The Battle of Who Could Learn Less
Let’s talk about sustained reading. It’s the process by which kids learn to read quickly and comprehend higher percentages of information upon the first reading. In a perfect educational system, sustained reading would happen all on its own, as kids are put to the task of reading and being tested on information, and therefore get into the habit of understanding what they read at an increasingly quickening pace. Yet, around second grade, the teaching trick of “read the chapter and answer the questions in the back” while the teacher attends to other business besides teaching the classroom full of students in front of them becomes “read the questions in the back and look for the answers.” And as quickly as that, sustained reading is lost.
Let’s talk about understanding wrong answers. A classroom full of students is put to a specific task, which will require the end result of a list of answers. A teacher will then announce to the class the correct answers, have the incorrect answers marked off, and all papers then come to the teacher for a punishment in the form of a lower numerical attachment based on the number of answers wrong. Never do the students understand where they went wrong, and therefore no learning was actually attained. But what if the teacher calls on the student? If Billy is called on, then Billy is being tested. His knowledge may or may not increase, depending of how receptive he is to understanding the question he’s just been asked to answer. But at least he’s being tested. Yet the rest of the class just watches, and sighs if their answer didn’t match the correct one. “Thank god I wasn’t picked,” they think to themselves. Nothing is learned.
Actual useful information is hardly ever attained. I’m baffled by the amount of excess information I have stored in memory. Anything from Mao Tse-Tung’s Little Red Book to the classifications of plants have been forcefully placed into my head, and now collect dust in the great big shelves in my brain labeled “useless information.” This in itself is, as far as I’m concerned, a crime. I don’t need to know this information. It will never come in handy to me in future endeavors, yet my future almost depended on me knowing such ridiculous things as how to speak fluent Latin. Without the high numerical attachment given to me for going through such obsolete tasks, I couldn’t move on to a higher and more controlled educational system that might actually further my mind and, consequently, allow me to start a fruitful career.
Regardless, what we learn isn’t even the root of the problem. HOW we learn is. For thirteen years (fourteen with the unneeded “pre-first”), we’re sat down in front of mainly unenthusiastic teachers and force-fed information from all genres of knowledge. We are then asked to repeat this information, usually without any comprehension needed, on a piece of paper. We rarely see this information show up again, and therefore, over time, label this information “useless” and forget it. This pattern gets very old very quickly, and soon students train themselves to quickly memorize facts, retain them for a period of time that will allow them to put the majority of it down on the test paper, and then forget them. We teach our brains to be sponges. The “real world” (that world which is outside of the school environment) doesn’t require sponges. The “real world” requires safety deposit boxes, and sometimes we learn that mental skill in college. Sometimes we never do.
We need a system that is flexible enough to focus on a student’s interests, while still vaguely exposing the student to areas outside that interest. Classes we have now don’t do anything of the sort. If a student shows an excellent ability and interest in writing, then one-fourth of that student’s grade should not depend on how well he or she can calculate the velocity of a shooting star. When the strengths of a student aren’t capitalized on or at least expanded upon, then the student’s interest in quickly lost. That’s when the educational system loses.
Some people start questioning the validity of college, but I really do think we need to look earlier into our educational system. The fundamental grounds of the system are so weakly constructed that a student needs to go far and beyond what is required of him to actually make the time spent in school productive. We need a system that doesn’t just ask students to retain and reproduce information, but a system that actually allows kids to think for themselves. There are too many people that succeed in high school by training themselves to quickly retain pages of information, but then drown in life due to a lack of innovation or creative ideas. Life isn’t a scan-tron test. Students need to know that.