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Monday, June 10. 2019
The author is right about much of this, but does not make enough of the reality that the students are consumers, and are seen as such by the education industry.
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The author is right.
All you have to do is try to engage a young person in a quick exchange of ideas. For example at the local McDonalds. Or, how many times do you have to tell that young person who is asking you for your phone number what your phone number is? Over and over and over. Their mind is not trained to concentrate. Hasn't been for more than 30 years now.
Longer than that. There never was an age when it was different. Our memory tricks us, and we believe a narrative instead of facts. Schools were terrible in the old days, too.
Indeed. As late as 1960, over half of the adult population had no high school diploma at all-- and if you could exclude the bottom half of the population, American schools would be incredible too.
(Hint: China does this with PISA testing.)
We, as a society, have gone to using educational certificates as proxies for basic, necessary traits. This means that the certificate becomes basic and necessary for functioning in society, presto change-o. A high school diploma, as currently administered in the US, basically means that the student has an IQ of above 80 or so, and no behavioral problems bad enough to prevent the student from eventually working an unskilled job. (That maps neatly to the overall observed graduation rates of about 85%.)
The root problem is, roughly the bottom 15% of the population is functionally unemployable, even in unskilled labor. If you think I'm being overly harsh here, you haven't had any experience with either sub-80 IQ people, or people with serious behavioral or substance abuse problems. I'm not talking about their worth as a human being, but about their capacity for work in the modern economy. Nobody knows how to solve this. Nobody knows what to do with these people. But being identified as the bottom 15%, particularly in a mostly permanent form (like not having a HS diploma by your early 20s) is so disastrous to a student's future that the school employees will do quite extraordinary things to avoid doing so-- such as the author describes with "credit recovery". (But that just dilutes the value of the diploma for the next "tranche" up on the scale of employability. We haven't fixed the problem, just fudged the border a bit.)
The academic standards have "collapsed" because we, society, are using high school for a significantly different purpose than "academic excellence". Ditto for college, but at a higher level (and different colleges will be certifying different things; all of this unspoken but well understood by the target audience).
Schools may or may not have been “terrible” in the old days but are worse now, faulty memories or not.
It’s been one long decline.
When digging through my father’s memorabilia 13 years ago, I found his grades from a Chicago public high school in the mid-50s. Latin was a required subject. Multiple years of it.
LATIN. The language with all the roots that we derive our language from, and which helps people figure out the meaning of English words they did not know before. It was offered at my HS in the mid-70s, but few people took it. Now it’s gone, I presume.
That’s just one example. Content has been continuously removed across all subject areas, and since knowledge acquisition is what education *is*, and the definition of “reading comprehension”, this has had predictable disastrous effects on the kids we pretend to be educating.
There has not been a decline, much as we would like to say so. That they taught Latin sounds great, but it doesn't actually provide the educational benefits people have long claimed. There was no golden age of education (nor is there one now).
It is true that we send people to college who shouldn't be there. Waste of money, mostly. It is not (necessarily) poor teaching that creates the need for remedial classes in college. They likely should not have been there to begin with. If we had sent as many students in the 1950s a percentage of those would have had the same trouble. It is also true that colleges recognize that their students are customers in a declining market and so baby them emotionally.
I don't know what metrics you are using to assert that schools are worse, but in PISA scores the decline is slight, and America still tops the world. This is disguised by the lumping of scores together. Asian-Americans outscore all Asians but Shanghai; European-Americans outscore Europe except sometimes Finland - tied with the rest of Scandinavia; Hispanic-Americans wildly outscore all Latin American countries; and African-Americans even more dramatically outscore all African and Caribbean countries. But because there is a large difference in average scores by race and we are one of the very few multiracial societies, there is a yearly panic because America only finishes 17th or whatever.
The students are also the product. Organizations that depend on the validity of the credentials issued to the students by the college are consumers, too.
