Saturday, February 21, 2009

Educate me!!

Have you heard that there are folks out there busily rethinking our education system?

How about a return to the one room schoolhouse?

Here's a fun link I found regarding an experiment with just such a setting:
http://www.countryschoolassociation.org/Modern%20One%20Room%20School.pdf

And another about project-based education in Hawaii:
http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/ert/rebuild/pdfs/wheareport04.pdf

Project-based education, btw, is exactly what it sounds like. Education through working on projects. Hawaii has a few charter schools that are outdoor schoolhouses. They are also bi-lingual, speaking English and Hawaiian. The idea is not only to preserve the Hawaiian culture, but also to encourage kids to embrace their heritage and understand how they can help protect their environment. That it also gives them some real-world experience is just gravy. Personally, I can get behind a system that puts kids to work on how to apply algebra to rebuild a storm-ravaged building, or uses diving to study science and biology and the reefs (I read a written article about such a school, but the link takes you to one that deals with other cool projects related to energy).

Would't it be great if learning and practical application could be used to better prepare graduates at every level for the rest of their life, or the next level of education?

I remember that my dad (a high school teacher for 27 years) was often frustrated when he was told he had to pass a student onto the next grade because they were too old to remain where they were. I remember the year he got a half-dozen new students as freshmen that had moved into high school only because they were turning 15 and could not stay in the 8th grade anymore. They did not know how to read or write, they had no incentive to learn, and when he asked them what they wanted from high school, one replied with "I want to turn 16 so I can get my own welfare check".

Yes, I realize this group of students is not the majority, however, with our current system, what grade you are in correlates with age more than it does ability, and often a child who is functioning well above their "grade" level is not encouraged to challenge themselves and jump ahead, while a child that is lagging behind can be dragged along. It isn't ideal for either situation.

I remember "back in the day" when Associates Degrees covered a more "general education" and the Bachelors was more specialized, with increasing specialization as one earned higher degrees. I feel a bit as though Bachelors degrees have lost some of their...punch... in the workplace, and an Associate's degree doesn't do much for anyone anymore. I fear that this is because there is a desire to have the titles that come with the terminal degrees more than it is a reflection of learning. In a race to stay competitive, have we really increased our learning to match our pedigrees? It is something I don't have an answer to yet.

This has been more food for thought than anything else, but I will leave my readers with some rhetorical questions to think about. Isn't our education supposed to prepare us for the workplace? Why does the workplace find our education inadequate or lacking? Shouldn't the gap between education and application be a narrow one?

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