Education · Teacher Training

“The scores had gone up, but the students were not better educated.”

The headline is from Diane Ravitch’s new book, Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I haven’t read the book, but Stanley Fish, over at the NYT’s Opinionator Blog has, along with two other books that convince him we need institute a more classical education in our school system.

I’m not sure all our kids should be required to take four years of Latin to graduate, but I do lean toward Fish’s argument (echoed by educational historian Ravitch and authors Leigh A. Bortins and Martha Nussbaum in their books), that what we’ve got now isn’t working. A focus on testing and building the economy instead of a focus on learning and thinking has reaped us a generation of students who can pass a test – and tell you the test-taking strategies they used to do so – but who cannot write a thoughtfully argued paper referencing classical anything without dependence on the God of Google. We have many students entering college picking majors on what will bring them the most money, not what they are interested in or what might bring them the most knowledge.

Not all schools are this way, of course. I’m going to be student teaching in the fall at a college-prep school that writes its own curriculum around many of the classics. There are charter schools focused on classical education and homeschool advocates frequently push for such “training of the mind.” But overall, as I’ve learned in my teacher preparation program, many, if not most, of our public schools are focused on tests and technology not the Trivium. Whether they are so focused due to the standards-based movement, NCLB or because they are caught up in the latest educational fad is very hard to determine.

As Fish explains in his piece, all three authors level critique at the current public school love affair with technology as misguided and shortsighted. I tend to agree. Does anyone really think their child is smarter because she can, at age three, work a computer mouse?

As someone who makes a living at a computer – and developed repetitive stress injury because of it – I wonder if we are not creating a generation of shallow thinkers, unable to pay attention to anything longer than five minutes due to link overload, destined to spend hours in physical therapy for treatment of neck, soulder, arm and hand ailments. I tend to agree with Bortins when she asserts that children shouldn’t be allowed to use computers until they are “proficient readers and writers.” (And while I’m on the subject of What School Would Look Like if I Ran the World, I think cursive should still be taught and should come before keyboarding.)

Anyone concerned about the state of education should read Fish’s column and possibly enhance their summer reading by picking up one of the three books mentioned above. And speaking of education: There are sometimes complaints that religion, Christianity in particular, sneaks its way into public schools. If so, the following tidbit illustrates it isn’t making too big an inroad:

Our daughter is in Paris right now with the Arizona in Paris summer program. Her class recently visited the Louvre and she sent this update via Facebook: “Ben: Who’s this baby that’s in all these paintings? Is he, like, famous or something? Me: Ben… that’s Jesus.


4 thoughts on ““The scores had gone up, but the students were not better educated.”

  1. I am going to pick this book up and read it this summer. It looks interesting. However, from what I have read here is sounds like there may be a little too much criticism levied directly against public schools. These schools are not teaching to the test because they want to; they do it because they have to in order to receive funding. Public school teachers have been saying for years that teaching to the test is a bad trend, but they have little choice in the matter when the established state and federal funding standards are based on tests like the AIMS. A huge problem with public education is that we have come to a point where politicians like Tom Horne who know very little about what it means to run a classroom or a school are now in charge of educating the state. Shouldn’t an educator be doing this job?

    I agree completely with the assessment on technology. While computers and the internet are extremely important tools, literacy is more so.

  2. Seth: I agree – an educator should be running Horne’s office. I don’t know how that can happen. And you are correct that PS are doing what they are forced to do to get funding – and I’m not sure how to fix that, either. I personally advocate that every politician should have to spend two straight weeks in a classroom, under the supervision of a teacher, to see what public school teachers are up against. Doubt that will ever happen.

  3. Its because we teach to the test. The kids dont read as much and not very much at home.

  4. I was so happy to read that someone else thinks we should teach our children to write in cursive before they start using a computer.

    As an English tutor, it makes me very sad to see how many kids have reached age 14 with the reading level of a 7 yr old. Worse yet, parents are worried about preparing them for testing, but they don’t seem to be concerned that their children cannot put together one cohesive paragraph, let alone an entire essay.

    When I was a little child, if someone asked me what my favorite song was, I would have said something like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but now little kids name songs by Justin Bieber or Britney Spears. Sad.

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