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The End of School ( начало )

Ranez.Ru > Помощь в учебе абитуриентам и студентам > Студенту > Английский язык > Topics advanced (ПУПР) >

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The End of School
The schoolrooms of tomorrow
Won’t resemble even the best of those
we have today— and
they shouldn’t

SCHOOL AS WE know it is doomed. And   every attempt   to   improve—but fundamentally preserve—the present system will only prolong its death throes and add immeasurably to its costs, both financial and social. By the year 2010, if we are to survive as a democratic society, our children will have to learn in a variety of new ways, some of them already on the drawing board, some unforeseen. None of them will involve a teacher in the front of classroom presenting information to twenty or thirty children seated at desks.

Ironically, the success of a highly publicized school-reform movement has most clearly revealed the failure of school to meet the challenges of these times. The movement began on April 26, 1983, with the publication of a report by the National Commission for Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform asked for a longer school day and year. It called for the assignment of "far more homework." It demanded higher standards for college admissions, more-rigorous grading, better textbooks, and a nationwide system of standardized achievement tests. Like most of the dozens of reform proposals from other organizations which followed, A Nation at Risk was preoccupied with course requirements at the high school level— four years of English, three of math, three of science, and so on. As if four rather than three years of English for students already turned off by the present system would really make much difference.

'The interesting thing about the National Commission report (along with most of the other proposals) is that with all its talk of "fundamental" change, it proposed nothing really new. Let's ratchet up the present system, the report seemed to say. Let's get tough on students and teachers. Let's have the same, but better and more of it.

A Nation at Risk set off a firestorm of interest and approval. All three television networks did shows on education. Newsmagazines ran cover stories on the subject. Governors throughout the nation scrambled to get on the band wagon and create their own commissions and task forces on school reform. Public-opinion polls showed a willingness, even an eagerness, to spend more on the schools. In an amazingly short time—as touted in the Department of Education's follow-up report, The: Nation Responds—the more-of-the-same movement was well under way.

What can we do? What are the results?

No movement to improve the schools gets all it asks for, but this one got more than most. From 1978 to 1983 total spending per public school student, from kindergarten through high school, adjusted for inflation, had remained stable. From 1983, when A Nation at Risk was published, to 1991 per capita spending, adjusted for inflation, increased by 30 percent. With what results? Blacks and Mispanics have shown some real improvement in reading and writing, and students in general have made small gains in math scores. But even with more and more teachers devoting up to half their time preparing pupils for achievement tests, today's students nationwide arc scoring little better, or even worse, in reading and writing than did their predecessors. The painful truth is that despite the spotlight on schooling and the stern pronouncements of educators, governors, and Presidents, despite the frantic test preparation in classrooms all over the country and the increased funding, school achievement has remained essentially flat over the past two decades.

The failure of this well-intended, well-executed movement toward reform summons us to think the unthinkable: we can no longer improve the education of our children by improving school, as we know it. The time has come to recognize that school is not the solution. It is the problem. Take a look:

  • Clearly, human beings learn at different rates. This doesn't mean that slow learners arc less intelligent than fast learners; they're just slower. Yet by and large, school, as we know it forces everyone to learn at the same rate or be declared uneducable.
  • When we human beings first emerged on this planet, our ability to cooperate gave us an advantage over larger and more powerful creatures. Throughout history we have worked together and learned together to further ourselves and our species. Today if you need help, you're likely to find a friend or a fellow worker who will bat the problem around with you, check out your ideas, and offer suggestions. Yet for the most part school is set up to teach competition rather than cooperation.
  • A certain amount of self-confidence and self-respect is an essential precondition to learning. Yet by and large, school is set up to humiliate publicly those who, for whatever reason, arc unable to come up with the right answer when called upon.

Middle school and high school make it worse. The clay is divided into periods of some forty minutes. You sit in a room with twenty or thirty other people with whom you arc discouraged from talking over what you arc hearing, listening to a presentation that's probably either too demanding or not challenging enough for you. Then a bell rings, and you go sit in another room, with twenty or thirty different people, listening to another presentation that's probably either more or less than you want, on another subject. The teacher in this room probably doesn't know what the teacher in the other room has said or done, nor will any of the teachers in still other rooms know what the other teachers have said or clone.

Hut how about the good old days? Didn't school work then? In 1900 the number of high school graduates was equal to only 6.3 percent of the nation's seventeen-year-olds. As late as 1940 the comparable percentage was only 49—and included a rather high proportion of the same kind of academically motivated kids who can get something out of present-day schooling. Academically successful kids, both past and present, have learned for the most part in spite of, rather than because of, school. The emphasis of today's reformers on the importance of homework and family support points up the fact that school on its own does not and cannot do the job of educating our children.

"In the old days people used to go to doctors to get cured," says Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of the few true visionaries among today's education reformers, "but for several centuries doctors were actually harming their patients, indeed sometimes resulting in deaths, because they didn't realize they had to wash their hands and sterilize their instruments. In other words, in the normal course of practice doctors were doing things out of ignorance that were harmful to their patients. We need to ask whether schools in the normal course of education do things that are harmful to students."

