Saturday, July 7, 2012

Brooks: On Education -

David Brooks, as I've written about before (HERE ), is tremendously frustrating to me... He's written some pieces that are among my favorites, (see the link to one of them on the right of this blog) but often he gets the diagnosis of a particular issue exactly right, yet when he gets to solutions he is completely wrong...

This week he approached the subject of education, specifically the education of  young men and boys, and it's yet another piece that I thought was a great analysis of a problem, and solutions that make absolutely no sense. He started with this very nice analysis::

"Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s most appealing characters. He was rambunctious when young and courageous when older. But suppose Henry went to an American school. By about the third week of nursery school, Henry’s teacher would be sending notes home saying that Henry “had another hard day today.” He was disruptive during circle time. By midyear, there’d be sly little hints dropped that maybe Henry’s parents should think about medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many of the other boys are on it, and they find school much easier.
By elementary school, Henry would be lucky to get 20-minute snatches of recess. During one, he’d jump off the top of the jungle gym, and, by the time he hit the ground, the supervising teachers would be all over him for breaking the safety rules. He’d get in a serious wrestling match with his buddy Falstaff, and, by the time he got him in a headlock, there’d be suspensions all around. 
First, Henry would withdraw. He’d decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he’d just disengage. In kindergarten, he’d wonder why he just couldn’t be good. By junior high, he’d lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.
Then he’d rebel. If the official high school culture was über-nurturing, he’d be über-crude. If it valued cooperation and sensitivity, he’d devote his mental energies to violent video games and aggressive music. If college wanted him to be focused and tightly ambitious, he’d exile himself into a lewd and unsupervised laddie subculture. He’d have vague high ambitions but no realistic way to realize them. Day to day, he’d look completely adrift.
This is roughly what’s happening in schools across the Western world..."
Now, at this point I was expecting Brooks to knock it out of the park, it would have made for a shorter piece, but to hit it out of the park all he had to do at this point was reference a 21 minute video and say, "Watch this, this is exactly what I'm talking about!" and that video would have been Sir Ken Robinson's wildly popular TED speech - Do Schools Kill Creativity?"

But, where does Brooks go with it instead?  He blames some mythical, effiminate school cultural that we can assume is caused by liberals and perhaps our countries lack of Tiger Mom's... Brooks writes:

"The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling." ...
"Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp. "
I just don't know where to start with this... first, I'll start by saying I have two boys - one 9 year old and in 3rd grade in public school, the other a 3 year old that goes to a church preschool. 

Teachers that celebrate competition?   dear lord David... cooperation is seen as CHEATING at the schools, there's is absolutely not one second of the day that my son is encouraged to collaborate or cooperate on ANY activity... this may well be why we're the most polarized at any point since the Civil War in this country - we don't give children, or their parents, any opportunities to cooperate on anything for the public good. Nothing is more important to the teachers, and sadly my son, than that he compete and win on the  test scores...My wife and I have figured my son took 300 test or quizzes this year. 300! And none of those 300 test had a damn thing to do with cooperation or collaboration.

Teachers that honor military virtues?  Help me Rhonda! What could be more military than making kids walk in straight lines? Raise their hand to go potty? Speak when spoken too?  Conform! Respect Authority! And if you don't?  Throw you in detention or kick you out!  Sounds just like boot camp doesn't it? Except they don't run them in the ground physically, no we've had to eliminate physical education to allow more butt time in the classroom so they can do better on these god forsaken test. 

Curriculums that teach how to win and lose?  Well this may well be the most absurd. Our archaic industrial model schools have been segregating winners and losers since their inception.  Winners get A's! This year in my son's 3rd grade classroom he got to stare everyday at the "All A's Wall"... Winners get A's David!  Losers don't!  In 3rd grade!  Their ability to memorize crap they won't remember, and will utimately google  it if the topic comes up, determines the winners and loser.  Not to mentioned that at 3rd grade we know well that the kids that get A's have opportunities that the poor performing kids don't - like two parents with a college education and jobs, like 3 good meals every day - but, what our schools do is label kids a loser early and if nothing else we tell them how to be "good losers"... we do this, as Brooks suggest, by medicating them and punishing them until they learn what our schools are really teaching... there are winners/losers, owners/workers, leaders and followers and it's completely determined by your ability to make A's or D's on some f'in test.. (John Taylor Gatto has written beautifully about what our schools are really teaching... here for example).  And one of the great ironies of Brooks piece is that what do we do with the "losers" schools have identified?  Well, we send them to the military of course.

Brooks' analysis that schools are not engaging every child is spot on, but it's not because the schools aren't ready for the rough and rowdy Henry's, it because they are still training factory workers for jobs that no longer exist. 

Our communities must demand schools that help every child find that intersection between their passion/skills/opportunity... that has nothing to do with conforming, standardization, or winning and losing... Hell, just watch this video, it's exactly what I'm talking about - Do Schools Kill Creativity? ...

... and read these books

Wednesday, July 4, 2012