168 Observations On Education

Maurice Levine

12/30/02

 

1. There is little that has been said about our nation's schools that is positive. And most of what has been said is decidedly negative. In fact there is so much that is wrong with our public schools that just about everyone has an opinion regarding how to "fix" them once and for all. Some speak of conquering the bureaucracy that seems to stifle and inhibit all attempts at innovation and reform. Others speak of the lack of funding to our nation's poorest schools and the tremendous pressures placed on teachers. Still others talk about the badly organized curriculums that are in place in school districts throughout the country. The realization that so much is wrong with public education is sobering indeed. Some observers have even gone so far as to call for the end of public education in America. In spite of our best efforts to try and turn our schools around, the situation grows more precarious by the day. I believe that there is no way to improve public education without redesigning it, and that the current system is a rip-off structure with comprehensive flaws built into it.

2. To look at public education today is to look at a gigantic confederation of academics and politicians who have little or nothing to gain by helping children succeed in school.

3. Public schools are supposed to teach children how to learn. Public schools are supposed to teach children about how the world got to be the way it is. Public schools are supposed to provide children with an understanding as to what relationships are healthy and unhealthy. Public schools are supposed to help children grow into mature human beings who possess the capacity to be responsible citizens. Public schools are supposed to provide insight into what governs international relations and what policies nations use to function as economic partners in a globalized world. Public schools are supposed to shed light on the future and teach students to think ahead. Public schools are supposed to represent the best of what a nation has to offer in terms of its most cherished values.

4. I believe that today's schools are shrouded in apathy and incompetence at all levels. Consequently, students are "built" in a fashion that is not in keeping with healthy development. There is no one to go to for answers, and too few students emerge from high school with the knowledge and understanding necessary to make sense of the world.

5. To raise smarter kids, we must build "smarter" schools.

6. We must get used to the idea that schools - especially in the years to come - will achieve a level of importance in society that today's public schools could scarcely have imagined.

7. May you who attend school be dauntless in proportion to whatsoever be called daunting; may you who attend school be open-minded and outspoken especially when the unlikeliest of outcomes come out.

8. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are now competing with another "R"....rap music.

9. So we see that teachers who consistently show up to class "unprepared" are pursuing the undoing of learning -
just as teachers who base their lesson plans on lessons that do not require student alertness are directly contributing to student inertness. When classroom leadership lacks the better part of what was promised from the start, teachers' falter and teaching falls apart.

10. Students should be willing to own up to the fact that school belongs to them every bit as much as a publicly traded company belongs to its shareholders. Our kids have already "paid in full" inasmuch as they have allowed themselves to be stamped and circulated as kiddy currency in the absence of equitable compensation for having been conveniently available for so much stamping and circulating.

11. Systems are all about control. However, schools are systems in which control is emphasized to an extent that substantially undermines the "bottom line" when it comes to "selling" educational goods and services to kids. In such an environment, control becomes a kind of environmental detriment to mental improvement inasmuch as students are made to feel more like cattle than people. An absence of genuine regard for liberated learning forces teachers to play the role of environmental monitors peddling countless names, dates, and events to millions of "controlled" albeit could-care-less kids.

12. In non-literate cultures there is a tendency to simply go on doing things as they have been done for generations. But that's not really the approach we want to be using in a culture as literate and diverse as that which we have in America. We need a broader range of courses for our kids so there will be more emphasis on allowing them to shape their own educational outcomes rather than relying on the sorry-but-we-can't-help-you system we now have in place.

13. Relevant information disseminated via irrelevant channels leads to irrelevant outcomes. Too often students are used as sounding boards for information which may in fact be useful, but which is not perceived as such due to the one-sided manner in which it is being represented and channeled to those on the receiving end. Even well-intentioned lectures start sounding dull and disingenuous after about the first five minutes unless they are dispensed with an eye toward giving students immediate access to down-to-earth dialogue.

14. Kids bring a lot of emotional baggage with them to school. They have to put up with peers, parents, teachers, themselves, and the pervasiveness of society itself. This means students are increasingly mood-driven, thereby making it harder and harder for teachers to create and keep alive classroom climates conducive to learning. The end result? Many questions go unanswered, many answers go unquestioned.

15. The influence of those atop the pop pyramid is greater than that of a thousand school districts.

16. School itself has become a false start for many.

17. Many of our students are first-rate failures, well-versed in illiteracy. 

18. Be vigilant, lest your kids become dumber than dumb.

19. Truly accepting an assessment of one's intelligence means demonstrating some level of comfort with the intelligence of others.

20. Cheating is funny business that turns out to be not so funny, especially when a child cheats himself out of an "honest" education. 

21. When we're educated in lickety-split fashion, the end result is lickety-shit thinking.

22. In the world of educational politics, you've never truly made an enemy until you've figured out what side your on.

23. We're generally prevented by design from being able to create new knowledge at will.

24. Hollywood celebrities have damaged more young minds than all the cocaine shipped out of Columbia in a year.

25. Primary and secondary education involve a kind of continuous discontinuity in which the student's mind is capably incapable.

26. The small output we achieve in life is no accident. We are highly resistant to change, and that is why most of us lead lives that are little more than ambitious distortions of energy.

27. Three things teens pick up more than the TV switcher: cell phones, junk food, and lame cliches.

28. It can be argued that kids indulge in too many things for their own good. It can also be argued that happy mediums tend to tedium.

29. School should not be the kind of boring and problematic place that it is. It should be about stimulating children in innovative and insightful ways, and about giving kids the tools they'll need to be successful in life.

30. By forcing kids to go to school, the govt. is basically saying it takes "force" to get kids into the classroom.

31. Creativity is an active contributor to uplifting mental development. By allowing a child to discover where his primary interests are, the power of creativity should soon awaken and lead him to some level of personal expression. The whole idea is to get kids comfortable with material that is of interest to them so they can express a sense of indiscriminate wonder at all the aspirations inside of them, and then give shape to those aspirations in some way that lends uniqueness to who they are as individuals.

32. What we need in our schools are learning-enriched models that duplicate the most comprehensive and important aspects of life in the real world. We need models that have features such as uniformity, complementary, real-life applicability, and directionality. The current system is what I call successively-depleting because over time it weakens the mental symmetries that are struggling to hold up the student's mental framework. Reciting facts with eyes unblinking is not the same as truly thinking.

