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Schools Stuck In the Past

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The Time Magazine cover story this week is all about the time warp that American public schools are mired in. The article argues that schools need a complete overhaul to allow students to compete in the global marketplace, where skills like fluency in several languages, out of the box thinking, global awareness, and the ability to interpret complex data are all highly valued. But the article argues that those things are not being taught in public schools where the structure of teacher lecturing at the head of the class, students sitting in rows taking notes by hand has remained unchanged for decades. The article interviews Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, among others. It also highlights schools like Seattle's John Stanford International School where students take some classes in either Japanese or Spanish and whose social studies education includes a more global perspective.

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Our public school system in America is a 19th century non-democratic institution set up on the industrial model of those times. Learning today should be much more self-directed and any learning environment should offer youth strong democratic participation in its day-to-day activities.

This would allow our youth to truly emerge as adults ready to participate in the world of the 21st century.

- Coop

"How To Bring Our Schools Out of the Twentieth Century" has been addressed via education reform over the past two decades. US schools have made progress toward educating all children to a minimum standard (8th grade education in most states). That's an enormous improvement over what we were (not) doing before. However, it hasn't done much for our proficient and advanced students. The appropriate education of these youngsters is also a necessary step of education reform. To move into the twenty-first century we need a pedagogical paradigm shift as the Time article suggests. We need to move past the educational methods of the Rip Van Winkle era. A brief examination of other professions' (medicine, law, etc.) delivery systems in our culture leads to an obvious direction for educators. Teachers need to terminate the practice/belief that all students can be instructed in a whole group setting. Students have different levels of readiness in different subjects and also different learning rates for different subjects. If a medical doctor or an attorney attempted to deliver their services the way teachers in this country do, they'd be out on the street in no time. US schools of education need to start training future teachers to individualize their instruction. It's the only egalitarian, pragmatic, sensible direction for our schools to go. It can easily be complimented by technology (programmed learning) if teacher unions would get out of the way and allow this software to serve as instructional aides. The Time article talked about a new site on the internet that has essentially developed a live curriculum for all subjects, at all levels. If teachers took advantage of something like this it could go a long way toward helping them individualize their instruction for all students.

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  • Paul Hoss: "How To Bring Our Schools Out of the Twentieth Century" read more
  • Cooper Zale: Our public school system in America is a 19th century read more

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