Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The NYT Puzzles About Schools and How to Fix Them

"Are Our High Schools Obsolete?" asks the NYT.

Easy. They have been "obsolete" for a long, long time. I remember when I won a scholarship to go to school in Germany. Back then, the kids went to school six days a week and had much fewer days off than American kids. No long summer vacation for them!

I was a top student in America, took college courses on the side while in high school, played in not one but two orchestras, chorus and track team. I thought I was top of the top. I wasn't an exchange student, I was a full, for real Gymasium student!

Then reality hit: I was so behind everyone. They wrote essays every week. We did one about twice a year in America. I loved writing (as readers of this blog can see) but this took me by surprise. In every course I was a million miles behind. Took a lot of patient turoring from amused fellow students to catch up. When I came home, I began to agitate for changes in the system, alarmed at how far behind we Americans were. You probably know, not one of my suggestions was implimented.

The easiest one to do is the hardest: get rid of summer vacation!

Impossible. So we slag along. I used computers for my kids so they could learn during the summer. Then they had to endure two months of "review" as the more sluggard students had to repeat 50% of what they "learned" the previous year. This brainless school schedule left over from the farming past continues to destroy any attempts as fixing what is wrong with our schools.

Bill Gates evidently wants smaller classrooms. I believe we need multi age one room school houses where the teacher is the be all and end all. I like this letter in the NYT:

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman argues, following John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, that "comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship - the only sustainable edge."

In other words, students and others need to be brought up to speed regarding technological advances, or we will be overtaken by other countries that are educating their citizens more rapidly than we are.

Having worked on computer-aided instruction for a number of years, I can attest to the typical response of educators when I suggest that my program might help students learn and retain knowledge more proficiently than the traditional approach: total silence.

It does not bode well.

William Vaughan Jr.
Chebeague Island, Me.
April 29, 2005

As my previous article notes, kids interface with computers with amazing speed and learn astonishingly fast using this wonderful tool.

Many adults have trouble understanding this. They think, computers will make kids antisocial. Yet I watch "geeky" kids with their computers. They talk animatedly, they share both verbally and in writing, sending messages or visiting forums and such, a complex interaction on several levels at once, their eyes alive with excitement. Where, oh where is the sullen, difficult, angry student? I see them not, at least, not when they are messing around with their computers.

And they don't just goof off. They mess with the coding, they mess with web sites, they seek information. My son was the font of information about ancient Norse Gods and Goddesses, just for example, thanks to his devotion to some of the games he plays.

The concept that people will learn what they want to learn is hard to learn, isn't it?

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