Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Edumacation

Edumacation is Homer-speak. Homer, of Homer Simpson fame. He calls Lisa's saxophone a saxomaphone...

Most of you faithless readers (Hey, I know you're seeing other blogs...) are involved in careers now. Or had careers. Or think about having a career. Or wish someone would give you a career...

As many of you know, I have an exciting career: I paint house numbers on curbs. Hey, it's not brain surgery, and may be fairly low on the career totem pole, but I make a living and it's not something everyone could do. (Although my wife sometimes tells people that she's married to an 'artiste.')

How much of my K thru graduate school edumacation was useful in preparing me for my career? As I predicted to Mr. Ryan, my high school freshman algebra teacher, I have gone my entire adult life without solving a single quadratic equation, or even being asked to look at one. I recognize that algebra is important, but ... (But I have used Trigonometry! Weird, huh? When I got my first car, we solved the financing problem by using a cosine...)

For me to make my living, I have to communicate, including reading and writing and I have to do simple arithmetic. I need discipline, I need to be able to plan my work, and then work my plan. And as with any member of our culture, I have to know how to blend in, so that I don't get "pink monkeyed." (I just found out that there may never have actually been a Pink Monkey experiment! But you get the idea?) I have to stay in tune with our cultural iconography ...

So why do we do it? Why do we condemn our children to put on the 100 year old strait-jacket of the American public school edumacation program? Home-schoolers don't... I don't know much about private schools, but they probably are improvement to public schools.

Could it be that part of the problem lies in 'higher edumacation'? To be accredited as an edumacated person, you have to earn your sheepskin. Meaning that you have to get into one of them there institutions of higher learning... Meaning you have to be able to SAT to their standards, and have a resumé of learning that the admissions committee feels comfortable with. And the raison de etre for all this has been that the best jobs go to the kids who have 'tested well' at the so called elite universities. Because today, given a choice between a prospective employee who just graduated from Harvard and one who just graduated from Cal State Pacoima, any sane employer will chose the Harvard grad, and think he got a real deal, even though he has to pay the Harvard Crimson grad 30% more than he could have gotten the Cal State Pacoima Vato grad.

But after you spend enough time in the Real World, which apparently HR people avoid like the plague, you simply have to admit, that now, finally, this system is more hindrance than help. Because we all know about edumacated doofii, hired by mediocre managers who don't want to be embarrassed by their subordinates, which ends up perpetuating what's wrong with the system. It isn't the edumacation that makes a person successful, it's that he/she learned how to learn.

I bet I'm not the only one who can say that he's getting along just fine on things he had to learn for himself. And who isn't using one bit of the 'knowledge' gained from sitting and looking up for 50 minutes a day at that period's teacher. Learning how to learn ought to be the goal of 'teaching.' Young humans can then find out the things they want to, and need to, know. Who the hell are school district curriculum committees to tell us what we ought to know?

Having to go to school, instead of wanting to go to school, is totally the norm today. While not having an answer to the immediate problem, I do have some fears about America's future if some solutions aren't found. In a study I undertook the third week in January of this year, I was able to determine that 63.7% of high school sophomores in the LA Unified School district will turn 18 and not know how to spell eighteen.

What I'd like to see is admittance to college prep high schools a reward to be earned, and those who don't earn it can apprentice themselves out to labor unions. Especially the farm labor union.

If I'm wrong, tell me where I'm wrong...

10 comments:

Life&Times said...

I think you're right to say that there are problems with public education at all levels, but there are, I think, worse problems with home schooling in general, and with private schools. I'm the product of a (barely) working class background and relatively mediocre public education through the secondary level-- but was fortunate to come across amazing teachers and wonderful learning opportunities at the college level (again, in public education).

One of the problems with the education system as it exists now, is that it's oriented always towards vocation vocation vocation. It's being driven in that direction more and more every day, rather than encouraging students to learn for the sake of widening their understanding of the world and increasing students' abilities to THINK. (I'm not super warm and fuzzy about this; I do believe in assessment, I do think that practical application is a good thing, but it's not and should not be the only thing).

This learning to think, to analyze, to consider, and to open your mind to the world beyond your 4 walls (3 walls are not enough) can happen to some extent within the home schooling system. And private schools like to think that they excel at this humanities-based type of education. With the former, though, home schooled students tend to be exposed to few if any differing opinions and lose the opportunity to share their ideas and gain new perspectives just from interacting with other human beings in a variety of settings. In private schools, the community is ALSO homogenous, and while they may have all the resources that public schools may lack, they also lack diversity and a connection with the real world.

I guess part of my vehemence on the value of public education comes out of my belief that learning a single skill set, or learning with a set goal in mind doesn't help a student in a classroom establish an interest in her own learning, with the freedom to learn skills through application and exploration.

I'm not sure if this is helpful to you; but it's something I enjoy thinking about.

Bert said...

Wowsers! You have stunned me, taking all this seriously!! I had to go back to review what I'd nattered, in order to see just what it was that provoked your response...

I can't speak to home schooling or private schools. I have an opinion about how trying too hard to be a useful alternative to public school education might be harmful, in the sense that they're thinking, "...if they do 'that' then we must do 'this'... But with no data, it's not fair for me to opine.

What little data I have (a high school senior and a Cal State senior) does allow me to disagree with your observation that, as you state, "One of the problems with the education system as it exists now, is that it's oriented always towards vocation vocation vocation."

If you mean auto shop, or other vocation shops, I just don't see that. Perhaps you can expand on the topic?

