The average person's view of public education is this: stupid people are a liability to society, they become lazy, useless hobos who will be dependent on welfare. So let's make them useful and teach them what they'll need to know to be a secretary or a pizza delivery person, be able to balance the checkbook, be an average citizen of this great country. It's the idea of taking something oblong and ragged around the edges and producing the finished product; making bricks from straw and clay.

Yes, the mainstream view of the school system is that of a brick factory. Once the brick is complete and up to the standards of the institution, a document is awarded announcing this, as an assurance to the next institution that this brick will fit in satisfactorily to their wall.

Politicians always announce their grandiose plans to make better bricks. The solution? Check at the end of every year, and if the brick isn't coming out the way you intended, threaten to pull the rug out from under them until the bricks come out the way you want them to.

My friends, this is not education.

The public schooling system has no hope of getting better until people start thinking about it differently. Education is not a hurdle, a simple prerequisite to having a job. Education is not free daycare. Most importantly, education is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.

My brother is in sixth grade this year. He's obsessed with bragging about how the school has labeled him as reading at the 8th or 9th grade level, I can never remember which. He reads books because he's proud of how long they are. He has a terribly annoying habit of beginning sentences with "I bet I'm better than you at..." School has taught him that the most important thing is to try to be better than everyone else, which I suppose will make him an ideal capitalist.

I wish schools would stop worrying about the fucking bubble sheets and ask the kid what they think. I look back on 13 years in public school and ask what I have to show for it. I feel lucky that my love for learning survived.

I stand by my original premise, though I think I could have expressed it somewhat better.

Orange Julius: How long do you think your teachers are going to have the liberty to express non-traditional opinions on things or take week-long tangents on issues not explicitly in the course description once comprehensive testing is mandatory, every year of your public school life? Both presidential candidates spout off this idea as the greatest plan for enhancing public education, and no one bothers to question whether it's such a good idea. And I'm afraid we're not talking critical thinking, essay tests; think lots of bubbles. Think taking Iowas on every course you take for all of your public school career.

It sounds as though your public school was fantastic, that's wonderful! I'm afraid schools like that are few and far between, and the direction politics is going, it will become increasingly difficult for schools to operate in that way. It's all about the district requirements and the state requirements. It's about sports teams and pep assemblies. I had a few fantastic teachers in high school, but oddly enough, the best teachers were always the ones who had the most gripes with the administration.

How glad I am I'm in college now, and I've left that all behind...

The real problem with public education is not that it is public education in itself, but rather that we lump all the kids together as if they were identical. Kids learn at different rates, and the public schooling system fails to acknowledge this.

This explains the phenomena of smart people who get bad grades- they stop trying after a short period time, because they see that really trying doesn't get them anywhere early on. I've seen it happen all the time- and it happened to me. Most of them seem to become stoners.

Ironically, the bottom end of the intelligence spectrum isn't served very well either. An educational system normed for the average person moves far too quickly for the lowest common denominator. This causes a lot of them to flunk out as well.

After all this, only the slightly-smart people really succeed in school, along with the smart-and-well-motivated.

What klash had to say is pretty accurate- the state of Arizona now requires high schoolers to take a typing class, so that everyone will have at least one useful skill coming out of high school. Since most people didn't learn a whole heck of a lot in high school anyway, why not set up a vocational system like Germany? We also need more positive reinforcement in the lower grades for exceptionally smart people, and better support for those on the bottom end.

In short, education is quite possibly the most important thing in life. We need to treat as such. No, I'm not running for anything.

OrangeJulius, such schools are rare; most have three tracks. The top two generally vary little, and the bottom is reserved for those who have serious mental deficiencies.

While public education has many flaws, I hardly think any of them could be classified as "fatal". If you want to me to point out a flaw in the American public school system, it's that they're grossly underfunded because most people are too nearsighted to realize that education is a panacea to most of what's wrong in the country today. There's an old saying about teaching someone how to fish. And it's one of the truest sayings you'll ever find. But I digress.

klash, I fail to see the problem with any school teaching kids to be better than everyone else. Shit, isn't that what everyone should be doing every day? Striving to be better people? Let's say you're a poet. And you're writing all of these poems. And one day you see someone whose poems just blow yours out of the water. So what should you do? Just sigh and wallow at how good you'll never be, or bust your ass and try to do better? God, I hope it's the second one.

