WHY EDUCATION STINKS TODAY, AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT by Steven David Horwich

A QUICK DESCRIPTION OF THE SITUATION Where to start? The drop-out rate of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) IN 2006 went over 50%. This means that over ½ of the children in L.A. do not graduate high school. And Los Angeles is not the worst school district. There are many reasons assigned for this failure. A culture buried in violence is one excuse offered. Of course, children who receive rotten educations grow up to be problematic adults. Could it be that the miserable failure of our educational system has generously contributed to the violence we see in our streets? Can you doubt it? If you fail your children, can you be surprised when they fail you and your civilization? Another excuse offered regularly is the brain-drain of television and media. Add overcrowded classrooms and under-trained and unmotivated teachers overwhelmed with the failure of a system that never worked well. These are just the start of a long list of “causes” given the blame for the failure of Education in our times. But these problems have been and are being addressed in many ways while the larger problem of the failure of our educational system is not improving. If a student is not truly being educated…if he’s learning nothing of value to him…why would he wish to be in school? Do you like wasting your time? And if you were forced to do things all day long that you were bored by, that you found unchallenging and useless, week after week, month after month, year after year…well, wouldn’t you find a way…and I mean any way possible, to get out of it? And how would you feel about the people making you do these things…say, your parents and teachers? Would they really be looking out for your best interest? Would you appreciate or respect them much? Education fails in many respects, today. Universities train teachers to create curriculum. (Curriculum is everything a student studies.) Then, every teacher in every classroom develops a separate and

unrelated curriculum, based on personal and local standards, for every subject taught. God help the poor student moving from classroom to classroom, or worse, city to city, school to school. (This would, of course, be nearly every student alive at one time or another.) Subjects and criteria and “facts” clash and collide and contradict, until the poor student no longer knows left from right. He certainly does not know what’s expected of him. Teachers generally want to teach. They want to be of help to their students, and succeed at their chosen profession, knowing they made a difference. Students want to learn. They want successful, interesting and happy lives. They want to know they will be valued by those around them, and have skills and insights of note. Parents want their children to have fulfilling and valuable educational experiences. They want their children to value education. This cannot happen, generally, under today’s system. THE REAL CULPRITS Here are a few of the key problems defined, and they are not the problems usually mentioned. They are bad ideas built into our educational system. They are nearly invisible as problems due to their widespread use and acceptance, and they are largely responsible for the failure of modern education: THE ASSIGNING OF GRADE LEVELS Grade levels are arbitrary. They are assigned by age, more or less. Most students at a certain age are in a certain grade. It doesn’t matter that some of these students will be particularly bright and advanced, and that others will be slower, even remedial. They are lumped together because, presumably, they’re of an age to play together and should be of comparable ability intellectually. You yourself know from your own life experience the lie contained in this idea. The brighter a child is, the more education must challenge him, to be valuable and valued. But when placed in a grade-level grouping with other children of lesser academic skill or potential, the bright student must slow down and match the required, mid-range speed of study that the “average” student maintains. This creates an

untenable situation for the bright student, where he is severely restricted in what he may learn, and the pace at which he learns. In essence, this forces bright students into an average mold. The student who struggles or is remedial is asked to pull off a miracle, suddenly become proficient at things he does not grasp, and move at the same pace as other students his age. Even the “average” student loses, because he is never challenged to be anything more than average. Schools try to handle this problem by segmenting away advanced students (into “advanced programs) and slower students (into “remedial” programs. But even within these groupings, there will be further variations of ability and speed which will be forced to level off at the range some instructor or administrator thinks is appropriate for the group. There are just too many students, even in a class as small as ten students (which is as rare as diamonds) to service each student individually, allowing them to move at their own pace. Yet the best, and really the only way that a student learns well is at his own pace. A student who has mastered information is ready to move on to deeper, more profound information. A student who has not mastered basic information is not ready to move on, regardless of the amount of time expended to that point. Grade Levels destroy any possibility of students progressing at unique and productive rates. TESTING AND GRADING What is the purpose of testing and grading today? They exist for the purpose of punishment, pure and simple. Tests are almost always issued in order to compare one student’s progress with others in a given area of study. The government issues tests to millions of children, to evaluate exactly this, how one state compares to another in certain areas of study. Within classrooms, tests are used to evaluate overall progress, for the purpose of giving every student a “grade”. Every test is graded, usually A-F. All the teacher wants to know is who was able to parrot accurately the information the student’s supposedly have learned. Many classes still grade tests on a “bell curve”. This means that, before the test is even given, it has been decided that a certain

