I have to vent about this before my head explodes. I just watched the following clip from PBS's "Need to Know" series, entitled "Big Thinkers on How to Fix American Education". You can watch it here:
Or, if you like, I'll give you a summary of what I heard. Basically, each "expert" thought that the problems with the education system can be resolved by focusing in their own particular fields. The head of the American Museum of Natural History thinks we need to focus on science. The President of the New Teacher Project and the head of the National Education Association (Teacher's Union) both think we need to focus on teachers, the former on teacher evaluations and the latter on recruiting, training, and hiring practices. The head of the Asia Society thinks we need to "partner with Asia" and focus on "cultural literacy". Do you see a pattern here? None of them had any specific, concrete suggestions, just vague generalities. The most baffling comments were from a professor at Stanford University. She says that states that have been successful have "forged a consensus... set a path... and kept it going." What does that even mean?!?
While I did agree with a few bits and pieces of what these people said, I really didn't see any evidence of "Big Thinking" going on here. Everyone considered the problem in terms of their own focus areas and didn't go any further beyond. I didn't hear any talk of HOW TO ACTUALLY HELP CHILDREN LEARN. The only person who almost touched on this was the representative from Kids Count, an organization for disadvantaged kids. She thinks we need to focus on birth through age 5, and prepare kids better before they start school. While I agree with that statement, I strongly disagree with her assertion that educating kids is a "pocketbook driven" thing, and that people with more money prepare their kids better. I assert that people who care about learning prepare their kids better, regardless of income levels. My pocketbook is pretty darn tight, and I am doing a fine job of teaching my kids, thank you very much. SO many parents nowadays just wash their hands of any responsibility for facilitating learning in their kids and just expect the school system to do everything for them. THAT is the problem, and dumping more money into the school system won't do a darn thing to change it.
In my opinion, the flaws within the system lie in the rigid institutionality of it. There is no flexibility to adapt to different learning styles, skill levels, or interests. Teachers have zero flexibility on what they teach or how they present it. You will learn what everyone else your age is learning, in the same order, by the same method, at the same time. Period. I think that school, for many kids, is simply tolerable, tedious, or outright tortuous. I would love to see some real experts address that.