until you have situations, as I experienced growing up, in which kids are learning from literally the same physical books their parents learned from.

When I went to school we had out-dated maps and had to learn them in order to conform to the out-dated tests based upon those maps. How is this education? It is, instead, absurd conformity to dogmatic, and static, curricula. It is learning by rote without regard to content.

Out-dated texts, out-moded teaching materials, and decrepit equipment all conspire to graduate students ignorant of basics mastered by much younger children in most other countries. Bravo, No Child Left Behind, a cynical and vile program dedicated to ensuring the abject failure of public schools in order to divert public money to private pockets, where the education is biased, partisan, and not only useless, but harmful.

How can we deal with all this?

With the advent of the digital age, there is no longer any cost worth mentioning involved in correcting errors, and no excuse for not keeping all subjects up-to-date and informative, with plenty of interactive multi-disciplinary multi-media links and hypertexts and so on. Replace books with laptops or even iPods and you can attain this easily, and for a one-time cost that is far cheaper than replacing text books.

So there's the simple solution. Oh, and keeping special interest groups out of education would help, too, along with paying teachers as the professionals they should be. Standards can be set and maintained for teachers, and for curricula. It's a simple matter of the public realizing this and insisting on it.

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