I Feel Sorry for the Students of Today and Tomorrow
March 15th, 2007
For years, school administrators across the country have been rallying in an attempt to reform schools in order to prepare students for life in the 21st century, which will revolve around a global economy. It's certainly true that many of today's schools are ineffective, fucked up, and in dire need of change. However, all of the most popular curriculum and policy changes either have serious drawbacks or simply fail to address the fundamental issues that plague student performance and interest in learning. The more I read about the subject, the happier it makes me that I no longer attend school.
Here is an analysis of the most often discussed policy and curriculum changes:
1.) Greater emphasis on learning a foreign language
Some educators insist that learning a second language is one of the best ways to prepare students for the 21st century. But the truth is, forcing students to study a second language is usually an enormous waste of their time. For most, maximum utilization of a secondary language either consists of understanding a few words of the local Spanish channel (which generally has inferior programming that isn't worth learning another language to comprehend) or insulting enemies, friends, and relatives with words that they cannot understand.
Worse still, every minute spent learning a foreign language is one less minute spent learning a far more useful skill. To illustrate how low bilingualism is on the totem pole of skills, think of any successful speech, book, comic, movie, or TV show that has been translated into multiple languages. For example, Peanuts was syndicated in dozens of countries around the globe. Plenty of people are capable of translating a Peanuts strip into another language, but only Charles Schulz himself was able to create such a unique and entertaining strip to begin with. My point is that there are always plenty of dime-a-dozen people willing to translate content, but the content provider themselves are unique.
Also keep in mind translations of classical works such as Homer's Odyssey. Regardless of how many people enjoy the epic Greek tale, you can be sure that absolutely no one outside of academia cares about the person who translated it.
While bilinguals certainly make an important contribution to society, calling it an essential skill is a bunch of bullshit.
People who learn and become fluent in foreign languages are usually people who have a genuine interest in the language itself and/or the cultures associated with it. Their own intrinsic motivation drives them to master the language, not some Dean’s curriculum. It is these people who will become the translators of tomorrow and therefore it is unnecessary to shove other languages down students' throats.
2.) Greater emphasis on creating awareness of other cultures
At its core, this is a great idea. Unfortunately, it is an area of study where political correctness usually rears its ugly head. When I was in school, not only did I learn about all kinds of foreign cultures, but there was always the standard guilt trip about how the U.S. has exploited and wronged various foreign nations and that we should feel ashamed even though we're descendants of the perpetrators not the actual villains. All of this occurred in the 90s when the concept of a global economy was not taken nearly as seriously as it is today. I can only imagine how much more ass kissing foreign cultures will receive in the globally-minded schools of today and tomorrow.
3.) Greater emphasis on working in teams
Working in teams is another skill that school officials insist is vital. Although teamwork has its value at times, I really cannot imagine a worse way to get work done. Group work is a breeding ground of laziness. When it becomes obvious that one person in the group is capable of doing a much better job on the assignment than everyone else, it only makes sense to stay out of their way for the sake of receiving a good grade. Meanwhile, you don't learn and develop yourself. Also, people who are already lazy shits to begin with will happily allow themselves to be carried by the other group members.
Furthermore, interacting with group members tends to be a major pain in the ass. I firmly believe that the old saying, "If you want something done right you have to do it yourself," is the best approach to solving most problems. If I come up with a creative idea or solution to a problem, I want to follow through with it on my own and not waste precious time running it by other people who usually could give a shit what I have to say anyhow. Most of the time, the person who does listen ends up being a stubborn dissenter who does not relent no matter how stupid their input is. If I wanted to listen to stubborn, idiotic banter, I'd have a conversation with my mother.
4.) Establishing all-year schools (The ones without summer vacation)
When I first heard of this concept many years ago, I thought it was a joke. Surely not enough people would be stupid enough to support this idea for it to enjoy even marginal success, right? RIGHT? Sigh, perhaps I should have known better…
So let me get this straight, the moderate, if not questionable educational gains of all year schools are worth sacrificing summer vacations, the best opportunity for a child to enjoy their childhood? Also, how the hell are summer family vacations supposed to take place if children constantly have to be in school? What's that you say, they have designated breaks of either one or two weeks in which I can travel with my children (along with thousands of other families simultaneously)? Wow, so as a parent, I get to structure even more of my life around my local school district's schedule and it will last for at least fourteen years, assuming I only have one child to put through school. Awesome! Seriously though, I can't think of a better reason NOT to have kids. Besides, if I don't have kids, or get involved in trivial things like family time, I can put more energy into contributing to the global economy because that's what counts in life right?
5.) Increased Utilization of Computer and Internet Technology
I concede that the utilization of technology is essential, but I just want to point out how much that sucks. When I was in school, computers were for videogames, fantasy football, porn and nothing more. Now computers need to be used for work, even in the adult world. What a terrible world we now live in.
All of these changes, horrible as they are, still don't compare to the atrocity of not fixing the major problems that still exist in the majority of our school systems:
1.) Gym class still exists
School administrators have their collective panties all twisted in a knot over preparing students for life in the 21st century, but they'll be damned if their students still aren't forced to spend roughly fifty minutes per day running laps or doing jumping jacks. Lookout world, Mr. Joe Adolescence is capable of running continuously for over a minute. What a crock of shit. There are literally dozens of better ways to spend those fifty minutes. Yes, I know youths need exercise, but it should be the parent/caregiver's job to make sure they get it after school by going outside and playing.
When I was young, I spent many afternoons playing street hockey and football. There was never the need for me to suffer from some egotistical drill sergeant, disguised as a middle-aged loser, dictating the course of my physical activity while strutting around the room like their job was actually important.
2.) Bullying hasn't been effectively dealt with
School officials love to talk tough when it comes to bullying. They put in place zero-tolerance policies and give long speeches convincing students and their parents that they are really, really, super, duper serious. Problem is, they usually only crack down on bullying that involves physical violence such as your typical fistfight. Verbal teasing, however, remains rampant and is often not taken seriously by those in authority. Apparently, the occasional incident involving bullies being moved down by gunfire is not enough proof of its seriousness. It especially sucks that the best practical way of ending teasing from a peer, punching them in the face, has a zero-tolerance policy associated with it.
3.) Many teachers still suck
My eternal gratitude goes out to every good and caring teacher I ever had. Without them, I wouldn't know jack shit about anything.
At the same time, I extend a lifetime of scorn for every boring, incompetent, or just plain old dickhead teacher I ever had to put up with. I've always done my best to maintain interest in all of my school subjects growing up, but it's only a matter of time before that interest will succumb to the monotone and uncaring voice of Mr. Humdrum.
Also, now that I'm in my twenties, I can better comprehend the injustice that was done to me and the rest of my classmates by every incompetent teacher who did a poor job of reading right out of the textbook or assigning endless amounts of busywork to kill time. Back then, I didn't care too much because it usually resulted in an easy A, but now I can see that I was cheated and I'm pissed. It's even more pathetic considering that most of them had been teaching for many years. Aren't you supposed to get better at your job over time?
Finally of course, there are the asshole teachers. They possess the cocky attitude and the condescending communication tactics. They have strict inflexible rules that will never bend even to help a student in need. It's likely they would sooner contract herpes than admit that you are a bright student or that they were wrong about something. No teacher in existence is in the education field to get rich so how does somebody even enter the profession without being a good natured person? You would literally have to hate children, in which case it's a dream job.
For all of these reasons, I cannot help but smile just a little more every time I'm able to wake up at noon on a school day.
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