The Ghost of Education Future
Queue the scary music, chains, and misty fog, this is a look at education in the future, ooooooo spooky! In this final post we will examine where our students and teachers will be at in 30 years if we continue with the trends as they are right now.
With the current path we are on in education and with the pendulum of change continuing to swing in one direction, towards the over standardization of schools, we are looking at some dire consequences for our inability to humanize education. Students in 2016 are often treated by the state simply as a number that grows or does not grow. If this continues into the future our education system will not sustain itself.
Classrooms and Teachers
As we look in on schools in 2047 we find a dark, desolate wasteland. Public brick and mortar schools barely exist anymore, most kids who are able to get the computing power and technology in their home have opted for online charters schools or even private online programs. These online schools and programs are designed for one thing and one thing alone, to raise test scores in literacy and math. The schools that do exist in the flesh serve mostly students in poverty or recent immigrants. Teachers serve in a diminished role as once the online curriculum is set there is little personal tailoring that goes into the actual school year. Teachers don’t even grade, as all assignments are sent through the computerized grading system where an analytics program can break down their writing and decide if it meets the standard or not. Everything is standardized.
Many parents, uncomfortable with the idea leaving their children at home to learn alone, drop their kids off at sterile computer centers that seem more like a hospital than a school. At these centers there are “teachers” who babysit a room of 150 students ensuring that they are diligently working on their online studies. Make no mistake, these adults in the room are only there to crack the whip, making barely minimum wage and with no teaching degree required. However, the government loves this model because it is cheap, efficient, and most importantly, everything is standardized.
Extracurriculars and Elective Classes
Organized school sports, music, and fine arts programs, along with film, theatre, and physical education classes are no longer connected with the school. If a student wants to partake in any of these extracurricular activities they must join outside of school, usually for a hefty fee. Families with the money are willing to pay for at least some of these extracurriculars, but in communities in poverty the kids simply must find other ways of getting to experience sports, music, and art. Usually these students will turn to crime, mischief, or watching TV on the couch to fill the free time. Without being taught movement skills in PE and without sports, childhood obesity shoots through the roof (yes even higher).
With budget cuts and emphasis on making everything in education being cheaper, schools no longer feed any kids but those who are extremely poor. Any student who does not meet the threshold for free lunch must bring their own, there is no more hot lunch, not that the food quality would make anyone want to pay money for it. The lunch menu for the poor students consists of outsourced fast food. Students who eat school lunches during this time are told that they are eating nutritional foods that meet the minimum dietary restrictions. These restrictions, however, have been altered by government paid dieticians so that the cafeterias can serve pizza and call it a vegetable or can serve a hamburger with ketchup and call it a fruit. Again we see the standardization of schools creeping into every aspect of education, and again it disproportionally affects the students living in poverty.
With most of the country shifting to online schools the budget has been cut dramatically. School districts no longer have to employ teachers, janitors, coaches, or even principals. The only costs are renting out the computer centers so that students without computers at home can “go to school,” and paying for the online curriculum that the students work in all day. These curriculum come from all of the major textbook companies, districts pay for them and then must pay again whenever a new version or edition comes out. Companies guarantee that students will grow but it is no surprise that they do when the text book companies are the ones grading the student's work.
The Online Curriculum
While each company does create its own curriculum designed to teach students, they all are in essence the same. Students are delivered information that is heavy in math, reading, and writing skills and very light in humanities (geography, history, etc.) and sciences. In fact you could argue that the science and humanities lessons were essentially English lessons designed to teach technical writing and non-fiction reading. There is very little character and all assignments get submitted via computer for grading. Students are graded only based on whether they met the standard, there is no longer consideration for where a student started and finished or whether that student was in need of special education services. The argument for this in 2047 is that even though the students have different needs the standards do not change and we must teach the standards!
When a student graduates from school in 2047 they may or may not have the skills needed to survive and thrive in the real world. The online programs push students through; they only make money if students advance so in the computer algorithms, eventually, every student will demonstrate the ability to meet the standard regardless of their ability to reproduce the skill. Many students who want to attend college can only do so after taking remedial classes because the online classes really don’t encourage long-term learning but rather short-term memorization.
The real problem with graduates from this future education system is that they completely and utterly lack the ability to communicate and problem solve. Everything in their online curriculum was individualized and tailored to the student, in the real world the student must adapt and tailor themselves to the challenges they face. Graduates from these charter and online schools cannot take what they learned in one area and apply it to another; there is no critical thinking. But they sure can pass that standardized test!