33. So what are schools going to do in the 21st century to disprove all the slang that's being thrown at them. Not much from the look of things. It's really sad too because it's not like things have to be this way. We need to make way for "thinking" and prove that we are not on speaking terms with mediocrity and low-expectation leaders.

34. Bad teachers do more harm than good, and are neither mentally nor morally fit for teacherhood.

35. Strive from beginning to end to be a good and well-educated citizen.

36. Why is it that so many teachers with "heavyweight credentials" can't even seem to teach their students the bare essentials?

37. Let's imagine for a moment that events in the world happen quickly and constantly from one day to the next. Parts of the globe are unstable and wars are going on right now in various places. Let's imagine that the city in which you live is a complex maze of buildings, streets, gas stations, water-treatment plants, parks, shopping districts, houses, freeways, cars, and countless other things. Let's imagine that millions of people are using these things for various reasons at any given time. Let's imagine that children are part of this landscape and that they make footprints in it every day. Now all of these occurrences hold substantial consequences for society, the nation, and the world. However, those who are most affected by all this are children because they are the ones least fitted to fathom the environmental order and disorder that is taking place right before their eyes. A child's view of the world is comparatively narrower than that of an adult, but effects are still felt nonetheless. Once these "effects" install themselves in the child's mind, they become either useful or useless parts of the child's mental territory. The problem arises when the child is weakened subconsciously by the effects of things going on around him. He is weakened due to his inability to sort through the distinctive layers of meaning embedded in all of the actions and reactions going on around him.

38. Never got the impression that school was really a place of true diversity in either the lunch menu or the curriculum.

39. The lack of diversity in curriculums stems from a belief on the part of educators and politicians that it's better to keep kids in the gentle dark of guesswork rather than offering them classes that would help them develop critical thinking skills, and better explain to them just how it is that the world really works. 

40. Kids are increasingly being assessed in terms of their shortcomings. This is good and bad. It is good inasmuch as it highlights - in damning editorials and gone-to-hell commentaries  - the culture of childishness that is being encouraged and reinforced in our nation's schools. It is bad inasmuch as it portrays kids as being almost totally helpless and utterly beyond hope. The truth is that in many ways those who are hooked on bashing public education have a good deal of ammunition to support their stance: kids are doing poorly on state tests, teachers are underperforming in the classroom, and many school  districts are experiencing higher rates of child-on-child violence. Yet we must keep in mind that mixing speculation about student ability with damning portrayals of public education gives us no guidance on what to do about the understood and misunderstood aspects of the educational debate. When we are slow to deal with urgent issues, our best ideas are all too often overshadowed by new and increasingly complex issues that thwart us by the time we are ready to act. This only engenders further confusion and can easily lead to a permanent misunderstanding among those who are best positioned and equipped to do something. Constant bickering about what we can do to help improve public education only addicts us to further bickering. At this point, our kids are under siege from stimuli of all sorts from the time they wake up till the time they go to bed. The least we can do is end our attacks on each other and focus instead on what we can do to make sure the stimuli they receive in school is rich and rewarding.

41. Millions of pieces of "equipment" are not being used to their potential. All too often our kids go to school to engage in routine activities that do little to improve their overall productivity. Children possess the capacity to process and store information, but we must teach them how to use information as a process. Information doesn't possess the capacity to improve itself, but kids have the capacity to improve themselves through the consistent use of information-improvement evaluations, which they can use to purchase premium levels of clarity while engaged in acquisition-and-integration activities involving data. By not teaching kids how to evaluate themselves, we only teach them to misuse their minds inasmuch as they misconstrue outcomes from the beginning, confusing data roles with data goals.
 
42. What good are pockets of success in a galaxy of failure?

43. I can't go over the issue up-to-date curriculums enough it seems. You see, today's curriculums are ancient. They're relics of excessive attention to stick-in-the-mud theorists who live about 100 years ago - theorists whose theories have long since petered out. These sage men of yesteryear believed that the greatness of the ages could be handed over to children by simply exposing them to stick-in-the-mud subjects year after year. The idea was that the only way kids would learn to appreciate the greatness of the ages was by making stick-in-the-mud subjects the showpiece of public schools. While this approach may have stimulated learners of long ago, the fact of the matter is these same approaches are putting kids to sleep in the classrooms of today. Teaching the greatness of the ages has become the great mess of this age because the kids of today are on the wrong side of history.

44. Information presented to students needs to be useful. Our kids have a right to more than just facts and figures that only clutter the mind without providing clear guidelines as to the specific relevance of that which they purport to represent. Big-shot names, dates, and places of historical interest are of little use to students who fail to ascertain how those names, dates, and places relate to the vast range of teenspeak today's kids must not only cope with, but be fluent in as well. Detailed accounts of truces and treaties garnered from the back taxes of history are just no comparison to the picture-perfect pragmatism embedded in such things as learning to drive a car or getting a job for the summer. 

45. Students come into contact with so many people in just one day that it becomes absurd to think that "five subjects" are any true measure of what life in the real world is all about.

46. Student receptivity in all subjects hinges on student interest.

47. Schools traded self-reform for self-regulation a long time ago.

48. Though we can't expect our students to get on top of all the knowledge that's being created each day, we must inspire them to be courageous climbers nonetheless.

49. A child who is not happy with school is experiencing a kind of indistinct disintegration from within. This in turn fosters an unreliable perception of the world and places the child's development off-center and in danger. 

50. The long-term-novice syndrome is quite prevalent in today's schools. What it consists of is students who are essentially a repetition of themselves from one year to the next.

51. We mar society in lots of little ways when we mis-educate students in lots of big ways.

52. At some point kids realize the world is too drastic a place to reason with.

53. Today we have entirely too much information at our disposal. No one is given amnesty in such an environment because all are expected to know so much.

54. Countless calls for change have been made, and yet we continue to wait for some kind of stunning climax to all the reforms of yesteryear.

55. There is very little that is unique in the history of education. The criticism of one age sounds no different than that of another. The structure of education has changed somewhat, but the methods remain largely the same. The belief that our kids are somehow "smarter" today than they were fifty years ago is absurd.