percentage of students will fail the test; a certain percentage will pass, etc. Put simply, tests today are used to rate children, one against another. Johnny got a better score than Billy. Johnny is a better student than Billy. Tests are competitive. But they have nothing to do with aiding the student! They only aid the teacher in providing a grade. If tests were truly used to evaluate what a student learned or did not learn in an area of study, and the results were used to exactly target which materials should be re-studied by each student so that they could arrive at 100% comprehension of the materials studied, then tests would serve a positive role in education. Today, a student who fails a test may be given remedial study, but the specific missed questions are rarely the target of the student’s review. If there is any review at all, it is general, poorly targeted, and forces the student over ground he covered and did understand as a part of it. But even this sort of review is rare. Usually, students simply get whatever score or grade they get, and move on to the next area of study in, what, the impossible hope they will suddenly understand the materials they missed on the last test and the test before? That they will magically and all in a flash comprehend things they did not understand when tested, and never went back to re-study? All a student can do in studying this way is accumulate ideas he does not understand, and failures. Grades are an even greater evil, of course. When a student fails a test and receives the “flunk”, why aren’t the teacher and school given an “F” as well? After all, they’re actually paid to educate that child. Clearly they failed. If you fail at your job, you’re penalized, aren’t you? Even fired? The giving of grades is an admission on the part of teachers and schools that they don’t know how or what to teach. The fact that every student does not learn and understand every element of every lesson, and that so many students are given poor grades, merely spotlights an overwhelming failure in our educational system.

You could argue that life is competition. True enough. But that doesn’t give us a license to fail any percentage of our children. School is not about competition, it’s about preparing children for life in the world. This philosophy should embrace every child, not just the brightest, the best supported, or the luckiest. Remember, too, that the more human beings who fail at life, the worst the burden on society to support their needs. Grades are currently used to punish children who are struggling in a certain area of subject. Children often fear grades. Well they should. Grading is an evil system of evaluation that degrades even the brightest child. Grades have nothing to do with what a child has learned, what he understands, and what he can do. They are an evaluation of a child’s ability to memorize desired answers to predictable questions, as compared to other children’s ability to memorize and parrot information, and nothing else. HOMEWORK You probably work. You have a job, and put in your time. When you come home, you want some social time, some time with your family, maybe even some alone time. You would hate it if you had to bring your work home with you after a long day at the office (as I’m sure many of you do). So does your child. School should not represent the be-all and end-all of a child’s life. But when a student, having gone to school from, say, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., comes home (by, say 4p.m.) just in time to do three hours more of homework, he has no life and no freedom. The world is complex, and there’s a lot to learn. But curricula and methodology has not caught up to the needs of a modern world. The result is that the student pays the price. He can’t possibly learn whatever it is that needs to be learned in the time he spends in school, because educative methods and goals are horribly unfocused and unproductive. So the student has a lot of homework, and no freedom. And we wonder why even good students hate school? CURRICULUM Pity the student who moves from classroom to classroom, school to school. Pity the student who changes textbooks and instructors midstream.

That student will be overwhelmed in contradiction and trivia. Each teacher will place importances on different elements of the materials studied, and will even teach differing and conflicting information! What one book or teacher claims is very important, another will denigrate, or even claim is not true. Textbooks contradict each other constantly on points so basic, a layman in the area would assume their must be thorough agreement. I read through four college-level textbooks on Chemistry, and each one defined chemistry differently! One provided a definition that fits physics, but not chemistry. Anyone who can write can author a textbook or course. But a workable curriculum would come only out of a real experience and understanding of an area, and a deep understanding of the needs of students. Looking through what is taught on the college level, much less High School or Middle School, you can only feel for the student. And pity the public school teacher! They are usually given a brief list of requirements from their school district or city or state of what should be covered for each grade level. Methods, texts, materials, actual information to be taught is not discussed! each teacher must invent the wheel, every semester, creating a curricula covering the arbitrary requirements assigned. Yes, the requirements are arbitrary. Let’s look at spelling, for a moment. Students are almost always provided lists of words they need to learn to spell. Someone has decided that students at that grade level should know how to spell those particular words. How were these words selected? On what basis? Arbitrary. Someone decides that a student in 5th grade should know something about American History. Fine. Only the student hasn’t learned anything about global history, yet. He doesn’t understand the environment in which America came to be. He knows nothing of earlier nations, their politics and systems, and how unique America was at its birth. he’s expected to learn about America out of sequence, without context. Arbitrary. Let’s teach a student chemistry. But don’t first make certain the student gets a definition of science! Don’t be certain the student

