An Evaluation of the Ineffectiveness of the Traditional Educational System Kevin James Bondelli www.kevinbondelli.


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.