Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Education Today

Either I am confused, or I am a hypocrite, or education has really changed since I was a kid. I hope it is only the latter but I am sure a case can be made for all three.

On the one hand, I comment to my wife about once per week about what a good education our kids are getting. The teachers at their school are engaged and committed, the facilities are fantastic, and a hands on approach to discovery has been masterfully intertwined with spontaneous thought and problem solving activities since I last sat in front of a droning "teacher".

On the other hand, I am aghast at the daily inquiries I receive from recently graduated job-seekers who cannot write a grammatically correct cover note. I am even more dumbfounded that an old joke I enjoyed as a youngster, about a man who was really hungry so he asked for his pizza to be cut into more slices, is no longer funny because the teens in the pizza joints today actually think that the "number of slices" is an accurate indicator of pizza size. Don't take my word for it, run to a pizza place right now and ask the pierced fellow behind the counter "how big is the medium" and he will give you a number-of-slices based answer. He will do this in complete earnestness and will fully believe he has provided a useful reply to your question.

I know my angst must be akin to that felt by my elders when many of us began to rely on calculators for basic math. They felt we would lose the ability to perform calculations manually (I suspect they were right to a degree) but it is difficult to discern any lasting detriment that may have caused. I find it much more distressing that we have all lost the ability to write with respectable penmanship and I sometimes wonder why there is not a more vocal outcry about that. At the end of the day, I recognize that different skills may be promoted and/or de-emphasized across generations of students.

So am I confused? Is education getting better, as I presume it is from observing my children's experience? Or is it getting worse as job seekers and pizza joint workers lead me to conclude? If it is one or the other, then I must be some form of accidental hypocrite (if that is possible). Or is education just evolving and emphasizing different skills? If this is the answer, how am I ever going to know how much pizza to order?


  1. Anonymous9/30/2009

    My first guess is that public education has become a highly regulated affair - thus the narrow focus of the system as they strive to meet pre-determined parameters that artifically measure success and cater to 'test scores' - any imaginary teachers out there care to comment on the accuracy of this hypothesis? Reitrof

  2. Anonymous9/30/2009

    Like most things, overall its a mixed bag, with some teachers"teaching to the test" and other very skilled teachers both teaching to the tests but also engaging the kids in new insightful ways. Personality wise-- you have the drones and you have the outgoing enthusiastic professional teachers, not any different than we had. You have the labor union which, in my opinion, doesn't allow the skilled teachers to rise to the top, and can't take effective disciplinary action against poor teaching.
    However, thus far, I would say that my kids public education is well ahead of mine at the same age. My daughter (honors math) is 2-3 years ahead of what I recall studying at the same age. Her writing is off the charts when she puts either a presentation in powerpoint or a written word document. But then........last month she sent 2473 text messages-- almost another language, devoid of grammar or spelling.
    A 4th grade son has spent the better part of two years learning cursive writing--- I can't help but think "what for??..its not like he is going to write with his hands or anything". But overall I think all my kids educations are much better. With that said, I'm not sure they will have the same opportunties that we had without opening up to the prospect of worldly travel and working in India where half of the connecticut jobs are going. Does that start to impact how the kids think about education?
    The other difficulty is that kids are distracted from either their insane sports lives, in which their parents and friends believe a scholarship awaits their talented offspring, or the number of nightly entertainment choices such as facebook and "what would den say". If my daughter reads too much of these posts, she may end up working in a pizza joint. JD

  3. Jeff Ryer9/30/2009

    As much as I would like to label you a hypocrite, I just can't. We are ruining our children. Here's why - we just can't say no. Our children get to watch trash on TV, cell phones in 4th grade, unfiltered internet access in 10th grade, and $ from parents to go to Starbucks everyday after school. The divide in this country is really happening. My good friend Dave G. just became a Jr high teacher in a tough city in Mass. He says the majority of his kids parents just don't care. The opposite in the more well-to-do towns is to give your kids everything. In fact, a college professor (at an expensive private college) just told me Monday that she has never before seen such freshman college kids who can't function. They have no attention span. They text, twitter and otherwise focus for seconds on stuff of little substance. I know, everyone will say I am a fool, that twitter, facebook, myspace are all great tools and that I just don't get it. So tell me, what are your kids REALLY learning with all those great tools in their lives. Tell me about those tools.