understands what science is, and how sciences are categorized, so that the student understands where chemistry fits on the scientific map. Arbitrary. The teacher and student lose this game every time. Civilization is the ultimate loser. THE REAL ANSWERS How do we solve the problem of grade levels? Until schools come up with a system allowing each student to move at his own pace, they will maintain grades levels. This is as true of private schools as public schools. Private schools do not address this problem, generally, than any other school. They can’t. They’re dealing with large numbers of students. They are often just babysitting services dressed up in nice campuses and fancy phrases. It will take courage for a parent to stop answering the idiot question “what grade is your child in”? Parents have lived within this system their entire lives. (And don’t be fooled by the word “form”, it’s the same thing as a grade level.) A child doesn’t naturally fit into a grade or a group, not in terms of their education. Education at its best is a powerfully personal experience. Every child is an individual with individual skills and abilities. These need to be located and optimized for the student to grow into a capable, valuable adult. Home schooling is the answer to grade levels. Home schooling allows a student and parent to toss away the grade level system in favor of educational achievement requirements, which is all an educator should be concerned with. There are no grade levels in the living room, there’s just you, your child, and their studies. How do we solve the problem of testing and grading? We throw them out, as a system. They don’t work. Instead, parents and teachers must decide that every student has the right to understand every part of every subject studied. This can only be accomplished at the student’s own rate, and with tests which pinpoint exactly what the student did not learn in their materials. Then the student must be sent back in a methodical manner to the areas missed to restudy, and retest.

Teachers and schools must come to grips with their culpability. If a student “fails”, then they have failed, and no teacher should ever surrender to failure. In education, there is a living person’s future at stake. No student should ever be moved past an area of study without 100% comprehension! Or they will take their incomprehension with them as they move to the next, more complicated area of study. No teacher should “pass” a student just so they can be paid, so their school can receive funding. (This is the system in both public and private schools, today.) Tests should be designed to locate information which the student has not yet mastered in studies he has supposedly completed. This should be done for the sole purpose of knowing precisely where to send the student back into the materials, so he can learn. Grading should be tossed out. It has nothing to do with the student’s well-being or education. It is a control tool, used by schools and teachers to force students into a mold. Grades and real testing can best be done in a home school environment. Until schools agree that they exist to educate and not to create competition, schools will never throw out grades. Until they decide that the student’s understanding and education is paramount, tests will be punitive in intent and fact, and will never be educative. Grading is an admission of the failure of the teacher and school. As you would with any employee who failed at their job after enough tries, you should fire your child’s school. How do we solve the problem of homework? Get rid of it. Lesson plans and information should be structured from simplest information at the start, through the most difficult information, built upon earlier simple facts understood. Lessons should be structured to take a given amount of time. But they should also be structured so that, if the student does not complete a lesson today, he can resume it tomorrow, instead of be penalized with homework.

If each student was guided through studies by a step-by-step study guide, they would do just as many steps in their studies as they did in a day, no more or less, and would resume their work the next day. This would eliminate the need for homework. Study guides presenting information in sequence, and in small, easily accomplished steps, is part of the answer to the elimination of homework. Each day, during study time, the student would get as far as they got. The next day, they would do more. But between study periods, the student’s time should be his own. Again, sadly, schools can’t do this, public or private. They have to keep each student “up” with the average. Slower students are always going to have homework, as it isn’t their education that’s important, it’s the classroom’s average that matters. They must show short-term results, and these are measured competitively. Home school, coordinated with a specially designed curriculum, would be the answer to homework. How do we solve the problem of curriculum? Curriculum should first be standardized in the sense that it would not change from classroom to classroom, location to location. Students should be able to pick up in studies exactly where they left off, and continue. This is the only fair way to teach students. Courses of study should be built around the simplest information in the beginning, carefully designed and demonstrated. Complex ideas will be built from these. Entire areas of study, such as “science” or “history” should be built from the ground up, in this manner. Science should be taught from the ground up, with definitions for basic terms such as “science” at the start. The sciences should be taught in an order which will help the student grasp them. Understanding should expand. An understanding of what science actually is, and how categorization of science is done, would be early steps. Observable sciences, such as geology, oceanography and meteorology would be taught before esoteric sciences such as chemistry and physics. History should not be taught in the fragmented, piecemeal manner it currently is. History should be taught on the timeline. History should be taught in an inclusive manner. It should include related subjects as