56. Students should be ashamed at not only how little they know, but how little they seem to care about it.

57. Educating kids is a time-consuming and difficult process. Add to this the dull-blah nature of schools in general, and the difficulty in educating them rises to levels that are ferociously difficult to manage.

58. The easygoing attitude so many kids have towards their assignments is a sure sign that they're not interested in school. The primary and most persistent obstacle to learning continues to be boredom. Teachers are coming to school with expectations that in no way reflect what students are bringing with them to class. The end result is that loopholes in the learning process emerge spawning gobbledegook that undermines learning.

59. Contemporary measures have failed and will continue to fail. Public interest in reforming our nation's schools does have a great deal of sincerity behind it, but it also has a great deal of superfluity to it. The short-sighted turmoil we see in school districts around the country is the  result of mismatched interdependencies that have come into being as more and more people have become convinced that fixing public education is like fixing a flat tire. For years we've seen collaboration on top of collaboration, and thus far, all of this collaboration-making between federal agencies, state legislatures, and inspired individuals hasn't led to enduring reforms yielding measurable results that can be construed as high rates of return.

60. Kids' readiness to spend cash exceeds their readiness to spend time cashing in on learning.

61. Some say the only thing "alluring" about school these days is whatever its female attendees happen to be wearing. School uniforms are hardly the kind of trend-setting attire I'm referring to here. What I'm referring to here are those butt-hugging, back-revealing, boob-lifting garments that have turned school hallways into cleavage-friendly catwalks rivaling just about anything you might see on late-night TV. In this respect it can be argued that the whole "feel" of school is changing into something that feels more like a day at the beach than a place where kids busy themselves with books.

62. Far too many kids suffer from mental malnutrition. Low-fiber learning combined with high-fat hobbies such as sofa sessions and/or soda sessions are conspiring to turn a generation of girls and boys into go-getters who only get up to go get another candy bar or maybe a Mountain Dew. Add to this a serving of pretzels and/or potato chips and one standard-sized idiot box featuring never-ending noise and channel-of-choice capabilities, and what you wind up with is butt-based binging for both body and mind.

63. Kids liberate and oppress themselves as they struggle to find patterns and purpose in life.

64. School is not a heart-warming place nor is it pleasant to attend.

65. The relentless focus on teaching the same general information year after year is neither profitable nor sensible.

66. Black and Hispanic children influence white children in school in ways that other white children cannot and do not.

67. A host of bad beginnings often conspire to hang a child's hopes of ever reaching the end. For example, a boy opens his textbook to page 23, and blankly stares at caravans of syllables lined up neatly from top to bottom. He tries to speak, then stops. He cannot say the first, second, nor even the third word in the paragraph assigned to him - yet this child is in the 6th grade. His teacher clears her throat in such a manner as to convey her displeasure even as he attempts to decipher the first of many nouns and pronouns staring back at him. Suddenly, his hands begin to tremble and his stomach starts to churn. His being "called on" to read a simple paragraph aloud has left him speechless in a crowd. A full minute passes and still no word. The supreme stillness of the moment and the pain of his predicament now has him wishing he'd never been born. If only he could just put an end to all the "publicity" surrounding his illiteracy. If only he could read. He looks around the classroom in submission to his shame as preteen peers stare fixedly at him. Moments later, he takes his seat again - having gone no further than where he began. He's still the only one in his entire English class whose claim to fame rests on his inability to participate in the one activity without which his standing as a 6th grader is stripped of all legitimacy. 

68. Kids have a right to be upset with the 21st century, even though the century is just getting started. School feels just as second-hand and full of shortcomings as it always has; society feels more and more like a knife against the neck; and mom and dad seem less and less like mom and dad with each passing year. What's going on? Our kids are shying away from life because never before has "life" felt so disaffiliated from all the so-called "good things" that the new century was supposed to usher in. Our kids aren't getting the kids of mileage out of life that they should be getting nor are they as useful to themselves and others as they could be. Their inner infrastructure sprawls more and more in the direction of anti-intellectualism than most parents and teachers would like to admit; and those same parents and teachers are doing little to rein in this distressing distinction kids seem to regard as a kind of ex post facto entitlement. More and more it seems, kids are only slightly enthusiastic when referring to the future. Just before graduation, you see them scaling back on their hopes and dreams whenever they're questioned as to what they think the future will bring. Never before have so many young people felt so estranged from the real world - into which they will merge and do business once they've finally made it through the educational process. Never before have so many young people felt so tabloid-like after years of reading one great piece of literature after another. Never before have so many young people felt so negligible at a time when only the rich and famous seem eligible to have their voices heard. Kids have a right to be upset with the 21st century, if for no other reason than it seems to be picking up with the same child-unfriendly continuum we just witnessed in the last century. 

69. It's hard to make first-class demands when you're fourth or fifth in command. But that's precisely the position in which today's teachers find themselves. While some of us may look with dull dismay at the seemingly swastika-like allegiance school administrators demand from their stressed-out subordinates, we should also keep in mind that the lackluster professional progress made by teachers in years' past is part of the permanent predicament they continue to face by virtue of being in next-to-last place.

70. Kids begin the transition to adulthood much sooner now. Yet the vast majority of what they're exposed to in school is indefinitely indefinite. Subjects lack substance, teachers lack technical expertise, and assignments lack appeal. Guess that's why so many students go to chat rooms when they get home instead of bungee jumping into books. In sum, books that are boring are lost on semi-adults who are ignoring all the semi-skill teachers are pouring into lessons so unrewarding that no one is learning.

71. No child ever asks for permission to graduate underweight.

72. The road to teacherhood curves somewhere along the way. On the one hand, teachers want to reform and redeem the disadvantaged and overburdened paradigms they are told to love and cherish. On the other hand, teachers are essentially their own worst enemy inasmuch as what they love to hate stems not so much from what existing paradigms encourage, but from what existing paradigms discourage. Increasingly, schools have become site-based crematoriums for creative change. Curriculums are middle-of-the-road maintained so that nearly everything runs along the same lines of stasis and stultification. It's truly sad. Teachers like to think of themselves as being role models of the future, yet nowhere are they more role marginalized than here in the present. There are no larger-than-life solutions looming on the educational horizon as far as I can tell. Instead, I see only breathlessly-common verdicts and vistas on the part of those who have always made it a point to support structural restraint whenever it comes to talk of "rethinking" public education.

