Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No Original Thinking Allowed.

When we moved to Georgia, we chose our home partly based on the reputation of the schools. The elementary and middle schools are terrific. The academics are solid and the extra-curriculars (especially the music) are superb. Then high school hit.  This particular school is highly rated in the state and even nationally. Music and sports and art programs are stellar. Students score well on standardized test and college acceptance is the rule, not the exception.

However, the educational philosophy is more about elevated test scores that make the school look good than about actually EDUCATING the students. I have in front of me a rubric for a research paper in an American Literature class. As I review it, I realize there is not ONE point for critical thinking, independent analysis, or unique discussion. There are sixteen points to this rubric and every single one of them is based on layout, grammar, and mechanics. There are more points awarded for using the correct font than for using the student's own brain.

This disturbs me. No, it angers me. What are they teaching there? How will these kids excel in college/career unless they learn to think critically and communicate well? This particular teacher didn't even read the essay in question (and no, it's not one of my own children's papers.) She skimmed through the paper checking off sources (two primary, four secondary), topic sentences (and she missed one), and keywords that she thought were relevant. Had she actually read the content she would have discovered that her chosen keywords were irrelevant to the actual thesis. She would have read a well-supported, strongly written paper---with a lot of punctuation errors.

Granted, spelling, punctuation, and proper citation matter. It's important to communicate correctly, but it's MORE important to communicate actual SUBSTANCE. Sadly, this teacher (and she is one of many) apparently believes that thoughtful analysis is of no value. Students may not know anything about thinking critically, but they darn well know where to use a semi-colon!

Bill Beattie, an American coach, gets it, saying:
The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think - rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.

I believe that my job as an educator is to teach my students how to read critically, how to interpret information, how to draw conclusions, and how to communicate effectively. Part of that does include insisting on proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Citing sources is important to differentiate between the students' thoughts and the ideas of others. But to end there and to hold that as the ultimate goal does the students a grave disservice. Where is the encouragement to reach beyond expectations? Where is the motivation to try new things? I like what Jean Piaget wrote:
The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done---men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.
Unless more teachers decide to become educators, rather than test-preparers, the future is pretty bleak. Teenagers will continue to be underestimated, test scores will continue to be a poor representation of anything of value, and true innovators will be harder and harder to find because no one will be willing to think outside the standardized test box.


Kathryn Shadden said...

Agreed. This is why so many kids are unprepared for college and the level of thinking that those classes demand. Fortunately, there's always AP! :)

Christian and the City said...

My sentiments exactly. With "No Child Left Behind, I have watched children taught how to regurgitate information, not the process of learning or thinking. There are no standards for thinking. I don't like how it is creating an generation who will accept propaganda without reservation.

Simone said...

GREAT blog post, S! I couldn't agree with you more! Catching up with friends' blogs tonight and I enjoyed this one. Xoxo