Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Good Old School Days - Were Terrible

In a previous post I criticized America's educational system - and briefly described  what might be done to improve it.  Let's expand on that.  First, the good old school days really were not so good at all. In the 1800's as the industrial revolution began to pick up steam:
  • the flow of immigrants increased tremendously, 
  • rural families began moving to the cities looking for industrial jobs, 
  • and  our educational systems had to be refined and changed.  
The teaching process became  a "factory style" routine where every student was regarded equally and the same - and was taught using the same regimen.  Students were thoroughly subjugated by often ill equipped teachers who applied a mechanical efficiency to forcing repetition of facts. Which facts? Only the facts as dictated by school boards. Underpaid (and usually unqualified) teachers taught "the facts" which were then  repeated by at test time in order for a student to advance to the next grade. It was assumed that whatever a student had to say was of no value at all,  and there was no attempt to have students interpret or form opinions. 

By 1870 compulsory education was the law - but most parents preferred to have their children help to support the family. In very poor areas especially it was not uncommon that less than 10 children out of 500 attended school at all  and of those that did 30% or more arrived at school without breakfast, tired  and unclean. Ill equipped teachers had to deal with hungry, dirty,  and sleepy children. This was a common circumstance and not conducive to a learning experience.

The lack of parental support and encouragement made receiving an education even more difficult.  Many working class parents regarded education to be impractical because schools offered subjects that had no application to the new industrial order. Regardless, in the classroom "making grades" became the "goal". The curricula demanded endless repetition and cramming for students, and  there was no time left for a student to contemplate what it was that they were learning.  Despite these flaws students learned. Educational standards required memorization of a narrowly restricted collection of facts in order to progressively qualify for promotion and ultimately, graduation. But did they learn to "think"?

If measured by comparison to the educational systems of other countries America was rated pretty high on the scale -  until the late 20th century. By the year 2000 it was becoming clear that the American system was actually no longer comparing well. Yet, tests to measure knowledge were much improved . Obviously, we had a dangerous problem.

Could it be that we are doing something wrong?

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