73. Course material becomes coarse material in the hands of the wrong teacher.

74. Students are isolated from learning because they're alienated from their teachers. 

75. School (K-12) represents about eighty percent of the formalized educational input we take in during the course of a lifetime. Unfortunately, much of this input is full of toxic components and biased variables. This mixture of elements becomes the "stuff" out of which we attempt to build our view of the world. Because we are educationally malformed for so many years it becomes quite difficult to think correctly when we attempt to do so. The unfortunate circumstances and numerous inconsistencies we observe in our own lives and in the lives of others are primarily the result of having been schooled incorrectly.

76. The bogeyman that haunts every school goes by the name of Boredom. He's a freeloader to be sure, he's easy to get along with, is incredibly contagious, and extremely adept at turning lesson plans into lullabies.

77. It seems like not a day goes by that we don't read about another school district that has run aground on the sandbar of sinking scores. 

78. Personal development is not about sustaining equivalent relationships indefinitely. It's about moving beyond what we already know and feel comfortable with. It's about being enthusiastic when it comes to turning cycles of learning into cycles of meaning. The problematical spaciousness of the modern world demands that we "learn" to learn what matters. Learning within the confines of expansion means developing as strong a knowledge base as possible while at the same time recognizing that we are limited to the degree to which we can reasonably expect to use what we know in the face of what we don't.

79. There's so much confusion as to what we should be teaching in our schools. Some people seem to think we should stay with what we have in place. Others seem to think we need course material that is more "sensitive" to those from non-western cultures. Still others say that what we have in place is too hard for any child to handle. In the meantime, students continue to spread their wings and fly away from learning.

80. While educators and politicians continue to push for increases in school funding, they fail to explain how they intend to use that "funding" to make themselves a more relevant part of the educational food chain.

81. It's hard for students to rise to the occasion when they feel like sitting ducks.

82. Today's classrooms are heavily stocked with human-vegetables because of what teachers are tilling in the minds of students. Lackluster activities and assignments combined with the mental manure that is dumped on kids day after day makes the germination of anything other than touch-and-go learning dubious at best.

83. Our present condition of falling student-morale and rising teacher-dissatisfaction is a direct result of retirement-age policies, procedures, and paradigms being sustained at a time when we no longer have any use for them. The complexities of society cannot be suitably understood in terms of what worked even twenty years ago. A system that discourages innovation and de-emphasizes constructive criticism is a system in denial. No one within education seems able to interpret all the forces acting upon it from within and without; and leadership cannot emerge when leaders continue to define themselves in terms of being trustees of the past. Tradition will only lead us to dangerous errors and hapless endings if we rely on it when undertaking comprehensive measures to strategically transform public education as we know it. Let's put an end to all the dysfunctional rhetoric regarding what to do about our schools and just get to work. The longer we wait to get started, the more serious the long-term consequences are likely to be.

84. Standardized tests are a standardized mess.

85. Education is the only foundation of any great and lasting nation.  

86. We've taught our kids that an accurate estimate of who they are in life comes down to all the "labels" that teachers and parents have labeled them with. 

87. Teaching to the test makes "learning" that much less.

88. Our schools do not have the tools necessary to do the things most needed to be done.

89. In the poorest pockets of public education, there's only misery and mis-education.

90. Why is school such a painful ordeal? The answer is part political, part financial.

91. Schools that don't even have a computer lab aren't really schools at all.

92. The feeding of the mind goes on at all times. However, the mind is a low-yielding apparatus when it isn't properly stimulated. It can't be expected to improve itself on its own. Therefore, we must determine how and in what fashion we wish to stimulate it.

93. Information that's not absolutely clear to the student is information that's not properly integrated into the circuitry of the mind. If this information isn't clarified in the hope of "understanding" it better, it will soon be forgotten. Information that isn't being reflected in the student's life in some meaningful kind of way is said to be static. Such information has only potential value or very limited value. And it's this kind of information that kids are primarily subjected to for the greater part of their educational career.

94. From the standpoint of getting something unique out of going to school there is little that can be said that is truly positive. You may learn to read. You may learn to write. You may learn how to get along with others. You may learn to do a bit of math. You may even learn a little about the world in which we live. Beyond that, there is much to be desired under our current system. Perhaps that is why high school diplomas mean so little to employers these days. In addition, attending school simply to be able to say that a person has "gone to school" is not taking into account the many fluctuations in the educational process that are occurring to the detriment of the educational value of the education itself.

95. To a considerable degree, kids have power to bring about real and lasting change in public education.

96. Education should be a smoothing and toughening process.

97. Have you ever heard of educational genocide? It's when schools kill the desire to learn in the minds of millions.

98. What needs to be done to improve our nation's public schools? We are less astute at answering such questions than we are at asking them. It is interesting to note that the longer we stay in school, the less useful the course material seems to be. The preceding statement goes to the heart of what's wrong with our schools today. Dead data has become the favored fare of our nation's schools. It may be brilliantly colored with pretty pictures in a textbook or it may even be characterized by a teacher as being the axis on which the world turns. But as long as it must compete against the whims and sins of a ubiquitous pop culture that never takes a day off, it will never loom larger in the mind of a child than the dead data it is. What is essentially absent from public education is a sense of relevance behind much of what is being taught.

99. Without an education, we are drastically diminished in our own eyes and in the eyes of others.

100. Teachers and students coexist amid an amazing array of inconsistencies.

101. Some children are good while others are not-so-good. Some children want to learn while others do not. Some children are shy while others are outgoing. Some children can't seem to focus while others possess laser-like attention to content and detail. Some children have handicaps while others seem strong in every way. The brain of a normal child allows him to take in information and then demonstrate in some way that he understands it. The brain of an abnormal child may be so out of sync with what is going on in class that he cannot adequately process and retain the same information as his classmates no matter what is being taught. This type of learner must be given intensive one-on-one assistance in the learning process.

