Ashley Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project recently wrote a post painting the educational system in the US as a factory dedicated to turning out slaves of the capitalist system: unthinking, unquestioning cogs. I agree that the system is in desperate need of improvement. We bemoan the teaching to the standardized test, we proclaim that there’s no “one-size-fits-all approach,” but then we obsess about tracking hard metrics to see if we’re really “closing the achievement gap.” It’s a mess.
Enough about the system. It’s more clear to me than ever that any change in the educational system needs to come from the bottom up, and it needs to start long before we enter the ivory towers of the university system or jostle our way through the crowded halls of high school. It needs to start before our first day of kindergarten.
The real problem with public education stems from a lack of personal responsibility, and it begins with parents.
I loathe Baby Einstein videos and Leap Frog learning machines. They’ve spawned an industry worth over $1 billion a year that simply serves to assure people that their babies will grow up to be brainiacs regardless of their involvement.
Our society is producing a nation of media-inundated zombies that lack the ability and initiative to draw conclusions for themselves and engage in critical thinking, and the process starts the moment parents plop their little pumpkins in front of the plasma screen and pop in Baby Einstein at the Farm. From the time they’re old enough to sit up on their own, we expose our children to a litany of pre-formulated questions and answers that rarely encourage them to think for themselves. When you put an electronic wand in your kid’s hand and send him off to learn how to read, who’s going to be there to ask him questions about the story (or answer any he might have)?
We continue to find ways to remove the element of human interaction from the teaching and learning process.
In a meeting I was in on Monday, a man was discussing the process of getting his kids to school every morning. He mentioned that he was glad to be out of car pool duty because “the kids wouldn’t always agree on what DVD to watch.”
Headphones on, juice box in one hand, Nintendo DS in the other and Sponge Bob in the DVD player: when did we become so reliant on hitting play and hoping the kids would just shut up? Instead of letting the kids entertain themselves (fostering creativity, make-believe, and a litany of questions that makes you want to pull your hair out), we outdo ourselves to find mindless ways to keep them occupied.
Growing up, my mom read to me nearly every night until I was 12 (and she worked full-time). If we were traveling in the car, we listened to books on tape, or played “I Spy.” We sang along to Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I knew every word to Les Miserables by third grade. I also grew up in a city with three stoplights. She took it upon herself to begin fostering my life-long love of learning, music, culture and creativity because she cared about my future. How can we expect the system to change when so many parents view education as stopping when the 3:00 bell rings?
The US Department of Education found that on average, mothers spend less than 30 minutes a day (and fathers spend less than 15) talking to their children. And though study after study has shown that children who are read to regularly “experience boosts in literacy development and socio-emotional gains,” only 55% of parents read to their children every day. Science Daily reports that “describing pictures in the book, explaining the meaning of the story, and encouraging the child to talk about what has been read to them and to ask questions can improve their understanding of the world and their social skills.” A recent study in the UK found that children ages 4-9 spend 7 hours and 46 minutes per week (or 16 days 19 hours and 49 minutes per year) in front of the television. In comparison, they spend 7 days, 9 hours and 40 minutes reading with an adult.
We can overhaul the system – but what good will it do if from the get-go, we come to school unprepared to actively learn? To ask questions? To read and discover on our own accord?