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An Evaluation of the Ineffectiveness of the Traditional Educational System

Kevin James Bondelli
The question of which method yields the most possible learning is one that has

been debated extensively throughout the history of education. The most practiced method

is often referred to as the ‘traditional’ system, which is the model for most schools in the

United States. This system is not the most effective in terms of resulting in actual

learning and has many disadvantages that are actually counterproductive to real learning.

The traditional educational system focuses entirely on intellectual and ignores

experiential learning, teaches students how to succeed on standardized tests and not much

more, has an authoritarian nature, and leads students to only extrinsically value education

and not intrinsically value learning.

The traditional educational system relies almost entirely on intellectual learning

without including experiential learning. This style of learning is intended to allow

students to gain an individual meaning to the subject matter. An example of experiential

learning is when a child first touches a hot stove and learns that it is hot. The individual

experience greatly increases the meaning of the concept to the child. Carl Rogers, a

humanist psychologist, asks “why is it that left to his own devices the child learns

rapidly, in ways he will not soon forget, and in a manner which has highly practical

meaning for him, when all of this can be spoiled if he is ‘taught’ in a way which involves

only the intellect?”(Rogers 4). The Association of Supervision and Curriculum

Development concluded that “The process of human learning always has two parts: (a)

confrontation with new information or experience, and (b) the learner’s personal

discovery of the meaning of that experience. Throughout the history of American

education we have been preoccupied with the information aspect of learning”

(ASCD 3-4). The traditional system completely ignores the ‘personal discovery of

meaning’ that experts have determined to be so important to effective learning.

The traditional system’s reliance on standardized testing lessens the amount of

actual learning that is done in schools. Teachers are forced to teach students only the

information that is going to be presented on the standardized tests because of the

importance of those tests in determining school funding and student aptitude. Sylvia

Bruni, a public school teacher, wrote of her experience with the effect of standardized

testing: “The hands-on learning activities that I had the time to lead them into helped

them make the relevant connections that are essential for creating a lifetime of

learning…Today’s rigid emphasis on a state test makes this hands-on type of learning

practically impossible”(Glickman 153). Students have also noticed the ill effects of

standardized testing. Vance Rawles, a recent public school student, wrote that “a lot of

teachers feel pressure to teach us what is going to be on the city and state tests, not what

will really connect with us and help us learn”(Glickman 16). A large amount of research

has shown that not only do standardized tests harm the learning environment for students,

but they also are not very effective in truly measuring learning. Some of the negative

characteristics of these tests is that they “are disconnected from the learners environment,

are designed by a bureaucrat removed from the learner’s environment, are designed by

someone who may not be knowledgeable about the field in which the questions are

asked, [and] are simplified for ease in scoring”(Janesick 1). Standardized testing is one of

the leading factors that cause the traditional educational system to be ineffective.

The social structure of schools in the traditional system is highly authoritarian.

Students are allowed little or no democratic involvement in their own education. Carl
Rogers highlights a number of the authoritarian qualities of the system. He describes the

teacher as the possessor of knowledge and the student the recipient, the teacher as the

possessor of power and the student as subject, in turn the administration has power over

the teachers, trust is at a minimum with teachers distrusting students and assuming they

do not want to learn(Rogers Ch.4). The most critical aspect is that students do not

participate in choosing goals, curriculum, or manner of working(Rogers Ch.4).

Humanistic psychologists have shown that these authoritarian qualities diminish the

actual quality of learning and is not advantageous for the personal growth of students.

Abraham Maslow, another psychologist, argues that “the present school system is an

extremely effective instrument for crushing peak experiences and forbidding their

possibility”(Maslow 181). These qualities hinder the effectiveness of schools under the

traditional system.

The traditional system creates students that do not intrinsically value learning on

its own but are only concerned with extrinsic motivators. Most students in school are not

there to learn but to complete it and get a degree. This is not the fault of the student but

the result of the value-system and structure of the system. David Labaree makes a

convincing claim in his aptly titled How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning

Anything: The Credentials Race in American Education, that students are “thinking of

education primarily as a way to get ahead” and therefore “the point of seeking an

education is to gain a comparative advantage over other people by acquiring a badge of

merit—and educational credential”(Labaree 2). Maslow claims that “students…have

been steeped in attitudes of extrinsic learning and respond to grades and examinations as

the chimps responded to poker chips”(Maslow 174). The traditional educational system
promotes this value set that is damaging to the actual education of students. The learning

itself is not what is important, nor is the self-improvement that comes as a result. Only

the social and financial benefits of receiving a degree motivate those students that have

had their views dominated by the system. The lack of instilling personal value into

education for its own sake is another reason the traditional system is not good.

Many people will argue that the traditional educational system is the best choice

for American schools today. They argue that standardized tests are necessary for

measurement of both student and school performance. Many studies show, however, that

the tests are not very effective and that they come at the expense of learning. Some argue

that it is not the role of schools to provide experiential learning, yet a number of teachers

have experimented with hands-on learning and were amazed by the productive results.

Opponents will argue that the authoritarian structure of the system is necessary because

students are unable to make educational decisions on their own. Case studies have shown

this to be false, with students succeeding greatly in those environments where they had a

say in the curriculum and/or methods of instruction, including those students that were

labeled as ‘trouble’ or ‘slow.’ Some believe that subjects such as mathematics would be

difficult to teach outside of the traditional system, however students would be able to

master the important concepts on their own schedule, preventing them from becoming

lost when the rest of the class moves on. Also, some students are quick to master one

concept and require more time for others. The traditional system does not allow the

flexibility in time management to make this the most efficient method. Critics claim that

the costs of a humanistic system will be much more than the traditional system, but the
expense of standardized testing would be decreased and the education itself would not

cost more money than the current system in place.

The traditional educational system is not very effective in actually teaching

students to learn. It ignores experiential learning in favor of purely intellectual, which

decreases the effectiveness of the learning. It is extremely dependent on standardized

testing, which is not as valuable as they claim and is actually harmful to the actual

education. It is authoritarian in nature, which ignores the student’s input in deciding how

and what they are to be taught. Finally, it leads to a purely extrinsic value of education,

which dissuades students from becoming interested in learning for learning’s sake. This

system is clearly not the best option for the schools in America.
Works Cited

Rogers, Carl. Freedom to Learn.

Rogers, Carl. Carl Rogers on Personal Power.

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Humanistic Education:

Objectives and Assessment.

Maslow, A.H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.

Glickman, Carl, Ed. Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do About the Real
Crisis in Public Education.

Labaree, David F. How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning: The Credentials
Race in American Education.

Janesick, Valerie J. The Assessment Debate.