My beef is that the taxpayers are footing the bill for, minimum, 13 years of glorified baby sitting. With parents shoved out of the loop right around the time their kids hit puberty, kids find themselves left thinking more of the social aspects of school, as opposed to the learning aspects of school. And school district personnel only seem to care about keeping attendence up (to score the federal dollars) getting the test scores up, because that's the basis of judging the success of the teachers and their beaurcratic support system.

13 years, from age five to age 18, five days a week, 39 weeks a year. Can you imagine the squalling if a syster were proposed that had kids attending fewer days a year? God forbid that parents should have to be responsible for babysitting their own kids any day but Saturday or Sunday!

Right now public schools give kids who want to learn a good shot at getting into the college of their (economic) choice. These kids would succeed no matter what kind of system were in place.

Maybe I'm not knocking public education. Maybe what I'm knocking is that every year a growing percentage of the public doesn't care about edumacation...

Finding Fair Hope said...

There is a school in Lower Alabama (known as L.A.) that has been practicing a form of self-edumacation called organic education for almost a hundred years now. Click on the link, or go to one of the many mentions of the school on my blog by clicking on my name and the typing Marietta Johnson in the "search this blog" box at the top.

Bert, you obviously didn't know what a big topic you hit on with this one...reform in public education is the answer, but not the kind of reform that has been tried since Marietta Johnson's school was free (she died in 1938 and then the school went private). She wanted to change the whole system so that school was not seen as punishment but simply a place where qualified grownups spent their time informing curious children.

It was her aim simply to teach the love of learning instead of to make kids reguritate facts to fit some arbitrary, adult-designed test.

She was a radical, and her school is a beautiful place still. Check it out.

Chris said...

I dunno what the answer is, but education is never wasted, whether you use it or not.

It's my firm opinion that the current nine-month school year is outdated. That was started so children could help on the farm during the summer months when the labor was most needed at home. Since our rural population nationwide is down to something like 2%, turning kids loose to spray-paint grafitti on my garage all summer doesn't make sense anymore. The parents are working 8 to 5; the school day should be 8 to 5 as well.

If we need to pay our teachers more, well, that's fine with me. If we need to hire more teachers, that's fine, too. Teaching should be the most revered occupation in America, not something that we expect people to do for $17k a year. In the old Soviet Union teachers oftentimes earned more than doctors. (I'm not saying we should go soviet, but there's something we can learn from that little fact.)

How's this for an idea? Every citizen is required to do two year's government service. They can choose military, other government service, OR they can opt to teach for two years once they graduate college and qualify to teach. Not only would our military be a bit stronger, but our ditches would be cleaner and we'd have a bigger pool of teachers... Lengthen the school day, and change the school year to a year-round system (giving each student two or three week's vacation a year of course). Make it acceptible for teachers to actually FAIL students who don't work up to par.

As a society, we're just not smart enough. And, quite frankly, the Bush administration has put us in a hole we may never climb out of. Park Rangers are instructed that if someone asks the age of the Grand Canyon, the answer is "6,000 years." Our children are in danger.

Gah! I'm gonna go take a nice ulcer pill. I've got myself all worked up.

Bert Bananas said...

Two years of government service? You must be a Robert Heinlein devotee! I totally agree, Starship Trooper!
TANSTAAFL !!

When I read this comment of yours, Park Rangers are instructed that if someone asks the age of the Grand Canyon, the answer is "6,000 years." I thought you were making a funny... But you probably weren't...

Chris said...

I've always enjoyed the way Heinlein views government. To paraphrase: "Maybe government should exist only to tell you what you can't do. Or maybe government should only tell you what you CAN do." And, "Shouldn't people have to take a test before they vote to prove their vote is valid? They open the voting booth and they're confronted with a random quadratic equation or a history question. They get it right, they get to vote. They get it wrong, they go home. Or the booth opens empty - now THAT would ensure a well-informed voting populace." I also like thinking of what society would be like if his "only those who have served in the military are allowed to vote" rule were in place. He's an interesting thinker... I need to re-read some of his stuff. Heck, all of his stuff.

RE: Park Rangers. 'Tis a sad fact. I read it in the news a few weeks ago. Our government's position on the age of the earth is that it was created intact 6,000 years ago - never mind those pesky dinosaur bones...

(TANSTAAFL, for those of you who don't know, is There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.)

pistols at dawn said...

I went in for an interview to teach high school English at the aforementioned LAUSD school system under a year ago. The woman asked me, "Most of our students read at a third grade level. How would you teach them Shakespeare?"

I replied, "At that point, you're doing damage control. I don't think Shakespeare's what you should be worried about."

I think some of the point of education is throwing a bunch of crap at kids and seeing what sticks. According to testing, none of it sticks, because we're all fat and dumb compared to other societies.

I've never used trig, either, but it's about teaching a logical system with extrapolations based on a rubric of rules, not about determining y=mx+b (okay, that's to determine slopes, which isn't trig). You're trying to teach kids to think and reason logically, that's all. And you fail miserably because learning the lyrics to pop songs you'll never hear again in six months seems a whole lot more relevant.

Bert Bananas said...

Pistols, I apologize!

All this time I've been thinking you were an East Coast personality. I suspect it was because of the Artie Lange-effete connection...

To this day I still cannot bring myself to attempt to rap, except for Valentine's Day, 2002, when my wife thought it would be sexy if I tried to "rap her to orgasm..."

pistols at dawn said...

I feel obliged to note that I have since moved back to the East Coast. If it helps obfuscate matters, I was born in LA, raised in a variety of East Coast cities, then returned to LA for a few years post-grad school before coming East again.

Bert Bananas said...

Ha ha ha! You said, "coming East..."