Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Educating Students for an Outdated World:

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Educating Students for an Outdated World:

Article excerpt

Ten years ago, in Kappan, the author published a detailed account of the old-fashioned and unengaging instruction used at his son's Chicago elementary school. Now he updates readers with a reflection on his son's high school years, describing a curriculum and teaching practices that are desperately in need of an overhaul.

These are my grandparents, Milton and Gertrude. Milt was born in 1902 and died in 1974; Gertie was born in 1906 and died in 2004, nearly 99 years old. One hundred years ago, in 1917, my grandfather was in high school, and my grandmother was in 6th grade. Women could not vote, horse-drawn wagons clopped along their downtown Chicago streets next to Model Ts, air travel involved biplanes, and the high school graduation rate was 15%.

Yet, if my grandparents walked into a typical classroom today, they would know exactly what to do: Sit at their desks, be quiet, and listen to the teacher. Our schools are educating children for a world that no longer exists; our Industrial Revolution curriculum and teaching methodologies are so obsolete that I'm surprised students don't take classes in Hunting and Gathering.

10 years later

My previous article "Why go to school?" was published in the May 2007 Kappan. It was a critique of the dominant purposes and practices in the nation's schools, and it was framed around my son Max's 1stand 2nd-grade experiences in his traditional Chicago public school. I began the article:

   Last year, in 2nd grade, my son's homework was 400
   worksheets. The year before, in 1st grade, his homework
   was also 400 worksheets. Each day, he brought
   home two worksheets, one for math and one for spelling
   ... At seven-years-old, school was teaching my
   son that the wonderful world of "learning" is about
   going home each day and filling in worksheets. That
   was two worksheets a day times five days a week times
   40 weeks for the year, and there you have his 400-worksheet
   school years (p. 648).

Today, Max is in college, and it seems like a good moment--10 years later--to check in on his journey through the American educational system.

One leg of that journey was terrific. Following Max's 400-worksheet experience in 2nd grade, we pulled him out of our neighborhood school and enrolled him in another Chicago public school, Burley School, which was child-centered, literature-rich, and project-based. Max did not bring home a textbook in six years at Burley. He had a wonderful experience and graduated 8th grade a confident learner, with happy school memories, who liked to read. But then he started high school.

One of the very best high schools in America Max did not attend just any high school. His was one of the Chicago public system's 11 selective enrollment schools (out of 172 high schools in all), where the competition for admission is fierce (based on scores from two standardized tests and final grades in 7th grade). Max's school has been touted as one of the best high schools in America by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and the Washington Post, and it has been awarded National Blue Ribbon status by the U.S. Department of Education.

Many people think Max's high school is an exemplary model for public education writ large. How did they determine that? With lots of numbers: reading and math test scores, AP and IB class enrollments and test scores, ACT and SAT scores, FTE ratios, graduation rates, scores on a college-readiness index, the number of college-level tests, and college attendance rates. One thing that the number-crunchers have not done, however, is set foot inside the school.

The criteria that I use to examine the quality of Max's high school are quite different from the endless counting of quantitative data: I will look at what my son's high school actually taught and how they taught it. Needless to say, I was not privy to Max's experiences inside his classrooms, some of which I know were valuable--many of his teachers were caring, smart, and wanted him to do well, and Max said that some of his classes had excellent discussions. …

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