102. Many unimportant contributions to public education are being made every day; and this growing mass of non-essential nonsense is being fed to our children every day they go to school. This represents a broad-based campaign to cram impressionable young people with "stuff" that fills the mind without actually stimulating it. The other feature of this insidious process is that it teaches children that the wide-spread displacement of traditional values being witnessed today is not the result of receding educational and moral standards, but rather, the result of cosmic coincidence or some other species of chance.  

103. When children are schooled without regard for their individual strengths and weaknesses, the overall result is that we have a kind of irregular architecture going on in the minds of millions of kids.

104. Schools win over students the same way cemeteries win over dead people.

105. Expect no touch-downs from out-of-touch students.

106. At the far end of sight lies insight.

107. Education has accurately been described as one of the most important elements involved in healthy human development. Without a good education there can be no real prospects for an individual to meet with success in life. Even with an education there are no guarantees that life will be kind to us. But with a poor education the obstacles and trials of daily life become destabilizing factors against which we are nearly powerless.

108. When we enter school for the first time, we are introduced to many things at once. However, there must be relevance and some degree of trial-and-error behind our "education" at this point or we are simply learning in a vacuum. Learning to interact with others, to sit down and stand up, to be quiet, to raise a hand to ask a question, to stand in line, to behave properly, to sing, to recognize shapes and sounds and colors, to say words and numbers, to recognize famous faces and famous places, to respect authority, and to use creativity in drawing and painting are just some of the things we are introduced to during our early years.

109. Our kids are the missing-link of possibility in their own lives. This should comes as no surprise. For too long they have been schooled in the ways of self-negation, and now they are merely showing the rest of us what they have learned. Additionally, they see no way to build on the basics in their own lives because they have no reason to believe that the distorted arithmetic of the past won't spoil their plans for the future. Intellectual athletics feels like a sprained ankle when all that other kids seem to care about is leaving school as soon as possible and then going to the mall or to a friend's house or whatever.

110. Learning span should extend throughout a person's lifespan. Unfortunately, too many of our young people forget about books the moment they've left school and landed a job. By doing this they've failed to see that graduation is merely a doorway to a much larger and less forgiving kind of classroom: the real world.

111. Painstaking precision is not absolutely essential when trying to write an essay or a book report or even a letter.  The real "pain" emerges when we can't even get half the kids in this country to write a paragraph that features some fluidity of style and force of execution. If the paragraph happens to be about the main character in a story, don't look for a noteworthy characterization of the character in question. If the paragraph happens to be about the personal feelings of the writer, don't expect to see much more than fuzzy wordscapes where blind spots abound and each sentence is as unrevealing as the next. What hope is there when so much of what our students write isn't even worth the paper it's written on? Reading languid literature from the early 20th century certainly isn't helping our kids appreciate the printed word nor is it empowering them when it comes to enhancing their writing ability. 

112. Expecting kids to love learning is unrealistic inasmuch as kids cannot be expected to show a strong desire for learning in the face of so much bureaucratic bravado on the part of schools. Kids know that school has almost nothing to do with learning relevant things - unless by "relevant" we mean the oral presentation of stale subjects via three-pound textbooks with aimless-assignments galore. Before we can get kids to orchestrate their lives around the acquisition of knowledge, we must show them that what they are learning is in fact applicable. A real change of attitude will show up in our students when "learning" is managed in such a manner as to provide each learner with relevant social and economic skills.

113. The academic superiority of some kids may stem from natural ability or  - as others have suggested - it may have something to do with the high levels of interest that some students bring to their studies when compared to other students. Another reason for high scores may be the so-called preferential treatment some students seek out via their teachers; treatment which may in fact be displayed either overtly or covertly whenever such students perform well on assignments or tests. I strongly believe that emphasis should be less on such things as who is in the top 5% of the class and more on dealing with the 95% of also-rans.

114. Teachers "represent" information. This has been the case going back to even the most primitive cultures on earth. Early man may have been more concerned with survival than knowledge, but with the passing of time he has evolved to the point where he has never demanded more of himself and the world in which he lives. The need for good teachers has never been greater. However, even the best teachers can retard progress and diminish interest when they "represent" information that no one is interested in learning.

115. Schools are pictures of the future. They provide a snapshot of what is being handed to the future by virtue of what is being handled in the present. If the future is to give humanity a reasonable rate of return, then we must start paying closer attention to what we teach and how we teach our young people. Children who have little or no desire to learn are far more common than school administrators would have us believe. The relationship between what is being taught and how well it is being learned is very real. Our kids are using only a small portion of their potential primarily because they have come to the conclusion that school is a big waste of time. As pointed out by many writers on this subject, student output is directly related to student input. The problem arises when "input" thickens and enlarges the student's suspicion that what he is being taught is not only unnecessary, but also irrelevant to his future.

116. Bubblegum Curriculum is a curriculum that kids can chew on, but from which they derive no real nourishment.
   
117. Our young people need to understand that a constant preoccupation with the lifestyles of others bespeaks a vanishing equity in themselves.

118. A small victory in the educational process occurs whenever a teacher and his students take different approaches to same problem, and the students still get it right.

119. The truth about education is that unless it becomes a self-directing endeavor at some point, it has no point.

120. To listen to teachers' without hearing what they're saying is to show profitless interest in your own education.

121. Few things are as problematic as attempting to categorize children prematurely when it comes to their performance in school. Not all kids are "naturals" and the accelerated maturation rates of some kids over others has been widely documented. Therefore, when kids are just getting started with their education, a distinction should be made between those students who display higher levels of proficiency and those who comprehend concepts, outcomes, and consequences at a slightly slower pace. However, the "distinction" should be one geared toward bringing lucidity to the lesson rather than labels to the child.

122. Too many of our young people seem to be suffering from a kind of continental drift when it comes to demonstrating a willingness to take charge of their educational outcomes. They seem to shun the responsibilities associated with coming to a deeper understanding of just what it means to strive for excellence. 

123. The real measure of how well a child is learning is not to be found on report cards. The real measure of how well a child is learning is how proficient the child is in comprehending and explaining the basic framework of the world. Of particular interest is how well he can communicate, and how literate he is about the social, economic, and political processes that guide and misguide the dynamics of life in the modern world. Some may say that kids aren't supposed to know this information. That's precisely why school is such a joke.