School as we know it is not inevitable

School as we know it is not inevitable. From the beginning it was an administrative expediency, an attempt to adapt the tutor-learner system to mass education, a crude way of handling a large number of learners with a much smaller number of teachers. We were able to get away with it in the past chiefly because our society required few academically or technically educated citizens. In 1900 farming alone absorbed 7.5 percent of the American work force. As late as the 1950s, even the 1960s, unskilled jobs were still relatively easy to conic by. What has happened is that the demands and stresses of today's multiethnic, technological society have revealed the fundamental flaws in a system we have long taken for granted.

In spite of the best of intentions, the commissions, foundations, task forces, governors' conferences, national and state administrations, and departments of education have missed the point. Longer bad school days and years don't add up to a good education, ('ranking up the assembly line a bit tighter, spending all year teaching to the achievement tests, might increase the scores a few points, but at the cost of whatever love of learning remains in our students' hearts. Raising graduation standards without radically improving the mode of instruction will only increase the dropout rate or worsen the cheating that is already rampant in our schools. The assumption that higher quality textbooks, or teachers who "really know their subject matter," can set things right crumbles beneath the boredom, cynicism, and despair produced by the present system. Even if the top graduates from the most prestigious universities were to go into teaching, their best efforts would founder within an essentially unworkable system.

If all this is true, then what is the alternative? The key to good education, almost totally overlooked by the putative reformers, is to be found by taking the viewpoint of the learner, and, more particularly, by focusing on the interaction between the learner and the learning environment. We can say that the effectiveness of any learning experience depends on the frequency, variety, quality, and intensity of that interaction. Unless the interaction is improved, any and all proposals to improve education are moot. With this premise in mind, one can easily sec why school is doomed.

Start with the fact that the human being is a learning animal, pure ant simple. What sets him or her apart from all other known forms of life is the ability to learn prodigiously from birth to death. By the time our children start to school, almost all of them have completed one of the most spectacular learning tasks on this planet: the mastery of spoken language with no formal instruction whatever. Rather than any kind of formal instruction, they have enjoyed a feast of high-intensity interaction with their learning environment, which in this case comprises all the adults and older children around them. Here are teachers who react immediately to success, permit approximate, and aren't likely to indulge in lectures—that is, the best kind of teachers. School as it is now constituted minimizes interaction and thus minimizes learning among our children, while yoking teachers to a frustrating, essentially impossible task.

What can we do? We must summon the courage to recognize that the present system is entirely inadequate to our present educational needs. We must move as swiftly as possible to end it. We must empower our educators to create interactive learning environments rather than merely presenting information to passive students. We must shift our national educational goals from improving school, as it is to building something beyond it—call it metaschool.

A number of educational experiments that move us in the direction of metaschool are already under way. Albert Shanker points to the success of a secondary school in Cologne, Germany. There the Köln-Holwcide school uses team teaching, cooperative learning, and peer tutoring to create a close-knit learning community for some 2,000 secondary school students from middle-and lower-income households. Teachers, rather than administrators, make all instructional decisions at this school. They work in teams of six to eight, keeping the same group of eighty-five to ninety students for their entire six years at the school, from the equivalent of our grade five to grade ten.

But these teachers don't hold forth from the front of the room. Actually, the room has no "front," no rows of desks lined up in the same direction. Instead, the students sit around tables, working with the same "table group" of five or six students, integrated by sex, ability, and ethnic origin, for at least a year. The table group is the basic unit of learning, the key to the school's success. Students arc in constant interaction, helping one another learn. "If a student has a problem," the headmistress, Anne Ratzki, explained in an interview in American Educator magazine, "he doesn't have to wait for a teacher; he can ask his table group for help. If the group can't help, then the teacher will—but the first responsibility lies with the group."

The school day at Köln-Holwcide is long, from 8:15 to 4:15, with a thirty-minute pause in the morning, an eighty-minute lunch period, and, for each student, generally one or two periods a day devoted to tutorial or project work or free learning. School closes early every Tuesday, so that students can take care of doctors' appointments, piano lessons, and other nonschool activities. What we would call homework is mostly taken care of in the tutorial or free-learning periods, during which other students or teachers can help out. The extended lunch period is time for sports in the gym, special lessons in such things as theater and ceramics, and dancing in a disco.

What are the results? A dropout rate of one percent, as compared with a West German average of 14 percent, and an astonishing 60 percent rate of admission to four-year colleges, as compared with a national average of 27 percent. And this despite the fact that Koln-Holweidc's student body is far from an elite one. Best of all, the kids seem to enjoy their education. Parents report that they can't wait until the holidays end, so that they can get back to school. By ending frontal, lockstep teaching, maximizing interaction with the learning environment, and putting the natural human bonding drive to work for rather than against the educational process, Koln-Holweide travels a good distance past school as we know it and toward the metaschool that lies beyond.

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