Important Stuff

FTLComm - Tisdale
February 13, 2000

What happens at this building and ones like it all across this country is important stuff. Everyone in our society has been through our school system and considers themselves an expert on education and yet there is a strong tendency to pretty

much take schools and what they do for granted. It might be instructive for you consider the function of education, public and otherwise and the role it plays in our political and economic world. The first thing that we have to do is to face reality, the stern cold hard facts of what schools are all about and to do that we have to deal with the "myths" of education.

Myth 1.

Schools are about the 3 "R"s

Sorry folks that is not was schools are about, Learning to read, write and develop a proficiency in mathematics would seem like a reasonable explanation for having schools. After all if we are going to depend upon educated qualified voters who have the skills to find out about things for themselves there is a need to train children who in time will become voters who can accept their responsibility as informed voters.

This basic concept of what school's are for is a total myth.

Schools in our society are a part of the social and political structure of society and they are publicly funded and attendance is mandatory because schools serve society as a means of "acculturation". From a sociological perspective the function of schools is to help the children of that society adapt to the rigours that are a fundamental part of that society. In a modern world that means people who are disciplined, who will work diligently accepting the "work ethic" without question and will be able to do as they are told

Myth 2.

Schools teach children important knowledge

The actual content that is part of the school curriculum is incidental to the purpose and underlying function of the school system in a society. This does not mean that the curriculum material is unimportant because it is, children and young adults learn a great deal from their school experience but the content of courses is a side dish, not the main course.

You will discover that high school and university teachers actually believe that what they are teaching is important. This is perhaps a plot to motivate them but the reality is that elementary teachers all know with certainty that the "how" process will serve the student better then "what". Subjective material and on going research tends to dilute the importance of most school course content whereas learning skills will serve the student for every day of the rest of his or her life.

The main instructional and learning component of school is the process itself. Understanding how to work and cope with others, handling authority, developing leadership skills and most important of all - acquiring life long learning skills.

The real lessons in school are not what is taught but how it is learned. The excellent training we have in our teachers of today and the experience the education world has gained has produced outstanding and effective learning techniques that are enormously successful.

Myth 3.

Learning to Read is the most important function of our school system

Not that reading is over rated but the public and schools in response to public pressure, place far to much emphasis on reading and do so at far to early an age that is inconsistent with the psychological development of children.

Reading is a intricate process that requires that the learner develop oral language skills, establish common experiences and then through their own input create the magic that we call reading. No teacher living or dead ever taught anyone to read. The teacher creates the atmosphere in which the reader has the opportunity to develop the skill on their own. Tricks like phonics and a host of other popular processes are a waste of time for the learner and resources for the school.

Learning to read is really unimportant if you do not provide the reader with the skills and reasoning experience to deal with what he or she might read. The main function of education of any kind is to produce effective thinking and reasoning skills that will allow the learning to be self propelled.

Myth 4.

Schools need to have recognised standards

Accountability and applying business principles to education is a spiral dive that leads to disaster. As stated here, schools are to produce people would will fit into the society in which the school is located. From the very beginning of public education the concept of local control and input has been the main and most pervasive "standard." In the back of our minds all of us understand that the school system is to serve its community and must reflect the concepts and values of the community in which it is located.

Therefore imposing standards that relate to content skills, which are not the focus of the institution in the first place is simply wrong headed. You will discover that those of the political right are the most aggressive about imposing so-called standards in education because those folks are the ones who most seriously worry about the realisation that schools are part of the social-cultural structure. In Alberta where "standards" are frequent and popular ideas the course material that the rest of Canadian students will refer to as social studies, the combined concepts of history, political science, geography, economics and civil rights and duties used to be referred to in Alberta schools as "Enterprise". Most of the curriculum content in Alberta's social studies courses reflect that political bias and so it should, since that is a reflection of the Alberta society.

Standardised testing for basic skills is helpful for administrators and curriculum planners to know the strengths and weaknesses of their school programming and can act as guides to point them toward working on special areas, but in no way should such things be used to calibrate the abilities of the students, since there are no standardised tests that will measure adaptability, logic, creativity and reasoning skills, which are the main work of the school system.

Myth 5.

Students need to meet specific skill levels in order to advance through the grade system

There are no credible long term studies that have found that repeating a grade has any benefits for any child or student.

Since the school's content material is (as stated here) not that important, accomplishing that content is not particularly important. Every person has to meet enough "failure" in life and it serves no functional purpose in the school setting to place additional road blocks before learners.

What the learner is faced with each and every day is improving his or her reasoning and learning skills. For more then 80% of all students that process is in complete synchronisation with his or her peers. However, they will be some through misadventure or interruption of their normal development that will come out of step with people their own age. It can serve no purpose for them to be re-assigned a different chronological age to produce a better fit. In most cases students who repeat a grade will be forced to learn on their own, or not, for the rest of their lives. Because remember, what happens to you as a child determines all that will happen to you as an adult.

No child should "pass" to the next grade, all children must "advance" as they grow older learning with people their own chronological age.
Well, you were warned that this is a much different view of education and do not think that this article is a condemnation or criticism of any school system. This is instead a description of what we have in a generalised way and this system is threatened severely. Parents are increasing feeling that they do not have adequate input into what is going on in their public school system and are opting for "home schooling" because of the desperation they feel. "Home schooling" is a valid form of education but it is not "schooling" and as I have mentioned here, there is a difference. Our society still needs public schooling and every child can benefit in feeling the comfort of fitting into a society. "Fitting in" is what schooling is all about and it is astonishingly successful.

It is easy for you to see that post secondary education lacks the community awareness and "fitting in" aspect of our public school system and for that reason, dedicated to the content it proports to teach, the University system is pretty much "failure oriented."

Public schools on the other hand are "success oriented" and to make them even better you as a parent, tax payer and responsible member of society must accept your duty in this a democratic society to positively contribute with your opinion and support to your school systems. Criticism is healthy and participation is even more healthy. A public systems needs the public, in fact can not function without the public's involvement.

Schools form the basis for our creation of each successive generation and for that reason we must give them, not only all the resources we can, but all the encouragement and consideration that is possible. In the end, we are doing this for our selves.