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I’ve got a quick, easy way to fix a lot of what’s wrong with the US educational system.  It’s a radical concept, but I suspect it would work – far better than anything we’re doing so far. 

All that’s required… is that we be absolutely horrible bastards to the children.

We need to face the reality that our education system is horribly inefficient.  We reward mediocratiy, punish excellence, and ensure that no child is left behind – no matter how poorly they’re doing, or how much some of them probably ought to be left behind.

Remember – no child left behind also usually means no child allowed ahead.  The smartest child in each class is chained to the stupidest, and only allowed to advance ahead when either a) the stupidest kid gets whatever it is that they’re supposed to be learning, or b) the teacher gives up and decides the stupidest kid is someone else’s problem, preferably in the next grade level up.

By then, you’ve completely lost the smart child.  With luck, they’ve gnawed their own legs off and are running (ok, limping) free in the fields of independent study… they no longer get good grades, because they no longer care about whatever it is they’re “supposed” to be learning, but at least they’re learning something.

And that’s the best case scenario. 

I think the root of the problem is “review”.  This was always a serious problem when I was in school, and it’s become a bigger issue as we’ve slipped further down the spiral.  Out of each year (especially during the elementary and secondary school phase) a significant period of the year is spent reviewing the lessons they should have learned the year before. 


I could understand needing to re-teach some of the lessons, especially if they’re related to the current lesson at hand (addition before going into multiplication, multiplication before going into factors, etc), but that’s rarely the scenario.  No, instead, the first few months of the Fifth Grade are usually “The Fourth Grade 2: Electric Bugaloo”.  Not even a remix, just a long, drawn-out retelling of all the things from the last year on the outside chance you weren’t paying attention back then.  Don’t worry, if you’re not paying attention now either – there will be a review of the review when we’re done reviewing the review.

The problem is that we’re afraid to let kids fail.  We don’t keep score in sports, because if we kept score one of the teams would lose.  Nevermind the team that would win – winning isn’t everything.  That’s a great mantra, by the way -  nothing quite says “aim low, expect nothing” like teaching kids that “winning isn’t everything”.  So we review, then review the reviews, then review those reviews of the reviews, in the hope that eventually the lowest 1% might get the drift (even if you have to sacrifice the upper 10% to get there).  And don’t even get me started on teachers “teaching for tests”.  God.

But that’s ok – there are no losers, because there are no winners.  We’ve made sure of that.

But how do we fix this?  In high school, once you get to multi-segmented classes (AP, CP, Regular, Remedial) they can scale the classes and grade kids on their abilities, allowing a natural sorting of capabilities and a wider range of success for individuals.  With the fence posts for achievement moved further apart, the “chain” from before is a lot longer – and with the possibility to even skip ahead grades based on abilities, they’re gone completely in some instances.

But that’s not a viable answer for the lower grades, because kids (not teens, just kids here) are still maturing by leaps and bounds, and you’d have to re-evaluate them on a monthly… weekly… possibly daily basis to get the same line data that you can get on a yearly basis in a few years.  Plus, there’s the issue of social groups, herd mentality, peership, and all that other crap that we’d be messing with.

When I was growing up, Summer Vacation was a glorious multi-month period of lesure, relaxation, abject laziness, and self-improvement.  Kids played, which helped keep them fit and active.  Older kids got jobs, which taught them about work ethics, the value of a buck, responsibility, and (more often than not) the opposite sex.

Nowadays, vacation borders are no longer sacred – if it snows too much in the winter, we gain those extra snow days back as additional school days at the end.  12 weeks has been pared down to 7 or 8, depending on the circuimstances, and some places are moving towards getting rid of it altogether.

School years are ending later and starting earlier, but obviously our children aren’t getting any smarter.  In fact, if anything, they’re probably getting dumber.  So I say we we bring back Summer Vacation… back, with a vengence.

For all of you who TL:DR’d down to this, here’s my plan:

At the end of the 2 Month Summer, everybody goes back to school and takes a proficiency test that tests them on the previous year’s material, to see if they pass or fail.  And this is a hard pass, like 75-80% or higher is pass, under that is fail, because we actually need to make sure they know this shit.

 If you pass, you get another month of vacation, no strings attached.  If you fail, it’s a month of intensive review.

At the end of the month of intensive review, you take the test again.  If you pass, you advance.  If you fail again after a month of review, you get held back a grade.  Then, school starts – for those who passed (with or without the review period) they get to move on to new lessons, with only the review of related subjects.

The other beauty of this is that it eliminates the chance for teachers to, as I mentioned before, “teach for tests”, which I think is probably the single biggest abomination of the education system to date.  The kids have to not only learn, during the course of the year, all their lessons – they’re then asked to remember them.  Heaven forbid.  And without the direct influence of the education system, we actually learn how much the children are actually learning.

Of course, it’s not without some flaws – someone will always argue that their darling pecious snowflake angel does not test well, or can’t take the pressure, or doesn’t feel well, or is allergic to stress.  To which I would reply – tough shit.  Every day of real life is stress, every time you walk out the door the world is testing you, and maybe if you stop telling your brat what they can’t do maybe they’ll start showing you what they can do.

1 Comment

  • …but, of course, teachers will spend the year teaching to the summer test and, as always seems to be the case, there will only learn enough to actually pass the test rather than be able to apply the knowledge in any meaningful way.

    It’s actually a brilliant idea, but I suspect they will be able to prevent learning as easily in this system as any other as they will gear the school year to passing the test and then they will adjust the test to make it easier to pass…

    As you point out, because we are unwilling to let kids fail, everybody pays the price. Until that fundamental philosophy changes, nothing will…

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