What I wish schools would do MORE of is just what you're upset about. Don't tell kids, "Stay within yourself", or "That's a little too tough -- maybe you should try this." Tell them, "Fuck yeah, you can be whatever you want to be in life, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise." Then help them on their way.

Maybe I'm high on public education because I'm a product of what I think was a great public school system. For my 13 years, I was encouraged to think outside of the box. I had a history teacher who was convinced that the Egyptians didn't build the Pyramids (and this was long before Stargate came out). English teachers asked students which books to read. My geometry teacher took a week's worth of class time on Non-Euclidean Geometry because someone was upset that the parallel postulate hadn't been proved and wanted to see the ramifications of it. If this wasn't your experience in public school, I wish you could have come to mine.

Superunknown_GP assumes that all American public schools are "untracked" -- that all students are lumped together regardless of learning rate. This is untrue. My high school, for instance, had at least five separate tracks -- honors, advanced, college prep, basic, and remedial -- for all major subjects. There were also AP classes and independent studies for those with an accelerated learning curve, and special help available for those who had a hard time. My high school also had a wide range of vocational programs, too. The question was never "Am I going to learn anything today?". It was "What am I going to learn today?"

When you arrived at high school, you were tracked based on a combination of teacher's recommendation and tests taken the year before. Maybe not the best system, but it worked fairly effectively. Kids were encouraged to bust their asses and move up the tracks. If they didn't it was their own fault. And when graduation day came, you could see the results. Kids in higher tracks were heading to upper echelon schools, kids in college prep classes were heading to average colleges, and kids below that were going to community colleges, trade schools, or straight to work.

- Note that there's a difference between trying to better oneself and telling everyone else that you're better. There's a lot to be said for humility. And that's partly why Deion Sanders is almost universally hated, and Nomar Garciaparra is almost universally well-liked.

Oh, well, another response. First off, why is comprehensive testing a bad thing? It might actually catch kids before they graduate at a fourth grade reading level or without the ability to do long division. While I'm leary of comprehensive testing, because I'm afraid we'll end up with tests like the S.A.T., there's something to be said for required testing.

But even though I'm open to the idea, I have no fear of it every becoming a reality. The MCAS was instituted here in Massachusetts, and the plan was that by 2002, high schoolers would be required to pass it in order to graduate. Well, guess what? Students are walking out in protest. Parents are getting together and lobbying schoolboards. And schoolboards are voting unanimously to refuse the requirement, or scrap the plan altogether.

People are concerned that comprehensive tests concern themselves only with the final answer and not how the final answer was arrived at. Well, that's true. We should teach people to think freely and go about problem solving in their own way. But let's be honest -- in the real world, it doesn't matter how the fuck you arrive at the answer, as long as it's correct. Lawyers don't say, "Well, Bob, you lost that multi-million dollar case, but the way your defense approach was just brilliant, radical thinking. Good job." And chief engineers don't say, "Hey, Chris, that code you wrote corrupted our customer's database. But the way you coded that algorithm - HOT DAMN!" The real world rarely doles out partial credit.

I suppose this whole thing should go into a node on standardized testing or whatnot, but the whole point is... I expect teachers from my old school system to continue to teach the same way they did before for a long time to come.

To put everything back within the analogy klash describes--which was quite vivid, actually--I see what klash is saying, but Orange Julius is correct when he says that public schools generally don't try to make all kids the same brick.

To sprinkle some math on, I think it'd be more correct to say that schools are able to deal competently with bricks that are within one standard deviation in either direction of being average bricks--you just add varying amounts of cement, and you can still make them all fit in the wall nicely.

The problems arise when you get bricks that are way too small or way too big.  The really small (dumb) bricks aren't worth putting into the wall, and conventional bricklaying logic says to discard them.  Schools are not bricklayers in reality, however, and must deal with the social and ethical consequences of throwing away the small bricks.  Since they can't ethically throw away any bricks, they have to put all the really small bricks in a corner, throw the third-rate cement on them, and try to slap a special wall together.