124. Never before have so many adults been so willing to pay counterproductive compliments to so many counter-productive kids.

125. Can our kids read? Recent studies suggest that many of our kids are not reading at an appropriate level. Students who cannot read at an appropriate level are receiving the most narrow-minded kind of education possible. First, they're getting no real benefit from their textbooks. Second, they're not participating in the discussion-and-writing assignments required in order to receive passing marks in class. In a sea of information, smooth sailing is impossible as long as students continue to shipwreck the printed word. 

126. The number of students coming into our schools has made both teaching and learning more arduous and ambiguous than it used to be. Fact is, today's schools are understaffed and underdeveloped in ways that can only do damage to the long-term viability of public education going forward. Add to this the heavy workload given to teachers throughout the year and the dispirited and dissatisfying atmosphere that prevails in so many classrooms, and you get some idea as to why both students and teachers are so like-minded when it comes to acting like there's nothing that can be done to make the situation any better.

127. Kids who can't read and write can't commence on the path to higher learning because their minds are submerged beneath years of illiteracy.

128. Far too many students out there feel that their teachers are but inches away from being complete idiots. Of course this is not the case. Our schools are full of many examples of fine educators. However, the inordinate amount of effort some teachers expend trying to "reach" their students is proof enough that they feel that they're not making themselves heard. Why is this? Perhaps the reason is that other factors such as apathy and non-interest are severely limiting the extent to which teachers can impact their students.

129. What is heard is not always reflected, and what is reflected is not always heard. This simply means that whatever our kids are "learning" is not adequately being "reflected" in their performance on recent state and national tests; and whatever those tests convey to educators and politicians is not adequately being reflected in their efforts to make those same tests more relevant to the end-user: the student.

130. Perhaps we should determine what it is we want our young people to know while at the same time asking them what it is they want to learn about. Society is orderly even if it is diversely arranged. But our schools are lame and unattractive when compared to society because they do not appear to reinvent themselves when the disadvantages of sameness threaten to undermine the integrity of the whole. Society is the result of different units of innovation calibrated to make the parts work together as one. If our schools do not lend themselves to the same spirit of innovation then society itself will suffer.

131. Misaligned schools foster misaligned learning environments thereby producing misaligned minds.

132. It is very important for schools to provide firm proof that they are providing students with the best possible customer service. This means equal access to first-rate teachers, tools, and technologies for all students. This means forward-looking teachers who believe our students are functionaries of the future. This means taking greater care in how course material is assembled and presented. It also means singularity of purpose behind everything that is taught. Hard-working teachers accomplish nothing if students are not also hard-working. Students do not tend to work hard when they feel uninspired and uninvolved with what is going on.

133. What do schools produce? Much is "measured" in the way of testing students, but little is produced in the way of educated high school graduates capable of long-term success in a short-sighted world. The "needs" of our students far outweigh the irrational policies and procedures that are currently in place in school districts throughout the country, yet we go on contriving and implementing more of the same year after year. What if our nation's leading corporations did the same and  adopted an unfriendly stance toward quality control? What if their products were accompanied with warning labels that stated in essence that from now on quantitative output would be used as the sole criteria for all quality control issues?

134. How do we persuade students that education is more than just a meaningless emancipation from the bonds of ignorance? Politicians and educators eyeing the question seem uncertain as to the answer. Teachers cannot adequately discharge their duties when they are given boring subjects to teach and kindergarten compensation in return. Perhaps teaching would be worth the effort if students at least demonstrated some interest in going to school on a regular basis. The real "distance learning" we've heard about in recent years is not going on via broadcasts and telephone tutorials, it's going on right in our own classrooms whenever teachers attempt to "connect" with their students. The first major breakthrough in education was getting schools set up around the country to teach the nation's young people. The second major breakthrough was integration. The third major breakthrough came when we recognized that this country had settled for academic standards that were too low. But the fourth major breakthrough has yet to be conceived and implemented. It will come about only when we devise a more practical means by which students can be modified from low-expectation learners to high-expectation learners who care not only about learning as a process, but as a tool to be used and cherished for life.    

135. What's the tribalization of education? In the name of multiculturalism we have introduced into our schools a number of new reforms that are supposed to bring perspective to an allegedly insensitive portrayal of the human condition. These multidimensional reforms are supposed to give something back to all those "faces" who have essentially been deprived of an inheritance inasmuch as they were not mentioned or were mis-mentioned in social studies textbooks. The reasoning goes something like this: why be portrayed as a muffin man when everyone wants to be depicted as a superpower that once was or still is? Unfortunately, this has led to a kind of inbreeding among politicians and educators. The result is that historical accuracy is now everyone's love child and no one's responsibility. Meanwhile our kids lose twice: by gaining a very shallow understanding of the past, and then concluding that cultural distinction is historical distortion.

136. When we are precisely aware of the nature of a problem, there is no need for second or third-class solutions. In order to build capable minds we must first construct environments in which students can thrive. Unfortunately, the state of many of our schools is pitiful. Out-of-date structures stocked with out-of-date tools and technologies can only produce out-of-date students.

137. To a certain extent there is no way to overcome failure without being seduced by it. In the case of our schools, the seduction has not been recognized. Or if it has, then it is being ignored. Declining or flat scores on mandatory state tests are said to be our biggest challenge. At the same time those same tests are being "reassessed" in an attempt to make them more "user-friendly" the next time around. The reasoning seems to be: why let state tests reflect poorly on school districts when they can just be tweaked a little in the name of "fairness" to students? Consequently, such tests have little inherent value and are not to be relied on too heavily.

138. Public schools like to style themselves as a kind of child advocate industry that has made hard-core gains in the last fifteen years. But is this really the case? Politicians and educators would like to suggest that schools overall have been dramatically upgraded in various ways, and that the vast majority of students have been enriched both physically and mentally as a result. Additionally, they would like to suggest that students generally have access to top-quality literacy and numeric programs at some point during the school day. They would further have us believe that the majority of problems encountered by students who are having difficulty even reading and writing at grade level, are not really problems that stem from the fatiguing framework of school itself, but instead are personal-inadequacy issues embedded in the "hardware" of certain kinds of kids from certain types of backgrounds. Such attitudes and other hocus-pocus underlie the problem with schools in general: they stand for whatever we fall for.

