10/02/2009

9 Educational Reforms We Need NOW!


As both an educator and a citizen, I am increasingly troubled by the widening gap between the education we are providing our children and the education they will actually require to become functional, responsible citizens.  Doesn't anyone see the discrepancy between a world that is growing exponentially in complexity and an educational system that hasn't changed in any meaningful way in the past 50 years?  (NOTE: This is one of the few lists that is copyrighted - see copyright notice at the bottom - as I may wish to work these ideas into professional articles or books in the future.  Please do not copy or paraphrase without author's permission!) 
  1. Teach Critical Thinking.  Life doesn't come with a textbook, so why are we teaching our students to copy answers out of textbooks?  We need to present learning as a puzzle and then teach our students how to effectively gather, piece together, and interpret information to create meaning.  Moreover, we need to teach in ways that require students to use authentic materials and generate answers in authentic ways.   FYI, the International Baccalaureate program, an international standard curriculum which is slowly gaining momentum in US middle and high schools, emphasizes teaching critical thinking skills - requiring, for instance, that students take a "theory of knowledge" class that forces them to reflect upon the ways that humans acquire, synthesize, and apply knowledge.
  2. Teach Rhetoric.  Speaking of which ... in this increasingly slick and sophisticated world, it's critical that citizens be able recognize and evaluate the rhetorical devices that advertisers, politicians, and others use to shape and manipulate public discourse.  I'm not advocating reverting to some ancient Greek model of teaching; however, every student ought to be able to construct a basic syllogism and identify/recognize the basic forms of logical fallacy.
  3. Make Kids Write.am aware that most adults don't end up having to write papers for a living. But that's not the reason why we need to be spending more time teaching students how to write. Rather, the discipline of writing forces the writer to organize, prioritize and support his ideas ... a skill that, as adults, we use every day of our lives.
  4. Update our Science Curriculum.  Our science curriculum is not keeping up with the modern world.   We need to seriously beef up our science curriculum to ensure that students graduating from high school understand the pros and cons of alternative fuels, the difference between organic and conventional farming, and how their cellphones/ipods/computers work. 
  5. Ramp Down the Advanced Math.  While I do agree that all Americans should understand the basics of algebra, trig, geometry, and statistics, I believe that only those destined to enter mathematics or a science should be required to take calculus or any of the other advanced maths.  Truth is, the vast majority of students in the course of their lifetime will never use advanced mathematics, and the time we're spending teaching them advanced mathematics could be put to better use.
  6. Revisit the Foreign Language Requirement.  The world changes, globalization marches on ... but our colleges still require every student to complete 3 years of a foreign language (generally Spanish, French, German or Latin) for admittance.  This is archaic. I contend that while we should (by all means) continue to encourage students who wish to pursue a foreign language to do so, we should no longer be requiring all students to do so.  However, we absolutely should be requiring students to participate in coursework designed to introduce them to the cultures, conditions, and issues facing specific countries and our globe as a whole.  And, while we're at it, we also need to eliminate our current Euro-language bias and start providing more opportunities for students to learn world languages.
  7. Teach Technology.  In a world in which just about every job requires a working knowledge of technology, we can no longer afford to relegate technology classes to the "electives" department.  NO student should be allowed to graduate without a working knowledge of basic hardware and software.
  8. Teach Functional Skills.  It seems unconscionable to me that we are graduating students who can apply the Pythagorean Theorem, but who have no idea how to balance a checkbook, calculate interest, determine the return on an investment, fill out a WE-2, or do a cost/benefit analysis.  If we want our citizens to stop signing up for risky mortgages, taking out credit cards as usurious rates, or choosing the $2000 cash back instead of opting for the 0% interest, we need to teach them how to make these decisions ... because it's clear that they're not figuring it out on their own!
  9. Teach Ethics.  Every generation faces its challenges, but I would argue that no generation is going to face as many ethical dilemmas as the students in our schools right now.  Ethics is critical thinking + values ... which DOES NOT require teaching values (too many people confuse "values" with religion; these are NOT the same thing!), but DOES require teaching students to thoughtfully evaluate the role that values should (and should not) play in making decisions that impact individuals, cultures, and society as a whole.
Copyright 2010 by Shirley Jeanette Thomas

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