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The Nightstar Zoo • View topic - Some Incoherent thoughts on Education Reform

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PostPosted: Fri May 13, 2005 9:30 pm 
Here are some notes I wrote myself today on the subject of school reform. I felt the strong need to share this in a place where it would set off a firestorm, but I wasn't sure which forum here would do the most damage.

School Reform notes
These are not in any particular order, and will get re-arranged later. This is brainstorming, and some of these ideas will probably be contradictory, and many of them impractical. I'm somewhat surprised at how authoritarian many of these ideas sound, even when they aren't intended that way; this is because the real purpose of grade school is to turn the students into productive, obedient citizens, and any discussion of the topic reflects that fact. Please feel free to call me and/or these ideas crazy; I'm half convinced of it already.

Professional standards and remuneration
Education will be the most important profession in coming society, and will require both higher incentives and stricter professional standards. this is especially true with the elementary levels, where the basic personalities of the students are being shaped. Tenure (which originally was meant to protect university dons from being removed for holding unconventional opinions or studying controversial research topics) has no place in general schools; the administration not only should be able to remove educators who do not follow the school's indoctrination plan (see below), but is obligated to do so (I know this sounds harshly doctrinaire, but it is really just an acknowledgment of something that is already true).

Class periods

In upper classes, the day will still be divided into periods, but the individual periods will be longer (and possible subdivided to allow for guide-group discussions; see below), and there will be a longer free time between them.

In addition to it's formal purpose of educating students, schools have the additional, largely unrecognized role of forming the student's social position and indoctrinating them with the society's values. These two aspects, which current schools refuse to acknowledge, are generally left to happenstance with disastrous results; this is the cause of many of the problems schools have today. Distasteful though it may be, these aspects should be recognized so that the process may be managed. One aspect of this that must be changed is that the school must give the students not only educational work, but also *productive* work; as Paul Graham pointed out, one of the sources of the angst and ennui typical of modern teens comes from the 'bell jar' aspect of school life, in which the students have no real place in society other than as students, and do not (yet) contribute either to their own lives or to society as a whole, but instead are subjected to what seem arbitrary make-work, the results of which plays little or no part in their status among their peers.

Part of the solution is to make the student's progress more visible (see the 'fast turnaround' idea below), but also to give them some sort of productive roles without it appearing to be still more busy-work. Internships, while typically a college-age phenomenon, could be of use here, as could things like the Depression-era WPA and CCC (but specifically for teenagers). Having students perform clerical work or other low-skill positions within the schools themselves could be useful, and save money on administration and services, but may open the door to fraud and other abuses.

Whether intentional or not, all schools indoctrinate their students with a world view. Most schools today bend over backwards to present themselves as objective, but the truth remains that a bias (or possibly several conflicting biases) is unavoidable. Rather than wish it away, the school should, to the degree it possible, set a series of policies regarding the perspective and 'ideology' which the school presents. In senior courses, some effort should be made to present and evaluate other perspectives as well. The indoctrination path of the schools should be set by the individual schools, not the school system as a whole, and it should be possible, at least to some degree, to choose the schools they feel reflect their own values.

The first hour of school will be a general exercise period; all students *and* non-admin staff will attend unless medically excused. It will consist of extensive stretching, followed by the Tai Chi Long Form (in grade school the students will be broken into smaller groups for instruction; in later grades, students who have tested out in the subject will practice in in group, with instructors assessing them and correcting mistakes), followed by a jog/run (quarter mile for grade school, half mile for middle school, mile for high school). Each student will also have a conventional PE period three days a week; all PE periods will be scheduled for the afternoon, at least half an hour after the student's lunch hour. The PE course will be at the instructors' discretion, but should vary between individual competitive sports and team sports.

School sports teams will be eliminated; they cause far more trouble than they are worth. Students are not prevented from joining private leagues, however.

Boarding Schools?
It may solve many of the problems currently found with existing schools if the students were removed from their 'normal' environment and placed in one focusing solely on education. Despite the expense, state-run boarding schools may prove less expensive and more effective than the conventional schools today. The major argument against these are the added expense of boarding, feeding and monitoring the students; the concern that, isolated from family, the students will be indoctrinated by the government in ways their families would not approve; that the schools would still vary in quality, and that poor students (in either sense) would be routed to less prestigious schools with fewer social opportunities; and that boarding schools would tend to inhibit individuality and disrupt family bonds. Regarding cost, much of the expense of school operation today is from dealing with the locales they are found in, and with the social milieu of the students; the cost of the boarding would actually be less than that of having to deal with gangs, irate parents, school security and so on. The other issues are ones which already exist in current schools, but in the context of boarding schools can be more readily addressed. State indoctrination, as said earlier, is an inevitable part of state-run schools, and should be dealt with in a forthright and honest manner. Similarly, the issue of divergent quality of schooling already exists; by removing the students from the environment of poverty, boarding schools would actually reduce, not increase, this gap.

Indeed, it may be possible to establish 'school towns' to which the entire student body for an area (or in some cases, a whole state) could be relocated to, putting them in a society that is entirely focused on education. In such places, the students and faculty would be the sole citizenry; many jobs which would normally require additional staff, from janitorial work to staffing stores and cafeterias, could be performed by the students themselves on a rotating basis. This would create a whole 'student society' in which students would have productive roles beyond their studies.

Elementary school
There should be a de-emphasis on formal classes up until the age 9, with formal classes slowly becoming a greater part of the work over time. A more peripatetic approach, taking into account the lessons learned from the work of Montessori and Piaget, would be more appropriate; the teacher and the assisting guides should see their work more as cybernetic (in the sense of a steersman or guide), rather than dictatorial. This is, of course, a much more difficult approach, and will require more through training for the educators at this level - extensive study in child psychology should be a requirement.

