Essay IV

Change in Education

Lines form as a bell rings. It is time for everyone to enter and begin their day of learning. Students follow a schedule from one classroom to the next, heedless if they need to learn more of the previous subject. There is more to learn, more too forcefully stuff into their heads so that they can pass the test. It does not matter if they remember it next year, does not matter if it aids them in the future. All that matters is the golden number, the high score. The same comes when the students venture into athletics, the goal not being exercise or a release of energy but winning the game. Then comes their lunch for the day: five cooled tater tots, half of a banana, and a heaping spoonful of coleslaw with a carton of milk to top it off. There are laws of course, but the school is more inclined to listen to money then care about a rule that insures the children’s health. Punishment comes when midday they lack energy and attention spans. They feel like they are wasting their time, not learning. Perhaps they are right and they are wasting their time. The dropout rate climbs higher and higher as students leave to find something more worthwhile than education. So why is it that we keep pushing a system that binds children to failure? Why is it that we focus on numbers instead of learning? Perhaps it is time for a new playing board and a new set of rules. Perhaps it is time for a change in the education system.

The world is ever changing like water under wind; green technology is being developed to help heal our world out of the dustpans of old rusted cars, cures for cancer being built on top of the back bones of iron lungs, and illness and intolerances developing out of the old rinds of yesterday’s preservative filled bread. One thing that does not seem to change but stays ever constant is school. Parents know exactly what their children will be going through; they have been through the exact same process themselves. Perhaps that is the problem then? This process of our country’s where children are put into grades based on age and are pushed to do as well as their top peers even if they are not ready, to make them work on a schedule, to teach them to find the easiest answer and quick as possible. Realistically speaking, are they learning anything? Many students will run into the problem when they get home where they ask their mother or father for help and are met with the answer of, “I don’t know.”

A large reason for forgetting is the rate of forgetfulness and lack of review. There is an old saying that if you don’t use it, you lose it, and that stands true with the rate of forgetfulness. Twenty four hours after a child leaves a classroom, or does the homework for that class, they are bound to forget the information. It has been finished and will not be covered again until the rest review for the chapter. The problem is that when they get to the test review, unless their teacher was bothering to review them often over the material, it will feel like they are starting from scratch again. The material will feel vague and muggy instead of clear and crisp, easy to use. That is because by day two of having learned the material, only twenty percent is remembered.

That is where reviewing comes in handy; “By reviewing the information on Day 2, about 24 hours after learning it, you bring your retention back up to 100%. However, instead of losing most of it after one day, your brain is now trained to recognize that this information is important because of the repetition. “ ( Kimeshan, 2013) This is followed up on day seven and day thirty with even small review sessions but greater improvement in memory, as shown in figure I. Schools often practice the day two review, especially in mathematics classes, but are pressed to move on afterwards by a timeline to testing.

Figure I
Shows the amount of memory
lost and retained over a period
of time. Figure was made
by Kimeshan, 2013.

This leads to one of the biggest problems that stands out like the star on a Christmas tree; Standardized testing. When the No Child Left Behind Act came into place, funding became test score dependent and the switch between teaching to help kids learn and teaching to help earn funding came about. The test hangs over the head of parents, students, and educators alike and everyone feels the weight of it on their backs. It creates stress which can develop problems in children such as test anxiety. Test anxiety causes volatile physical reactions such as vomiting, shaking, trouble breathing, and crying. The mental affects can lead to the best students forgetting even the most basic of formulas. The anxiety itself prevents the test from properly showing how much the children taking it have learned, thus showing improper scores. Another problem is that the test is multiple-choice. This forces educators to teach children how to find one right answer when in reality they should be teaching children creative problem solving which could help them more in the future. Instead they learn which shortcuts will help them best in the test and how to eliminate least likely answers. There is also encouragement to cheat or manipulate test scores by the school themselves as the threat of losing funding comes near. One might ask that if these tests are so important, what are they used for? The test results are supposed to show what children are having trouble with and how the teacher can adjust to help them learn it. The problem is by the time most teachers receive the results, that class has graduated and moving on making the test results useless.

Why are we even using a model that has been proven again and again with each year to fail? Why use a model where we put children in grades just because they are old enough instead of with children on the same level? Why put so much stress on a child that they become ill physically and mentally? Why make children feel like dropping out of school is a healthier option than braving through the test? Why do we teach to test? Why are we letting the government decide what’s best for our children instead of the educators?

