Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oldest Makes a Funny

"Hey Mom, speaking of educational there's a Nova movie on tonight that I think you'd like."

"What is it called?"

"Watching grass grow in real time!"

After recovering from laughing so hard I cried I wondered out loud if there might be some parts in slow motion so that we can see all the details.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Let's blame the student

I spent last week taking care of my mother after a hip replacement operation, and had the opportunity to chat with some of her bright and interesting friends. One friend was a teacher and told the following story: A boy who has always done well turns in a paper that is below his usual standard and she grades it accordingly and gives it a B. It turns out that the B resulted in the boy and his family going into therapy.

The response in our conversation was a bit of disdain that the boy couldn't take a lower grade, and the comment that it was good for the boy to get a B or even to fail at something, and the conversation went on to say the children (perhaps especially gifted children) shouldn't expect to always excel.

At this point I broke in, because I felt they were blaming the victim. Children in school are certainly not told that it is okay to be less good at one subject, or to only be good at one subject (unless, perhaps, its a varsity level sport). Quite the contrary. Similarly, they are not encouraged to allowed to continue to formally study a topic after the class has finished it, regardless of how good they may be at it, or how much they like it. To excel academically, a student must be good at every subject and must be willing to give up a subject of interest to move on to the next topic on which they will be graded.

How about not blaming the student, but acknowledging that when he or she reacts with shock and dismay to a low grade, they are responding to the system that teaches them that they must excel at everything? School is just one big game, and only a few can win. You're supposed to win, and to win you have to be good at everything. If you can't be good, don't even try, is what they learn as the corollary.

So then kids move on to real life. Real life is much less clearly a game to win, although some adults will make it so. As an adult, you don't have to be good at everything -- not that it wouldn't be nice, of course. What matters as an adult? The ability to be happy, to figure out what needs to be done and then do it or delegate it, the ability to get on with others. And certainly an ability that allows you to make a living is extremely useful. But being good at math, science, literary analysis, essay writing, a foreign language or two, and history isn't going to serve you particularly well unless you enjoy them, and they they will provide hours of entertainment in your leisure time.

What would a school that actually prepared kids to be adults look like? It would certainly let children continue to study a topic that interests them. It would not set up such a win/lose situation. Many more people can succeed at real life than can be in the top echelon at school. It would nurture those characteristics that contribute to success as a self-supporting and somewhat content adult. Content would be broad and real, not watered-down, and children could, after an initial introduction, choose how far to pursue a topic. I'm feeling my way here -- what do you think?