And the really big (smart) bricks, those require too much cement to get them to fit into the wall.  It also requires restructuring all the other bricks around it to make a nice fit, which slows down the bricklaying.  Since schools can't throw them away, they generally try to either

A) Pretend that the big bricks aren't all that big and hope no one notices, or
B) Let the big bricks go to a more advanced stage of bricklaying before they're emotionally ready (Okay, so the analogy is a little weak here.  Sue me.) to get rid of them.

So, while the shotgun system makes really good, stable, medium-sized brick walls, there's a pile of leftovers that all the politicians are conveniently ignoring.

I'm not sure the brickmaking analogy is exactly the correct one, but it does bring to my mind what I have tried to express in my other nodes about public education.

The graduates of our schools, whether public, private, or home, become the wall that is our society. To some, the ideal design of that wall is of uniform modules, that can be serviced in identical manners--this is the basis of mass technological manufacturing.

This vision of uniformity, however, has little basis in the way things actually are. And the attempt to make uniform bricks is just as destructive as the attempt to force them into a drab, gray wall.

We see the debris of these parallel exercises every day.

So many feel that they must leave the public schools to protect their children, and from an individual perspective, it is hard to argue with them. But, to switch analogies, there is an infection spreading, and like any infection the only way any one may be protected, all must be protected.

I am not arguing that public schools are a great place, on the contrary, they have been abandoned in favour of some libertarian notion of rugged individualism, or I'm alright, Jack philosophy.

We are, all of us, rich and poor, sick and healthy, thoughtful and rash, citizens of the same world, the same countries. Though some believe others moust be controlled to make their, so-called, society safe, healthy and thoughtful, they can never maintain their utopia--so we might as well educate all our children, together for the greatest building task the world has always known: the wall against the chaos that awaits.

The Black Panthers, when they weren't too busy chanting their various mantras (e.g. The only good pig is a dead pig and Power to the people ), set up a sturdy menagerie of public service projects, including a free-breakfast program and a grade school. The grade school was unique in the fact that it placed students based on ability instead of age. The first graduates of the school were so far ahead of their peers that they skipped Junior High and went immediately to High School.

Just some food for thought that seemed appropriate to the node.

SuperUnknown GP's writeup is dead on.

In my high school there were three tracks, we'll call them dumb, average, and smart. The only problem with a multi-track system is when you decide who goes on what track. My school decided that it would base how "smart" you were on your math, english, and science grades prior to eight grade. Most kids didn't give a flying fuck what they're grades in middle school were since it didn't seem to effect college. The logic was that if it didn't show up on your college transcript, then it didn't really count. The only inspiration for getting good grades was to keep your parents off your back.

Once the end of middle school came, we were privately(read: secretly) told what class number we were in, but now what it would mean. We were also instructed not to divulge our rank in our class because it might make the other kids feel bad. I got put in the "average" group, despite an IQ of 150+. Most of the people filed as "smart" were pretty much as dumb as logs when it came to common sense. I recall one girl reminding the teacher that the square root of 81 is 9.....10 minutes after the fact....with the help of a calculator. Similarly, most of the kids that wound up in the "dumb" classes turned out to be clever, interesting, intelligent and....duh duh duh dah! Potheads. These poor guys got shafted into the "dumb" group because they were smart enough not to care about their 6th grade transcript, but nobody warned them it would kick 'em in the ass later.

Once the dust settled and we got into high school, it became immediately apparent that many of the class placements were horribly incorrect. Unfortunately my school provided absolutely no mechanism for changing "tracks" mid-high school. You had to get special permission, each year, for each class, and needed three signatures on each permission slip. Needless to say, I stopped caring and became a pothead. Now I have learned that the lazy stoners that many people have to come to hate are the only quality product that public schools turn out. If you don't believe me think about this: Who is smarter: 1) A person who follows directions to the letter, without consideration or 2) Someone who realizes that if they substitute one step for another (or do two at once) they can save themselves an hour and get home in time to smoke a joint with their roommate?

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