139. Our schools also suffer from a kind of ADD, or Academic Deficit Disorder. Its defining characteristic seems to be "teaching to the test" as opposed to teaching at its best.

140. If we're uncomfortable with kids' disgust whenever it comes to homework, perhaps we should take a closer look at the static slop we're feeding them every time they come to class.

141. Seems like our schools resemble infirmaries more and more these days. Where else can be found so many kids who appear to be basically brain-dead? Instead of trying to shake them out of their coma-like state, many teachers simply enhance the trance by going on in their characteristic fashion as though nothing is wrong. Oh well. At least they can say they are contributing to a better understanding of nothing in particular.

142. At regular intervals we must demand accountability from our students. For too long we have been using a double standard whereby we demand accountability from teachers and principals, but not from students. Especially in the case of older students, we must be vigilant in our efforts to make sure that they be held accountable for shoddy performances that fail to improve over time. Troubleshooting at the top and mid-levels of the educational hierarchy ignores those at the bottom who are often holding themselves back. Kids have been persuaded that they are emotionally too frail to be held accountable for failure.

143. Our schools lack balance. They place political correctness ahead of practical directiveness and thereby prevent real learning from taking place. Knowledge is not marketable to students who have no interest in it. Kids refuse to believe that they can be enriched by destitute curriculums that are as unchanged today as the day they were penned. Tons of dead data can't just be dumped on kids who see school as an institution devoted to teaching the unnecessary. The only way to get them to shake hands with "learning" is to stimulate them with lessons that reassure them that they aren't just being suckered into a raw deal. 

144. What exactly is dead data? It's information that is stressed in such a manner as to blow it completely out of proportion relative to its real value and relevance. It's pedantic penicillin that's administered to students due to its "perceived value" on the part of academics and politicians. Unfortunately, this antibiotic sickens more than its cures. It enfeebles able minds by numbing student interest and cures kids of the desire to learn. This isn't exactly what the academics and politicians had in mind, but it's what they got nonetheless.

145. Administrative waste and fraud are poor examples by which to lead. 

146. Shortness of "depth" as it relates to classroom instruction has done more to retard student interest in learning than just about anything else. Kids now think of learning as junk food. This is not really all that surprising. The belief that you can simply "throw learning" at kids and they will "eat it" is based on the balance sheets of a hundred years ago. We must undertake an enormous modification in our methods and come up with new paradigms whereby specific and relevant proficiencies can be fostered in our kids.

147. A student's responsibilities include paying attention in class and getting as much out of school as possible. Unfortunately, this is not representative of how millions of students conduct themselves each day. Constant classroom boredom is downright deadly to learning, yet little has been done to address its causes. Student interest is a necessary prerequisite for learning to occur. Therefore, we must look into offering courses that will drastically reduce the number of students who are coming to class on life-support.

148. In some ways, school failure is a puzzling phenomenon. It would seem that if you had good resources in the classroom, good teachers, and good textbooks, everything would be there to make "school" a success. But the wild card here is the student body. And since all the students come from different backgrounds and have different brains, it stands to reason that everything is not going to run smoothly. Critical studies on education have not led to much improvement over the past fifteen years. Fact is, there are so many "experts" on education....they could practically form their own religious order if they all got together. Kids have their own beliefs about school and their place in it. They have their own perspectives on the world that are sometimes quite interesting; and sometimes strange, immature, and disturbing. But why on earth we go on following outdated curriculums has got to be the ultimate question. Maybe we have formalized the process of education so much that changing it seems like a joke or a dream. It's an indication I think of just how pointless our educational system has become. It will only be through stimulating our students that we will be able to rise to the occasion that is the 21st century.       

149. Our schools have become more inward than outward-looking in dealing with change. By continuously looking inward, schools are essentially seeking long-term refuge from the realness of the world. Unfortunately, looking inward is only productive when it leads to more progressive thinking - and I think we can all agree that progressive thinking is largely absent when it comes to public education today. There seems to be a lot of regressive thinking going on, but I can't see how that is going to help anything as afflicted as our nation's schools. For example, instead of taking a fresh look at ways to give students more control over their own educational outcomes, schools have conveniently decided to keep things as they were instead of facing the new realities that are. I can see that school hasn't changed much since I graduated years ago...and there may by a kind of semi-nirvana that comes out of navel-gazing exercises, but I think that without the resolve to evolve, public education will falter even more in the years to come.

150.  At times we should allow for a greater degree of cooperative non-collaboration when it comes to students and teachers. Why? Because situations that do not reinforce learning are those in which a suffocating kind of mouth-to-mouth interaction takes place between teachers and students whereby teachers put into the mouths of students the "correct" interpretation of information otherwise open to debate.

151. The future is a good frame of reference for the present. We know that the learning-needs of our young people will only increase over time, and that the implementation of various reforms will have to take place in order to halt the leprosy of learning that is taking place in our schools. We know that if millions of kids continue to oops-a-daisy through the span of their formal education, the nation as a whole will be ill-equipped in the new millennium. Our schools must be professionalized from within and without. This means up-to-date leaders at the helm of up-to-date schools stocked with up-to-date tools and technologies, and staffed by up-to-date teachers. Only then can we hope to scrape away at the mental mildew that has filled so many young minds.

152. What must be one of the most distressing things about school is the fact that for the vast majority of the time students are in it, they have virtually no choice as to what they can take. The structure of the curriculum is set up to keep everything that is interesting, useful, and controversial out of the classroom. Students overdose on English, math, science, history, and maybe some social studies. But most of this material is "recycled" and is of little interest or use. Perhaps that's one reason our kids are so concept-poor. It appears to me that what is lacking in every respect is the aspect of "choice" that is almost always available in the real world. Kids get used to things in much the same way as adults. It  becomes "normal"  to do the same thing over and over as the days drag on and the years go by. The same information is presented over and over: math, science, English, history, and so on. It's this same steady diet that is contributing to the "dumbing down" effect that has shown up in the mentality of so many of our kids. It has gotten to the point where many parents, teachers, and politicians can't even imagine the "traditional" curriculum ever being any different from what it already is.

