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.“