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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 baby-
sitting 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