Where should education be going?

It’s a known fact; education in our country is a mess.  People keep complaining about it, but no one really does much to try to fix it.  Sure, we could continue trying to throw a little money here at there at various schools, but money can only fix so much.  No, seriously; even a school given $100,000 can only do so much with the money, and will likely put far more of it towards the sports programs than towards books, food, building repairs or better classrooms and technology.  So, how can we fix the education in our country?  In my opinion, we simply need to change it all, and see what happens.

First, I do think that we should get rid of teacher tenure.  I know, this is not a popular idea, and no, I am not attacking teachers.  However, as much as we need teachers, I think we need GOOD teachers more.  We should pay them much more than we pay them now, but take away teacher tenure.  After all, wouldn’t teachers be more inventive in their methods and work harder for students if the only security in their jobs lay in their successes, and not in their contracts?

In Freedom Writers, there is a comment that the main character went to law school, but later decided to become a teacher.  Why?  Because by the time that a kid is in a court room, the battle is already lost.  The real fight is in the classroom.  Then, shouldn’t the money be going not to lawyers, but to teachers?  You may have kids, you may not, but I do, and trust me when I say that teaching children to one day be great adults is a constant struggle, especially in a world that is now so very filled with electronics.  I mean, everywhere I turn, there is one more online something-or-other to distract my children from reality.  I try, I do, but it’s a huge job to do by yourself.  Support from teachers in classrooms is the most helpful thing that I can find.  Only teachers can really get children interested in learning, and can stoke their curiosity about the world around them.  The more that the teachers do in the classroom, the more that I can do at home to help.

On a side not, teachers can’t do it all alone, either.  Even with perfect teachers who are able to suss out all of a child’s skills and interests, who can really make them want to learn, without caring and invested parents, the battle’s lost, anyway.

Second, we should take away this three month summer break.  I know, another unpopular idea, but why?  For parents, they have to worry about constant childcare for three months.  For kids, it’s most likely three months of boredom or unlimited video games while their parents are working forty hours a week.  Then, by the time they’re back to school in the fall, schools need to waste at least a week of their curriculum on review because the kids haven’t opened a book or studied for three months.  Why wouldn’t everyone want to get rid of this three month summer?  The original purpose of it was so that kids could help out during harvest season.  Well, news flash, not such a thing anymore.  So, why not dispose of this archaic system?  As Americans, we have an unfortunate tendency to stick with what we call “tradition”, but it’s really just our way of avoiding change, even if it is a change that needs to happen.

In addition to taking away this massive summer break, we need to lengthen the school year.  Why?  Well, partially to fill in the summer, of course, but that’s not the real reason why.  Mostly, it’s to give the students more time to learn.  Right now, teachers have to come up with strict schedules for their classes, and in the end usually have maybe a week per chapter of their text books.  At the end of the semester, they usually haven’t learned everything in that class that they were meant to because they didn’t have time to cover it all, in large part due to constant changes in the schedule.  Whether it’s snow days or extra time needed for students to grasp a certain topic, when there is such little time for a student to learn everything that they are supposed to learn, the smallest hiccup in the schedule and throw it all behind.

If we add more days to the school schedule, then that provides the teachers more time to teach, and gives the students more time to learn.  Teachers can come up with more creative methods of teaching, more hands-on projects, more trips, etc.  With more flexibility in the schedule, there is more flexibility for the teachers.  And, with them able to cover one topic for an extra day or two, it gives students more time to absorb it.  Right now, everything is set into specific times, and if you don’t get it in that short period of time that it’s being taught, then that’s it, you’re suddenly behind everyone else for the rest of the class.  You can catch up, by spending your spare time with a tutor, but how is that fair?  Some students learn much faster than others, and some much slower, and those who learn slower should not be punished by this fast-paced education system that we have.

In Japan, with their longer school years, they are able to have cultural festivals at all of their schools.  It’s very cool, actually.  For a week, instead of classes, the students come up with activities, booths, plays, food, whatever is needed for a festival.  Then, that weekend, all families and friends are invited to a huge festival at the school that is hosted and run by the students of the school.  To me, this is a genius idea!  After all, what better method is there to teach students organization, planning, preparation, teamwork, and leadership all in one swift and exciting venue?  Plus, it brings more fun for the rest of the family by giving them an avenue to come to their child’s school and participate in something with them.  We should have this at all of our schools, totally student run, and set up so that each school can do it completely their own way, and not according to some set of rules handed down by the government.  After all, each school has their own students, with their own interests and ideas, and each school should have full creative freedom.

On a side note, Japan also requires that every student join a club (all sports are also considered clubs).   With this, each student is required to do something social.  They have to participate in something, and have to actually talk to other students.  They can join any club they want, so they can target any interest that they have and find others in their school that share those interests.  I also believe that this should be a requirement in American schools, but I suppose that we would first need to ensure that every school in America has a variety of clubs to join, or at least make it easier for a group of students to create a club.  (I promise, here is where I stop pulling ideas from Japan, and NO, I am absolutely not in favor of cram schools or anything else that puts a huge amount of pressure on students and take away from family time.)

Another thing that we could do with a longer school year and no three month summers?  Have longer breaks somewhere else.  After all, my suggestion to take away the three month summer was not one to take it away altogether, but I think two weeks is a good break.  We could easily do four two-week breaks throughout the year, so that every quarter the student would get a two week break to wind down.  The bigger benefit, though, is a school schedule, chosen and created by the school itself, could then include a day off here or there for important or fun local events and holidays.  Say there’s a huge festival this weekend?  Well, the school knew about it and scheduled the students off on Friday so that they can go and enjoy it.  Maybe there’s a holiday to celebrate a local hero?  Give the kids off to enjoy the day, then.  Maybe there are festivities all around town to help celebrate it.  With no huge summer break, the schools can get more freedom with their schedules, thus giving more freedom to their students.

Now, into the hard stuff.  I do not think that every school should be required to teach all of the same stuff.  When looking at colleges, the first thing that you look at is a school that teaches what you want to learn.  Our grade schools should be the same.  If a student has absolutely no interest in the history that’s been shoved down their throat since they were five, and really only want to learn about mechanics and engineering, then shouldn’t there be a school that can help them focus on that?  Say a student wants to go to college for engineering, but the only A they got in high school was math.  Considering how English and History have absolutely no impact on the career of engineering, should their low grades really stop them from getting into the college of their choice?

Basically, what I’m saying is that our grade schools should be set up similar to our colleges, with things like trade schools that teach a minimum of other subjects, and focus their education on more hands-on classes.  After all, not everyone learns the same, and some people will just never be able to understand how to calculate cos, or understand the beauty of Shakespeare.   Then, for some people, the hands-on stuff just sucks, and they would much rather have nothing but classes that expand their minds, so there could be a school that is really just the core classes of a curriculum, then expand on those classes to more interesting and specified areas of them, like how an English major in school would take classes specific to American Literature, World Literature, Creative Writing, and any other specific topic of English that they would prefer.  Then, there are students like me, who are generally interested in everything.  For students like me, the current system of having a core curriculum with several elective classes works well.  So, to sum up, three types of schools, each targeting a different set of students, would overall help far more students than a single brand of education.

Anyway, that is my rant for today, and how/why I think our education could and should be repaired in this country.  Thank you for reading!

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