The truth is that educators are trying to battle it. They do not want to eliminate all testing because it is good when done appropriately. It helps find out what the students are having trouble with and what needs to be reviewed or reworked. It just does not need to be all that the children see. Testing should not be more important than education itself. The dream system would be to allow children the ability to learn and collaborate, to create and destroy. Educators would be there like mentors, to teach and guide their class groups through their projects. It would also be better if mentors could work together. It is good to separate subjects when learning the basics but why keep them separated beyond that when children could be learning the basics of engineering and the importance of design if we combined them together? Imagine a system where everyone works together instead of looking for a single puzzle piece to fill the slot.

The truth is that educators are already working to find a better way for their students, even if standardized testing is in the way. There are classrooms where the teacher will hand out the tests and tell the children to form groups. That group is now their life line. Instead of forming the nauseating stress that comes from an individual struggling alone, they now have comrades to think with just like they would in a real work force. Perhaps only one person on the group knows how to solve the problem but under their influence, their team mates can learn how to work it as well. Maybe none of them know at first but through working together they find the solution. Then again, maybe even through team work none of them figure it out but at least they know they are not alone and as a team they tried their best. This system has been proven to help promote thinking in the classroom even if it is seldom used.

Another way is to allow the student to defend their answer. Perhaps the student does not think any of the answers are correct or thinks their answer is more correct than the one the educator has chosen. The educator then allows them to defend their choice. Perhaps their answer still is not right in the end but the child is learning how to state their process and how to think outside of the box that was set up around them. In real life there is never just one answer so why not allow the student to find a second if there is one?

One stellar example of an educator going above and beyond is Stephen Ritz who used the resources outside of his school to help better his students. He lives in Bronx which is not the wealthiest of areas to live in and his students suffer from unhealthy diets which can tax the mind. Through collaborating with George Irwin from Green Living Technologies he taught his children how to grow plants and then how to do vertical gardens. The best thing about these gardens were that many of the plants were edible. By Ritz’s thinking bravely outside of the box on how to help his students he helped them find a way to secure jobs in an increasingly popular field and to bring free food to their community. The best part about Ritz is that he never says it was thanks to him, but thanks to his students. He believes in their abilities fully and trusts them to continue onwards with the future he has helped set the first stone down towards. Ritz story is important because a great majority of teachers and students alike feel like their situation is hopeless. Ritz proved that an educator can help his students regardless of the tight binds that standardized testing has put on them. His students proved that just because they were born into poverty or were homeless that they were not destined to be so all of their life. That anyone and everyone is possible of learning and change.

A problem that helps prevent change like Ritz advocates for is that too while many educators and administrators are willing to take the risk, the greater majority are too scared to which ““guarantee the isolation of the small faction of teachers who are willing to engage in change from the majority who find it an intimidating and threatening prospect, and [who] are likely to instigate conflict between the two groups of teachers that renders the scaling up of this reform highly unlikely.” (Miller, 1996)” (Bowman, 1999) That does not mean that the willing educators and administrators give up. Many still take the leap.

With the help of groups such as Next Generation Learning Challenges, the brave educators and administrators find funding that can help them find ways to change the formula for education in the hopes of finding something better. Unfortunately, the change is mostly with the community of charter schools which makes up a tiny percentage of the American school systems. Either way it is a start and a hundred and fifty schools is still better than none. It was enough to help spark curiosity amongst some state of education boards leading to the creation of districts of innovation where the state boards pick schools to accept NGLC’s funding. The schools that are taking on the change try to gear their children towards project based learning as well as a mix of independent study (online) and interactive study (in the class room.)

The differing schools can really excel. They often do lottery systems to allow children from all standings of wealthy to poor into their school because they want everyone to exceed despite their backgrounds. Some only take children from their district while others will allow room and board so that the children can get an education they could not have at home. The schools try to do good and try to do what is best for the student above all else but they do have their failings. Before any good they do they still stand as experimental schools and any experiment can fail. A large problem with charter schools that do not receive funding like NGLC is that the teachers get paid less than traditional public schools. This is where the real risk is in starting one. The race to do their best and get more funding can sometimes break the point of the school; to be able to educate without the stress of funding and state testing. Luckily, there are many brave educators out there who would still try after failing and thanks to them, systems are being made that make sense and the world of education is starting to get back on its feet again.

