Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Underworked American Child


Last night I refuted claims that class size reduction don't matter to education, that the real problem is societies view of education.  Low and behold that I find an Economist article that discusses the problem in much more eloquent terms.

 "(One problem is that) the archetypical American child is Huckleberry Finn, who had little taste for formal education. Another (problem) is complacency. American parents have led grass-root protests against attempts to extend the school year into August or July, or to increase the amount of homework their little darlings have to do. They still find it hard to believe that all those Chinese students, beavering away at their books, will steal their children’s jobs."

I have found that the temptation against being formally educated, and being much more socially active, is alive and well in society while being reinforced by the media culture.  There is a weird code at our schools that it is uncool to be too smart, but that individuality and social acceptance is of paramount importance.  When you watch this generation's teen shows, the NYC Preps or Gossip Girls, you find this stigma magnified a zillion times, and parents don't seem to be standing over the shoulder of a lot of teens saying "Honey, it's a television show and in the end, pointless".  Worse, some parents are watching Gossip Girl with their children and wishing that could be their life too.   

This leads to that overall complacency in the realm of education among parents and society.  Families value vacation and social activities over education, and that attitude drops right down into the classroom.  Hawaii is more important than STAR test scores (a major reason for low test scores), Homecoming is more important than writing good essays, and football practice is more important than the ability to speak in front of people.  In the end, all of this becomes the frame-of-reference for the future of kids.  Employers complain that not enough American children are prepared for the workplace because they are not being taught the values of hard work.  Colleges are teaching remedial courses by the bundle because students don't have a focus on what real learning actually entails.  According to popular image "college learning" entails going to Cal Poly and starting the weekend on Thursday, with serious emphasis on Beer Pong Olympics.  Sure, playing hard is a part of college, but It's pointless if students aren't working hard as well. 

So congrats to the Economist for creating a pretty true image of the American teenager, and societies acceptance of that picture.        

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