If you interview any random bunch of public school students about their experience, you’ll probably find a consensus that school, in fact, sucks. And why wouldn’t they say that? They’re probably whining about how you’re making them study instead of letting them take “selfies” with their “Snapchat Instagrams” while “smoking” their “Molly cigarettes.”
Or they could be right. Our educational system is an antiquated tower of nonsense built on bad ideas and inertia. Just consider that …
#5. The School System Was Designed Like A Factory (Over 100 Years Ago)
No matter where you are in the Western world, you can bet that your education looked pretty much the same: 12 years of sitting in classes that focused almost entirely on memorizing facts. Sure, there have been a bunch of outstanding teachers who took a Dead Poet’s Society-level of personal interest in their students, but for the most part, the education of our youth has been rather paint-by-numbers. You progress through a series of “grades” lasting one year each, and everybody gets about the same material. “Get used to it, kids. Life is sitting helplessly while someone else tells you what to do, until the day you die.“
“Hey, we’re only trying to prepare you for your future as a meaningless cog in a bleak, Orwellian nightmare.”
The thing is that by the third grade or so, you probably knew why this is bullshit. Every kid is different and picks up information at wildly different rates. Yet you were all hearing the same math lesson, despite the fact that one kid in your row was crying tears of frustration while another cried tears of boredom. So who decided this was the best way to do it?
It turns out that it was concocted nearly wholesale by a committee of ten guys way back in the early 1890s. They were imaginatively known as the Committee of Ten. Before then, schools across the United States were essentially free to teach kids however they wanted, with very mixed results. So in 1894, the Committee of Ten came together with the goal of standardizing the education system across the country, and released a report that shaped the modern concept of schooling in the USA and abroad. That part makes sense — why not figure out what works and apply it everywhere?
From here on out, go ahead and assume finger quotes every time the word “works” comes up.
To start, there’s the fact that they didn’t really make sure it worked first. The committee’s report basically turned education into an assembly line. Unless you’re an Einstein-level prodigy and get to skip a grade or do really, really badly and get held back, your progress through the school system is more or less decided on the time spent sitting at your desk — one year equals one “grade.” It’d be like an RPG in which leveling up didn’t depend on how many orcs you grinded, but simply the number of hours you sat at the computer.
“I’m gonna grind through Junior Prom, then I’m never buying anything off Greenlight again.”
Indeed, the Committee’s standardization model (which was later refined by the Carnegie Unit) wasn’t intended to maximize the quality of schooling so much as its efficiency — they wanted to “batch process” kids for higher education. After a set period of time, you either memorize enough facts to go on to college or university, or you don’t (in which case, ha ha, fuck you). And this 120-year-old system relies on the ability of every kid going through puberty to fully understand the weight of their own mortality and forward-plan the next 50 years of their life in an age in which free Internet porn exists.
And how do we record how well our kids retain this rote knowledge? Standardized testing, of course! And that brings us to …
#4. Standardized Testing Is A Relic Of The Cold War
As much as it hurts to admit, a significant amount of the United States’ technological advancement can be directly attributed to a half-century-long dick-measuring contest called the Cold War. Shit, that’s the only reason NASA exists. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that a bunch of educational initiatives passed by the US in the 20th century were made with the singular goal in mind of one-upping the communists. One of those initiatives resulted in America’s obsession with standardized testing.
Which may also explain how a few questionable ideas made it into the curriculum.
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published a report titled “A Nation at Risk,” which outlined the growing threat of slipping education results. It was woven with evocative, nationalistic rhetoric such as “educational disarmament” and claimed that “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” The report never specifically names the Soviets as the looming foreign educational threat, but considering the context of the time, we’re reasonably sure that they weren’t talking about France.
This report is widely regarded as the catalyst for the modern test-focused education movement. The nation’s largest organization of teachers refers to it as an “obsession with standardized testing” which adds between $700 to $1,000 of cost per student each year. Altogether, students in the US will take an average of 113 fucking standardized tests throughout their primary and secondary school education, all for the sake of desperately trying to outsmart a rival superpower that no longer exists.
“So does this mean we can finally stop giving the Iowa Test now?”
“If you can think of a way to justify 10,000 unused Scantrons to the school board, then we’ll talk.”
Of course, the most important question is, again, whether the system works. And the answer is: Ha, of course not. Despite this insane testing schedule, the US has experienced stagnation in achievement, while other countries have been rapidly improving. For example, students in Finland take a grand total of one exam at the end of their entire school experience, and they consistently top worldwide rankings in educational achievement. It’s almost as though routine learning and standardized testing aren’t the only or even the best way to maximize a human child’s education.