153. As conventional thinking goes, it has long been assumed that children learn only for the moment. Apparently, they can't seem to "hang on" to what is being taught in class for very long. In some cases, it seems fair to say that kids don't even remember from one week to the next what they were thought to have grasped. Fact is, many teachers are clearly upset by this enduring problem among students. After all, what is the point of learning formulas and dates if that same information is going to be forgotten in no time at all? Students' behavior often affects how teachers interact with them, and the opposite is also true. Kids can tell if the teacher is losing interest in them, and teachers can also pick up the same vibes coming from kids. It's not the deliberate intention of kids to constantly forget as much as they do. After all, the relative calm of a normal classroom is a suitable environment in which to impart knowledge and receive it. So then why is the information that is being imparted to students being discarded so casually when the test is over - or in some cases before the test is even given? The fact that kids have almost no control over what they are being taught is truly oppressive. Not only does it possess all the characteristics of a tyranny, it also ends up having unintended consequences for teachers. Students are being compelled to listen to information that they have no interest in hearing about, and teachers are being told to teach this information no matter what the cost. All of this leads to a kind of gridlock in which teachers feel frustrated and students feel bored and suffocated. This feeling of being "trapped" doesn't occur periodically, it more than likely occurs every day for both students and teachers. It may not lead to a revolt on the part of students and staff members, but it's there nonetheless. We see that the endgame of the educational system is to keep things unchanged. But by doing this, learning itself becomes a kind of endangered species, and that is clearly cause ! for concern.

154. In the minds of millions of kids across the country, school feels more like prison than a place of learning. It's not just the way schools look and feel, it's not just the layout of the classrooms and the way everyone is treated like a number; it's all this and more. For myself, school felt like a prison nearly all the time due to the dullness of the subjects I was taking. I couldn't stand my teachers because I couldn't stand what they were teaching. It really didn't matter how hard my teachers tried to make the subjects come to life. I had no interest in learning about rocks and plants and birds. I had no interest in hearing about Shakespeare year after year. I had no interest in algebra and geometry, nor was I interested in learning a foreign language. But since I was forced to sit through these classes, I was basically a prisoner of the system. Schools give the skeptic reason enough to go on being skeptical. Why is there so little contrast in the courses students are forced to take? Why is every school run in basically the same manner - with the focal point of the curriculum being math, English, science, and history repeated endlessly?

155. Life is full of jillions of choices. But in school, choice has no voice. So what kind of "choice" should students be given? This is a new kind of question. Students in general lack the knowledge and experience to tell schools what it is that they should be teaching. Most students couldn't even begin to put together personalized curriculums that would actually involve the application of real-life concepts and broad-based disciplines coordinated in such a way as to provide high-level outcomes. It's not that kids are too dumb to do this. I actually believe they could learn to do it if they only had the chance to pick it up. Currently, the state decides what the student learns, and he is forced to deal with it regardless of how he feels. It's not that students are too dumb to figure out what they want for themselves. But when they are catered to as being irresponsible and ignorant, they tend to act that way all the time. For many kids, there exists only what schools' have told them exists. We need to change that by giving kids power over their educational outcomes. We need to teach them how to look at different options without being intimidated by the voice of choice. Deciding such things as what to learn about  - at an earlier point in one's educational career -  is one way to make kids more enthusiastic about learning and going to school.

156. Out of a confusing present, many so-called "educational trailblazers" are blazing the way to an even more confusing future. What "specifically" must be restructured? What "specifically" must be replaced? Which "specific" paradigm is most appropriate when it comes to weighing considerations pertaining to the educational fortunes of millions of kids? Strangely, these same questions - unresolved today - were being asked some twenty years ago. It's hard to take seriously any talk of blue ribbon schools when those of a mind to redefine public education continue blueprinting the past. Fact is, the past is not a meaningful force for change when current problems keep leap-frogging from bad to worse. Problems that appear to be behaving "backwards" are problems that were never truly dealt with in the first place. Consequently, poor student achievement in the classroom, pitiful cultural awareness, dull and boring subjects, under performing teachers, and other such maladies are still with us because past remedies lacked forwardness. The culture of decrease we are witnessing in our schools wasn't as conspicuous in years' past not because it wasn't there, but because it hadn't fully matured. Now that it has proven it has sufficient sufficiency to go on evolving into ever more hideous and insidious forms than in years' past, we must notify this monstrosity that we intend to end it through forward-looking innovation. Let "trailblazers" do this, and they should have no trouble answering: where we are and where we're going.    

157. Few there be that can fathom the "relevance" of undergraduate pedagogy.

158. Teachers struggling to help children learn, all too often get caught up in repetitive patterns involving the application of duplication. This often leads to anger and broad-based frustration on the part of students, and more than occasionally inhibits "real" growth in school-based settings.

159. Significant improvement on test scores never came about as a result of miscellaneous meetings behind closed doors.

160. That student is most poor who rejects all the riches his teachers have to offer.

161. Too many teens are in close proximity to big-picture illiteracy.   
 
162. What good to lengthen an already lengthy childhood?

163. If students and teachers aren't the problem, it must be the bureaucrats and the curriculum.

164. The so-called "achievement gap" is more gap than achievement.  

165. To an extent, our kids are "kids" for too long. After all, when's the last time you saw a kid on the lookout for activities and situations extending beyond such trivia as playing video games for hours, hanging out at the mall, or just doing nothing in particular? By allowing our kids to engage in vague and somewhat valueless activities for as long as we do, we only wind up teaching them that life is primarily about time-wasting and play, not about maturity.

166. Our kids are building incompetent competencies faster than we can RITALIN all their deficiencies.

167. When bodies start outpacing minds, desires bloom ahead of time.

168. Once puberty begins at age ten, childhood will never be the same again.

 

 

About the author: Maurice Levine, a self-proclaimed education advocate, lives in Houston, Texas. He is a concerned parent of 2 children who wrote these 168 observations from his own experiences. In his own words:

 

I am so frustrated with public education and what it is doing to our children. I went to college for 2 yrs. and later left because it was just more of the same mind-numbing material all over again. I was trying to major in Education...but the theory stuff just turned me off....as did college in general.

 

Mr. Levine is 33 years old.


Home Rant Page Feedback to the Author