With students from America not being able to adapt or interact with others, companies start importing people who can adapt and have good interpersonal skills to fill positions in the USA. Many graduates try to get jobs doing manual labor but, unfortunately, they have no skills in working with their hands because they were not able to take any classes that didn’t require a keyboard, so that option is out. Without sports or PE, health deteriorates quickly in these graduates because they don’t know how to exercise or eat healthful food. With many of the graduates working at jobs with no benefits and being unhealthy we see even more of the cost of healthcare pushed onto the taxpayers. Depression goes up as more and more graduates from the standardized curriculum find themselves without the skills needed to survive in an un-standardized world.
Back to 2016
While dramatic and a bit over the top this tale does demonstrate a need for the pendulum to swing back towards the middle. Testing and some form of standardization are necessary to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable. However, when we try to standardize everything we get robots that are not really educated but can regurgitate information. The ideal graduate from the American education system should not be identical to any other graduate. We need come up with a way to value and promote skills other than the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic). The three R’s are simply a means to an end, yes, reading, writing, and math skills are essential, however if we do not teach the application of these skills outside of class we lose the real learning.
A Look Back to Move Forward
In the first post in this three part series we looked at education in the 1960’s. I believe that by going back to this time period while applying principles from 2016 we can create students who are resilient problem solvers, ready to take on any challenge.
Like schools from the 60’s we should offer a more robust curriculum starting in elementary school, not just secondary school. Students should be able to have a choice from many electives that are hands on such as woodshop, auto-shop, photography, film as literature, website design, and many, many more. Very few students have had their fires sparked by Geometry 101, but many fires have been started in woodworking where the skills of geometry are applied to the real world. So often on all of the social media platforms teachers post the quote, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” This quote, by William Butler Yeats, is the exact opposite of standards based education, when we teach only to meet standards we are just filling a bucket. Sometimes more is needed.
In addition to adding electives back in and focusing less on the 3R’s, we also need, desperately, to focus on health. Students need to be taught about nutrition from the day they enter kindergarten until the day they leave for college. Why? Because habits built in nutrition early are habits that will stick with students for life. In the end, it is more important for a student to leave high school being able to cook a healthy meal for his/her family than it is to be able to identify the theme in Hatchet, or the ability to find the area of a triangle. Along with nutrition comes exercise. PE should be required for all students every day of the year, PE also should consist of fairly rigorous exercise because kids need to actually get moving, not just learn about games or how to move. Our priorities need to return to raising students who have skills to survive and make happiness for themselves in the world.
Students today do not take pride in their schools in the same way that they did in the past. Much of this apathy comes from a lack of extracurricular activities and options. Back in the day (1960’s) there were a plethora of clubs and teams that could be joined in both middle and high school. These clubs or teams created a community of students gathered around one interest, leading, often times, to a spark of passion. This passion ended up creating school pride, football players wanted their school’s football team to be the best, kids in drama wanted to represent their school with a fabulous play, and students in the band wanted to play their best! Students did this because their performance reflected not only them as an individual but the school as a whole. This created a common thread between all extracurriculars, that thread is pride. Today the extracurricular activities are taking a backseat to improving test scores and standardizing the student experience. As detailed in The Ghost of Christmas Present, some districts are even getting rid of middle school sports all together. If we want kids to take pride on their state tests then we need them to feel a sense of pride and connection to the school. Connections to a school are built via passion, and passion is formed from an intrinsic love of something, for some it is sports, for others art, and still others theatre or music. When these programs are cut we also cut the passion out of school. Never, ever, has a student felt connected to their school solely because the school’s test scores were high, there is always another factor in school pride.
The Bottom Line
Many of the problems outlined above come from an over-standarization of the education system. This viewpoint that we can isolate all problems, create standards, meet standards, and move on, is a business mindset. Education, today, is treated like a business, however instead of the currency being dollars the currency is student test scores. We trade student test scores for federal funding. The problem with the education-as-a-business model is that education is not a business. You cannot take one model and apply it universally, there are too many nuances between schools and school districts to attempt to standardized the whole process.
At the end of the day, we should be educating the whole student and judging our success or failure based on the types of students being produced. Standardized tests scores still would likely increase under a whole student model but the focus would not be on raising score specifically because test scores are just a snap shot of a student’s ability in one subject at one point in time. We need to ask what our goal is. To raise test scores? Or to raise students? It is time that we focus on raising students not test scores.
Back to Education Present
Back to Education Past
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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