I teach in a business school, and am continually confronted with the "student is the customer" model. Which, of course, is used to dumb down any curriculum to the satisfaction of both students and administration, and reduce a degree program to a simple exchange of tuition payments for a credential. This makes me no more than a money launderer.
I've convinced several of my colleagues that the model needs a closer, more constructive interpretation: I'm not peddling grades, I'm the students' academic personal trainer. The objective is to make them intellectually tough, and they need weekly, nay daily, workouts to get there. I won't kill flunk them, but I will make them sweat and get 'em out of breath. I see that I need to take this message to quite a few more college instructors.
We noticed this “student as consumer” model quite starkly three years ago while taking our son to visit Iowa and Illinois State — the rec centers felt like we were at a luxurt resort.
Everything has a “nothing but the best for my kid” vibe. Lots of competition for those student loan dollars.
I.e. subsidizing conspicuous consumption. It’s crazy.
Today “between 40 to 60 percent of first-year college students now require remedial courses in math, English, or both”.
Also employers complain that college graduates can’t write or communicate well, and are too demanding and self-obsessed to fit in. Some companies have even removed the degree requirement after deciding it is no longer a good predictor of success on the job.
These are both new developments in the last 20-30 years. None of that has anything to do with faulty memories or narratives.
Education at all levels is not what it was 40 years ago for all kinds of reasons, and measured in all kinds of ways. The list of problems is too long to go into here. And all of this while the costs have risen substantially (at all levels) and put millions of young people (and parents) into a hole they have great difficulty climbing out of.
Link for quote at the top of my comment is https://thefederalist.com/2018/09/18/60-percent-college-students-need-remedial-classes-needs-change-now/
I recall being told in the 60s and 70s how much modern education had deteriorated.
Memory and narrative are automatically involved whenever people discuss education. The default setting is to consider one's own schooling, and that of one's parents, siblings, and children. Those memories will be limited, reconstructed, and narrative-driven. All of us, always. We can move beyond that a few ways: we can look at the actual data of what the entire range of children can do now versus then; we can expand our own remembering to include what happened with the 80% of kids in class who were less academic than the average commenter on a wide-ranging discussion blog today; we can read what people were saying about education 30, 40, 70 years ago; most importantly, we can hold at arm's length all reports of the good old days, subjecting it to serious scrutiny of what the anecdote in question actually means. Modern education isn't all that good. It never has been. Schooling matters less than we think.
There is a strong parallel to all this. Dime novels were supposed to destroy both morals and education, then it was comic books doing the same. Radio and especially television were supposed to be the destruction of American children; MAD Magazine and those terrible science-fiction magazines were next, followed by MTV and 24-hr television. Video games were going to increase youth violence, and internet porn was going to unleash a torrent of sexual assault. Now we are sure that social media is going to ruin children's ability to learn. Well, maybe. I can't see how it is going to be good for their social skills. But so far, it's a lot like global warming: all the signs that it should happen are there, but it doesn't happen.
So schools haven't become indoctrination centers?
Glad to hear it.
I thought kids were being brainwashed with The Narrative being the curriculum?
We weren't schooled and coached to believe a particular ideology back in the day.
. . . And charter schools. If education is so well done today, why are parents lining up to get their children in Charter schools? Are they being sold a bill of goods? If all education is just as good as it ever was, what's the point of a charter school?
Anyway, thanks for enlightening me AVI. Good to know education is every bit as good as it was back in the day.
I don't consider sneering and sarcasm to be an actual intellectual argument. Rather, it seems an attachment to a particular narrative that the schools are going to hell, data be damned.
That parents think charter schools are better doesn't mean they actually are. Their superiority is inseparable from the selection bias of who goes there plus the natural attachment any humans feel for something they had to put in effort to get.
I used to believe as you and Mr. Brokaw did, and have the receipts for tens of thousands of dollars of private schools, all the way back to Montessori at age 3, to prove it. I have become gradually convinced by the data, quite against my will, that they are not the academic advantages we believe.