Monday, August 22, 2011

A Generation of Guinea Pigs

Amongst all the other post secondary certifications I have, I have a Teacher Assistant Diploma. I'm officially qualified to work as an aide (1:1 aide, therapy aide, paraeducator... the titles keep changing but the role is the same) and have worked in a number of preschools, elementary schools, middle schools and even high school.

My nerd fact is that I can do MSA Algebra is my head. The last math teacher I worked with just gave me the papers to mark when we were doing practice tests for review.

When I was studying in college, towards the completion of the diploma program, one of my instructors (who was from New Orleans) talked about why she was an atrocious speller. She grew up in the generation when educators decided that they wouldn't put heavy emphasis on correct spelling. The catchphrase was 'inventive spelling'.

The problem is, when you've grown up with one of these ridiculous new philosophies at work in your education, you're stuck with the results. Educational philosophy shifted, and perhaps some common sense was restored.

But for a generation of students, they struggle in the workplace because they have a difficult time spelling, and it impedes their ability to produce anything in writing for work purposes.

Now, I'm not saying I'm a hardliner, and think that points should be deducted from all papers and essays for every misspelled word. Before someone jumps on me, I'd like to point out that there is a time and place for such philosophies. Particularly if you, like me, spend most of your time working with students with diagnosed learning disabilities. In the work I do, it's often critical that I move the goal posts.

But what I want to touch on is something larger. Schools trying out all kinds of new strategies in order to deal with budget cuts. A few months ago, my best friend told me that her kids' school district had realized that if they extended the school day by just a handful of minutes each day, they cut could several days out of the calendar, and the cost savings of having schools closed more days per year were in the millions.

Five or six extra minutes per day...

What does anyone really think a student learns in a handful of minutes?

I mean, think about the last time you went to some work-related seminar. Were you tuning out 30% of the way through it? Or did you feel you learned material right up until the end? In most cases, it's repetitive. Most of my required annual classes ended early, because the material is either known or it isn't. The divide happens. Test for those ready and the ones who aren't quite there get assistance as they work through the unit.

I'm not going to delve deeply into my thoughts on the problems with education. However, I am going to toss this out as food for thought. If we want to continue to grow readers in this country, a quality education is an important component. Nothing troubles me more than my own personal experience. The kids aren't learning much about grammar, and forming conclusions is definitely not emphasized. Bry's grade 2 teacher really hit the nail on the head when she said Bry could read well beyond her age level, but she didn't comprehend what she was reading. And we've found that to be true. She can spell a lot of words, but doesn't know what they mean.

Unfortunately, getting teachers who can make that kind of astute assessment are few and far between, and while educators play with new philosophies and test out their new ideas, it's the kids in the system who will suffer the consequences if the ideas they're adopting and implementing are bad ones.

As authors, we should all be concerned about how this impacts future generations of potential readers who might not have their skills developed sufficiently, or be turned off of reading altogether.


Dana King said...

Americans schools have been turning kids off to reading for years; it's a hallowed tradition. Making them read "important" books that may well be over their heads, and stressing the idea that no book without a lofty theme was worth reading turned me into a reader of non-fiction exclusively for years.

I doubt the changes they're advocating in the school day will dissuade many more readers than current policies. What's more worrisome is the idea that education in general can be done on the cheap, and that cost savings can be measured as if evaluating a business's bottom line; all that matter are standardized test scores. That's not just discouraging; it's dangerous.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I personally think cost-cutting education now is crippling the economy of the future, and will further reduce any nation's influence world-wide.