A good way to help boost their finding a system that works might just be finding a system to base it off of. Artist and engineers alike need reference to make great works and education should be no less worthy of reference. There are many school systems around the world that are doing productively. To name a few; Finland, Japan, and China.

Chinese school ranks are some of those that rank highest in the world and for good reasons; China does not cut corners. Chinese students practice and study rigorously and it earns them high test scores. Unfortunately, when there are thousands studying just as hard in the same school, it is still easy to be at the bottom. The problem is why their school system is so excellent at making children learn, it is poor at doing what is right for the children. Sleep deprivation is at a whopping eighty percent among Chinese students as their time is better used learning and memorizing than sleeping. They also have no extracurricular activities which leads to a killing of creativity. China is a poor example to follow but unfortunately it is China that America chooses to battle against.

Japan is usually represented as a highly brilliant country and it should be by all means. Japan is the mother of sci-fi and fantasy. They are literally teeming with beautiful inventions from work with artificial intelligence to more functional robotics. Japanese students are unfortunately low ranking compared to America. Their students lack self-confidence and curiosity which are important for a student to develop leadership qualities. They do succeed in mathematics and reading and wonderfully so but they lack in most other fields. Their foreign language skills are nearly nonexistent, their IT knowledge is low, essay writing is not seen as necessary before college, and their presentations are severely lacking. Even Japan sees its failings as it constantly points it out in their media through television, video games and literature with lazy students who are failing their English classes and cannot get high marks on their essays.

Finland’s schools are an entirely different story. There is no race to get your child in a “better” school because the goal is to provide more than adequate education at every single school. The Finnish love for improvement for the child’s sake instead or rank’s sake is what has gotten them so far and will only propel them father. Finland’s educators are overly qualified to do what they want and it really pays off. For one, the government trusts the school administrators and they trust the educators to do what they are qualified to do. There is one teacher per seven kids allowing adequate one on one time with each of them. They also push for children to be as forward thinking as possible and work their way outside of the box to find new solutions to their problems whether that is by themselves or with their peers. It is no mystery as to why the Finnish school system is so revered; it is a work of art and is so without the pressure of standardized testing.

It is truly curious that America puts such an emphasis on making better scores than China and the rest of the world when Finland is a shining gem and is given praise for its system. Then again, the government of the United States has not put strong attention on the education system for a long time. Still, Finland would be good inspiration for any experimental school trying to break from the rift of public schools and testing. A strong step in that direction every year and the praise of the surrounding community could do some good and spark courage in the hearts of the many educators who have given up or are standing quivering with uncertainty.

American school systems are lacking and that is no secret, but at least we are not alone in our short comings. Japan and other countries can also admit that they have a problem. Perhaps we do have a lot to learn from China; not to be too proud of ourselves and our numbers and look at what we are doing to our children and our future. Maybe we can aim to be like Finland and to find trust in one another while currently we blame and form rifts. There is improvement coming about and people really are trying to do well. No Child Left Behind and Michele’s Obama Let’s Move campaign were both very good ideas at their base and with work, ideas like that can be prune of their bad giving’s and be given the means to flourish into new and better ideas built upon the twigs of the old. To quote a famous story teller and businessman, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” (Walt Disney) There really is nothing more important than to keep moving forward and trying new things. We never know what is beyond the next open door or if the new tried path will be the right one. We just have to keep moving and trying. Giving up hope will only lead to a plate with five cooled tater tots and half of a banana. Before us is an open world where we can grow gardens on school walls and if we try, we can succeed.

We have the building blocks after all, we just have to look ahead for the tower being built.

Works Cited:

A Teacher Growing Green in the South Bronx. Stephen Ritz. February, 2012.

Bowman, Richard. “Change in Education: Connecting the Dots.” The Clearing House 72.5 (1999): 295-97. Web.

Changing Education Paradigms. Sir Ken Robinson. October, 2010.

Future of Learning, the . 2 revolutions, March 1, 2012

Hancock, LynNell. “Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?” Smithsonian Magazine (2011). Web.

Pros and Cons of a Chinese-style Education, the . Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Why The Japanese Education System Does Not Excel As Much As You Might Think . Tofugu. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

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