One thing that should definitely be taught are techniques for memorization, rapid reading, relaxation and focusing. Affirmations and 'keying' (setting up particular ideas as 'triggers' for some desirable habitual behavior using self-hypnosis and mediation) should be used as well. While many of these approaches are seen as 'parlor tricks', the goal is practical results, regardless of the nature of the method. Conversely, the educators should try to discern the learning style (left or right brain; visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic) of each individual student, and ensure that all of the students get be exposed to the material in as many different ways as possible for maximum effectiveness (this should be true throughout the student's school time, and should be monitored by the student's advisor, but it is especially important here).

One particular aspect I want to mention is regarding mathematics. For the first three years, math should be taught orally and visually only; students should be taught to perform basic arithmetic mentally before they are taught conventional paper-and-pencil methods, and word problems, concrete geometry, and simple physics should take precedence over abstractions. Some mental calculation practice should be a part of mathematics work throughout the student's years in school, and should include 'trick' problems that would require some sort of insight on the part of the students to solve; this includes the sort of 'time challenges' described by R.P. Feynman in his memoirs.

Fast turnaround course system
The current system of grades or forms is overly simplistic, and can result in students either held back for a single subject in which they are poor, or else automatic progression even when they are not ready for it. Also, it often leads material to be lumped into course which are at once both too broadly defined, and too arbitrarily separated from related subjects.

The proposed solution for this is much like that found in many universities today: to divide courses much more finely than they are done today, and require the students to
complete certain course sequences. The school year will be divided into six-week sections, at the end of which the student will need to test out of the course and have an assessment interview (see below) in order to get credit for completing it. There may be more than one course that will fulfill a given sequence requirement.

Educators: lecturers, guides, advisors, assessors, and evaluators
Effective education will require not only a larger faculty, but a more complex one as well. The current structure of classes, where a single teacher handles all aspects of his or her classes, places far too much burden on educator, and provides too little individual support for the students. The usual solution of reducing class sizes does little to solve this, as the classes are still too large for all but a handful of the students to receive enough assistance, while at the same time requiring more individual classes and instructors. The proposed solution is to separate the teaching of the class from the teaching of the individual students.

Each class will be taught by a main lecturer, university style, who may address as large a group as feasible; students may even view classes by telecomm. The lecturer can be focused on presenting the material, and answering student questions about it. However, the lecture halls will, preferably, need to be redesigned to accommodate the groups and their guides (see below).

In addition to the lecturer, there will be several 'guides', older students who have already passed the course and work with the newer students directly. Each guide will work with a group of three to five students, and attend the courses with the group, watching over them to ensure they are paying attention. Following the lecture course, the guides review and discuss the material with the younger students, and assist them in any drills or labs the course requires as well; they would also be expected to represent the students to the professor after classes. All students will be required to work as a guide for at least

three different courses in different subjects in order to be eligible for graduation. Every student will also be assigned an advisor, or counselor. Students will meet with their advisor in a group of three to five twice weekly; they will also meet with them on an individual basis at least once per section, and can schedule an additional meeting when needed. In additional to the role of psychological counsel, the advisor will review their coursework and their progress, and give the students a chance to give feedback about their classes, teachers, fellow students, etc. and help them plan how to they will complete their course sequences. They should also help the student determine their learning patterns and how to plan their study techniques accordingly.

For each course, the student will have an assessor. The purpose of the assessor is to judge the student's progress in the course, review their test results, to try to detect cheating, and so forth. The assessor will make the final decision whether the student is to be passed out of a course after test-out. The assessor should meet with the student at least twice during the course, and will a review the coursework orally with the student after the test-out results are available. The assessor is also to meet with their assigned students as a group one year after a course's test-out with the course's evaluator, to determine retention for course evaluation purposes. Despite the role of assessment, the assessors

should be advised to see their role as complementary, rather than adversarial; the goal is not merely to enforce standards, but to help the student in understanding the material and passing the course.

There is one last new category of faculty required, but one whose role will be administrative rather than educational. Evaluators will observe courses over the school year, and evaluate the effectiveness of both the educators and their techniques. The evaluators do not need to attend each separate class meeting (obviously), but should observe enough of the classes to determine their effectiveness and make appropriate recommendations. They should also observe (as unobtrusively as possible) the guides and advisors, and watch for any abuses or missteps. Again, this should not be seen as a constructive position rather than an adversarial one; the goal is to help the educators work better with the students.

Being able to learn and use more than one language is not only of considerable practical value, it also teaches many important lessons about the meaning and structure by itself. Speaking in, and holding classes in, more than one language should be a part of a student's lessons throughout their school life. Indeed, one graduation requirement should be to demonstrate fluency in at least two languages other than their native language(s). However, there is the question of fairness to be addressed; not only would this affect bilingual students, but choice of languages colors one's cultural views as well. To this end, at least one of the languages taught should be one not currently spoken as a living language.

Even this, however, carries its biases; Latin is no more easy for a Chinese speaker than English, but would be trivial for a Spanish speaker. Finally, in order to ensure that the student has sufficient exposure to the language, they should use it not only in the language classes, but in others as well.

For this reason, and for others relating to thought pattern formation, I would chose to use the artificial language Lojban, and specifically that classes in mathematics and science should be given in this language consistently to all students. The 'logical' orientation and simple structure of the language would lend it to this purpose more than most natural languages. Of course, it is still important that every student become proficient with a natural language, and again, the instruction should include teaching some of the non-language-related coursework in that language.

Last edited by Schol-R-LEA on Sat May 14, 2005 2:04 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri May 13, 2005 11:06 pm 
Seems D&Eish.

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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2005 1:22 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2005 2:33 pm 

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 15, 2005 2:49 am 
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