they appear in time, including religions, philosophies, political ideas, etc. History should not be taught in disjointed, unrelated sections, such as “religion”, “economics”. “politics”, “the arts”, etc. History should start with the start of time as we understand it, develop through the earliest civilizations, inventions, philosophies and religions, and on through time toward today. This way, the student will become oriented in time, and truly have an opportunity to understand his place in history, and how we got into the mess we’re in. The arts would be taught in a similar manner, starting with the most basic concepts, and moving into increasing complexity. EACH COURSE WOULD BE ISSUED IN THE FORM OF A WRITTEN STUDY GUIDE. This would be a step-by-step set of things for the student to read, do, think about, or accomplish. Each student would do the same guide, and so, the courses could travel with the student from school to school, or tutor to tutor. Tests would be structured, at regular intervals, to discover what the student did not fully learn. Answer guides used by teachers will indicate exactly where in the study materials the correct information is found, so there would be no guesswork on where to send the student to re-study. Each course, every lesson plan in every course, would place a premium on several things. The first – that the student be able to fully understand what he has studied. Second – that the student be able to put to use in his life the information learned. Information we cannot actually use is, well, useless, and quickly discarded. Like most of education today. For you adults, how much of your Middle School or High School studies do you currently remember or use? Your student will go well out of his way to memorize information in order to pass a test, and will just a enthusiastically forget what he’s “learned” within weeks after the test, if the information has no value to the student. Courses, though they start with simple information, would develop into complexities far beyond today’s “grade level” expectations. And they would do this rapidly, because of the method and structure of this type of curriculum, as described above. A successful curriculum of this sort would challenge every student. Slower students would be challenged by the information in front of them, and would move at the pace they need to master it. Faster students would move more quickly into more complex information, and so remain challenged.

Such a curriculum would act like a river, the information in course # 1 flowing into the information in the next course, and so on, in every area of study. Hour by hour, day by day, the student would progress through courses in sequence, eliminating the need for grade levels. Here’s what would happen instead of grade levels: The student would do the structured courses in order, and when they finished, they would be done finished with school. This is assuming, of course, that the courses studied provided a complete and challenging education. As you can imagine, such a curriculum would take many thousands of hours to create. It does exist, however. As you might imagine, schools will be unlikely to change their methods for fear of a backlash, which is itself amusing given how disgruntled students and parents generally are! Additionally, schools have a great deal of money and time and ego invested in their current systems and curricula. For a school, the student is rarely the bottom line. The overall answer? Let’s face the horrible truth. Schools don’t work. They’re expensive and unproductive, and I’m not just talking about public schools. The current system degrades students and teachers, and infuriates parents. Why anyone would fight for such a miserable failure after it has been given 150 years (in the U.S.) to prove itself is a mystery. It’s too late. Populations are going up, schools that already don’t work are growing more crowded, and children are being dropped through the cracks by the millions. School systems are monolithic. They’re too big to change easily or quickly. School systems often take years to make the smallest and most necessary changes. But time and the tide wait for no school. And private schools are more often concerned about their profit or survival than in locating and implementing the best possible educational system. Schools can’t help being what they are, and what they are doesn’t work. Often as not, their administrators and teachers are good people

who mean well. But intentions are not results, and schools have had a long time to get it right. You, as a parent, do not have the right to be trapped by the counterproductive expectations and rules of a disastrously failed system. You mustn’t. Your children rely on you to provide them a better answer! Today, education doesn’t even begin to work for a terrifyingly large percentage of our young. We see this in the drop-out rate, in loathing of school and education in general, and in a hundred other statistics. Parents know this is true in their gut. Home schooling is the only available system allowing sufficient freedom for an actual education to occur. It’s true, home school parents and students assume a lot of added responsibility. But considering the possible rewards, these are not unconfrontable. Home school works best in situations where there are several children working together. This provides a social element, as well as spreading the support needs between more than one set of parents. I’ve seen groups of ten home schoolers, with three or four sets of parents unite to create a constructive program. But home schooling fails miserably without a curriculum that works well for the student. Home school is just an environment change without a concurrent change of method and substance. The real answer to the stink of education today is a combination of home schooling, the right method of teaching and the right curriculum. The home school part is relatively easy. There are hundreds of home school programs across the country one can sign a student up for. Some allow the parent and student to design their own curriculum, some do not. The programs that enforce a curriculum are generally selling a curriculum. That would be okay, if their curriculum worked. It rarely does. Schools which offer no defined curriculum leave it to the parent to solve the problem. Parents and students almost always flounder on this. This is why we have relied on schools, to locate and organize curriculum.

But a curriculum created as described above, in conjunction with home schooling, is the best chance for educational success of a broad scale. cttauthor@aol.com