A Parable

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   The Animal School: A Fable by George Reaves

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school.

They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

* * * *

This little fable completely changed my views of teaching. We all, each of us as individuals, have skills at which we excel and skills at which we, to use the vernacular, suck. And yet, all students are expected to excel in all skill areas.

Suddenly I realized why two thirds of my classes were bored or potential discipline problems.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were skilled in my subject, and yet they had to wait for the other two thirds to continue.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were unskilled in my subject, were always lost, and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class.

The final third cruised along while wondering why the other two thirds were unhappy and causing problems.

The traditional solution is to give additional work to both outlying groups. No matter what you call it, additional work feels like punishment to a child/teenager. We are wasting our time and money as well as doing our children, society, and taxpayers a disservice when we try to improve our educational system in the United States.

Of Model Ts and Corvettes

Over my thirty plus years in teaching, I have seen many “fixes” forced on our educational system. You have experienced them also, whether as a parent or a student. Do you remember: phonics, new math, and new science grants? I particularly remember in high school getting new science lab equipment one year, and the school district not being able to fund the program over the long term. I loved science, and it killed me to see all that lab equipment setting idle because federal funding was gone.

Each of the programs above, and I would add the integration of technology, is like putting a Corvette engine in a Model T and expecting it to go ninety miles an hour. The car will destroy itself before it ever reached the the desired goal of ninety miles an hour. Isn’t that exactly what has happened to our educational system. The harder we have tried to reach our goals the worse the system has functioned.It’s time for an educational revolution. The system can not be improved without these basic changes.

REVOLUTION NOT EVOLUTION (A NOT SO MODEST PROPOSAL)

STEP 1

Make all education competency based; not based upon age or grade level. Currently, school is like a prison sentence      (twelve years without a chance of parole). Everyone does their twelve years, no less. I have seen schools where students have completed all the required courses and electives and still not be allowed to graduate until they have put in the whole twelve years.

Every student should take every course at his own pace until he completes the competencies required by the state or national government or employers. They may at the same time be in beginning reading, advanced math and biology. They may be taking one course at a time or they may be taking several courses at once.

There should be no age limit for people to begin or continue taking courses in public schools. If an eighty year old woman wants to study literature, she should be able to take the course.  After all, she is a taxpayer.  If a thirty year old man wants to take book keeping or accounting for his small business, he should be able to. If a six year old is interested in rocketry, he should be   able to study it.

STEP 2

The U.S. educational system is based on an agrarian society. Guess what? We haven’t been an agrarian society for decades, if not centuries. Being based upon an agrarian society, we only have school nine months out of the year. Name me a business large, small, service, manufacturing or agricultural that lays off its workers and shuts down down its facilities for three months out of the year. We need to make the school calendar be three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and we need to make the facility available twenty four hours a day. When rooms are not being used for classes, they may be used by community organizations for a small fee to cover utilities, janitorial service and security.  People who don’t have children will be more likely to support schools they can use.

Students may attend as many days a year as they want.  They could schedule their classes around outside jobs.

Teachers may teach as many days a year as they want. They would be compensated for the extra months they teach and wouldn’t need to find job(s) at minimum wage during breaks and the summer.

Parents would be able to better plan their work schedules and child care.

Step 3

Now that we are competency based and school and teachers are available all year around, lets use technology. Technology will allow students to proceed at their own pace. Teaches will be able to serve as mentors to the learning process instead of lock stepping students of varied abilities and interest through a one size fits all curriculum.

Let’s stop wasting money on textbooks which are out of date before they are published. Go digital. With the money saved provide every student with a laptop or tablet. If you are worried about getting them back, charge a fee. For those students or parents that cannot afford to either buy or rent, have a business partner step up. Don’t buy technology. Lease it. It changes too rapidly; and will be too expensive to update. Use free technology from the internet like Kahn Academy and Next Vista for Learning.

STEP 4

Get parents, grandparents, the business community and the general public involved. Get everyone involved. Get civic organizations to use the school facilities. Get adults using the gym for basketball, volleyball, community dances. Everyone should know where the schools in their community are. Encourage everyone to come to school to get involved in courses whether their eight or eighty. Find out what people want to learn and provide them with the opportunity.

Step 5

We must have two education systems.

The states can keep their state schools, but there will be federal “charter” schools which adhere to common core principals. I have long heard about how the federal government should stay out of state issues. I agree wholeheartedly.

The federal government would have the right to run federal charter schools any way it wanted. The federal government would fund their charter schools with federal tax dollars.

The states would have the right to run their state schools however they wanted. The states could fund their schools however they wanted but without federal tax dollars. No state monies would be used to fund federal charter schools and no federal funds would be used to finance individual state public, private or state chartered schools.

Parents would be able to choose whether to send their children to federal charter schools which were funded by federal tax dollars or state schools funded by state tax dollars. At last the hue and cry against big government involvement in education would be addressed.

States could have all the charter schools they wanted. States could write whatever curriculum they wanted with or without creationism. The states could teach that climate change is not backed by science. States could teach that the earth is six thousand years old by counting the begats.  States could once again manipulate who goes to what state schools because the parents would have a choice.

I am looking forward to your comments, particularly questions, suggestions, criticisms to help improve our educational system.

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