    Let meet give you the most Ironic example of today's kids with tools. Three weeks ago in my small town, a lovely young 15 year old girl was walking across a busy street at 6:00 pm (it was still daylight) in the crosswalk, while texting on her phone she dropped it, bent down to pick it up, and was struck and killed by an 18 yr old driver who was texting. What could either of them have been texting that was so important ??? Please tell me about all these great tools we have !!!!

  4. That's a truly tragic story posted by Ryer. It strikes me as another example of "the dark side of freedom". I think most would agree that anyone should be free to build and make available technology for electronic communication and anyone should be free to use it if they can afford to. The technology didn't kill the girl, the carelessness of the driver and her own lack of awareness (both a consequence of using technology) caused her death. No one wants to have their opportunities restricted but there are clearly downsides to unlimited freedom.

  5. JD kind of hit on a point that angers me with today’s society and is a pet peeve of mine. Now I'm sure most of you "grown-ups" don't see this, but it is certainly present in my age bracket (mostly younger, but there are a few morons my age who engage in this intolerable insult to language) and that is text speaking. Our world has entered a time where we no longer recognize language. LOL this, LMAO that, BRB, OMG, OTW, STFU, etc). This progression - well, more like regression - of language actually started in the 90’s with Instant Messaging. With the newest wave in the popularity of text messaging, it moved there. It bugs me enough when people use this in a text, especially since we are all pretty much carrying cell phones with fully functional keyboards, which are also capable of launching a space shuttle, while we check our email, update twitter, and facebook stalk our ex girlfriends. But I have more or less accepted the fact that these “words” are standard operation procedure for communicating via text. Where my tolerance runs thin is where this language has left the silent language of electronic communication and has entered the verbal. There are people, mostly girls, typically former cheerleaders or trust fund kids, who will use LOL, BRB, OTW in their everyday communication. "LOL, Brittney that was so funny!" "BRB guys, need to use the bathroom." Every time I hear someone use these abbreviated forms of communication that sound very much like grunts and moans, more closely resembling how cave men use to speak, it drives me slightly closer to assault with a deadly insult. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to GGRFTD (go get ready for the day).

  6. Jeff Ryer10/03/2009

    Boo Hoo is coming back from Africa today and when he gets back he is going to just let loose, just a heads up.

    I realize that the technology "tools" did not kill that young girl, but it is interesting that the government is planning to ban texting / cell phone use while driving. So obviously someone thinks it is an issue. And my point was and still is - what are these young people texting ? What can they possibly be saying ? How are most of these MySpace pages helping 15 year olds learn or whatever. What are the positives. I think it is a breakeven or a negative. And if that is the case, children are too precious to be involved. Too many people I know have said their children have an issue with these tools. One tells me his daughter came to him and said she is addicted to Facebook and texting and that she has to check it all the time - she is afraid of what she is missing. And then there is Cyber Bullying - the fastest growing issue facing schools (according to our schools) These are supposedly all great tools for business, but we were not talking about business. We were talking about education and it comes down to parents, and they just can't say NO.

  7. Anonymous10/03/2009

    Ryer has an amazing way of extrapolating the point of a blog, and then using the comment section to rant against his own extrapolation. I don't think anyone said that twitter/facebook/myspace were great tools and/or that children learn from those "tools". I'll bet the parents of your generation were bemoaning the negative affects of MTV, rock music and cable. And look how well you turned ou --- ah, forget it! I agree with everything you said. Vern

  8. Anonymous10/04/2009

    i believe what we are really seeing is a widening gap between the dumb and the smart. technology is a catalyst, or a tool really, that can be used for good, or can be used ignorantly.