Here’s where you probably expect us to shame the government for not spending more on our precious children, but it’s not that simple …
#3. It’s Set Up To Almost Guarantee That Poor People Get Screwed
Despite what you may have heard, the United States actually spends a massive amount of money on public education. In fact, it’s the only national expenditure that really rivals the defense budget. Despite this sizable investment, many schools and districts are dramatically underfunded, and in some cases literally falling apart. How can these two facts be simultaneously true, unless our nation’s teachers are using the whole system as a complex money laundering operation for the mafia?
“So howsabout we discuss your funding this year, principal? That is, unless you’d like to be ‘held back.'”
The answer is that while schools receive some funding through the federal and state government, nearly half of a school’s funding will come from local taxes, usually on real estate. Neighborhoods full of rich people can raise more money than those in the inner city or trailer parks, so kids growing up in an upscale Bay Area suburb will receive a much higher standard of education than kids growing up in Buttfart, Mississippi … thus ensuring that the rich neighborhoods will stay rich and the poor ones will stay poor.
“The hole in the floor isn’t for show. Every rider must help drive this, Flintstones-style.”
And this isn’t merely a matter of whether or not they can afford nets for the basketball hoops on the playground; some districts are able to spend several times the national average on their schools. And yes, this class issue quickly turns into a race issue when you consider the brazenly racist housing policies which actively prevented African Americans and other minorities from buying homes in certain neighborhoods. The cycle of poverty among minorities is baked right into the school system. In a country that is supposedly all about inspirational bootstrap success stories, your zip code can all but determine the course of your life.
#2. One Company Holds A Monopoly On (Expensive, Shitty) Calculators
If you went through high school after the ’90s, it’s probable that your math exam conditions allowed you to use a calculator, because you were already living in the future and we were no longer a bunch of finger-counting luddites. But it’s also probable that there was only one specific calculator that you were allowed to use, to the exclusion of all others: the Texas Instruments graphing calculator, which is specifically recommended by the College Board.
See, even though we’re living in an era in which every school student is carrying an iPhone (or at the very least, an Android) in their back pocket, a little-known Calculator Cartel still dictates which brand of calculator they’re allowed to consult in an exam. Of course, that’s unfortunate for students on the lower side of the economic scale, because an approved TI calculator runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. That seems excessive, considering (A) the design has barely evolved in 20 years, and (B) it’s a goddamn calculator. Your cellphone uses more processing power simply to show you the lock screen.
And yes, you can download a free graphing calculator app for your phone that has even more functionality than your expensive TI hardware. And yet Texas Instruments still somehow accounts for 80 percent of the US market for devices that will draw a hyperbola graph for you when you punch in some numbers. Though some of them do come included with a game of Snake.
Any student can tell you how dumb this is — how dumb all of this is. But that’s the thing …
#1. Everyone Ignores Students’ Opinions When Making Decisions
You probably think that when it comes to judging a teacher’s performance, the least-reliable method is to ask the students. After all, they’re always going to vote for the “cool” teacher who lets them smoke behind the playground, and vote against the asshole who calls them out for not doing their math homework. The standard wisdom is that if you hold teachers accountable to the opinions of their students, the whole mess is going to turn into a kind of twisted, Lord Of The Flies-style popularity contest.
“Mr. Peters, third-period history. Cons: Too much homework. Pros: Holds the Conch.”
But a large body of evidence suggests that the best way to gauge a teacher’s performance is to ask their students. If you’ve been through college, you probably had to do a survey at the end of the semester that rated your lecturer’s ability to actually teach you something. So why not do so with high school students? Or earlier? Isn’t it at least worth asking them?
It totally is. According to a study conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, student surveys are really insightful, as long as you word them in the right way. That means you have to put the questions very simply (these are kids, after all) and you have to convince them that their teacher will never know what they said. If these conditions are met, students wind up giving better feedback about their classroom experience than adult third-party observers (the traditional way to gauge the effectiveness of a classroom).
Not that the effectiveness of classroom observers is exactly set in stone, either.
And it makes sense, because those observers most likely already know all about Pythagoras’ theorem, long division, and I before E except after C. The real metric is to ask the kids, who are the ones in the process of trying to absorb this shit. They’re doing trials on this in some states already. At that point, it’s as simple as taking their feedback and making changes. Should be no problem.
If you’re looking for more reasons to trust us over your schools, then check out The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies You Were Taught In History Class and 6 Lies About The Human Body You Learned In Kindergarten.
Read more: http://www.cracked.com/