Associated Links

Other websites associated with this blog. ________________________

Making The Numbers

The right answer?

The right answer?

I just read a thought provoking short article about learning. It was written rather critical about how poorly the USA education system works today. Being short it presented a vague generalization of the situation. But to me it seemed disturbingly probable. It stated how education today is missing the goal of teaching how to think. The goal today is to teach results and provide the answers so no child is left behind. It’s no longer how to play the game. The score by any means is what is now most important.

I am not the person to make or confirm that assumption but it seems to me to be something for the Myth Busters to examine. Just kidding but it does make me think, and that is good. Education is highly competitive. Like dancing with the stars. Only the 10’s are good enough.

I may be off base as I have never taught in a pure academic environment. So my look is from the outside, with a lot of what I think biased by the things I read from others. I cover that in the first sentence.

But I have done a lot of professional corporate business teaching as well as manual trade skill instructing in my lifetime. I am well aware what it takes to instruct others in a formal learning environment.

Today many people, some of them K-12 teacher friends of mine, claim we have adjusted the education measurement system to teach how to pass the state required test, usually with memorization, so as many students as possible can make the magic number and get passed along.

Suddenly education has become “better” because a curriculum designed for passing this standardized “state” test is the main goal of teaching. But that score is used for far more than measure student education. It is to judge teacher performance and promotion, control their pay, and justify school funding. The student can become just fodder to grind through the standardized mill.

Memorization is a very useful tool and shortcut, so I am not saying it is a mistake. Memorizing multiplication for example is an excellent lifelong tool but may be taught first by rote without discovery of why. It does become valuable for “doing math in your head.” It just needs to be fun and not a test to get past and then forgotten. Don’t think I am being critical of times tables; I hope they are still taught!

Memorization without having an application is just learning how to pass a test. It used to be called cramming. It’s the old history trivia of memorizing the date of a now obscure battle just because it can be graded by asking for it on a test. What is being tested is the ability to memorize. Cramming is not education. For me, knowing how to find the date if I ever need it is more about learning. I can apply the process to find other dates.

Education should be and likely still is, about how to determine the result (answer), not how to memorize without knowing why, just to pass a test. It is perfectly fine to memorize the result of a discovery process (an answer) for future application.

Primary school should be just that. Building the primary  skills and tools that will be invaluable for the rest of the student’s life. It shouldn’t be dull and boring. Without a good basic start, the student will never have a chance to catch up later. The challenge is to teach basics that will be retained with adequate relevancy to how they are used, thus to create the desire to learn and put those basics to use.

I am a “tool guy” so I understand the concept of skills and tools. But in acquiring the tools, the reason for having those tools needs to be understood, to make them important for me to own and maintain.

We all remember math “thought problems”. They are designed to demonstrate the reason for developing math skills. I loved “thought problems” but I know a lot of classmates absolutely hated them. They probably still dislike them today. The thought problem was not the tool. It was the application of the tool. What is needed is more thought problems because that is real life. Perhaps the old school thought problems were too far from reality… ??

I believe early education starts with a goal of pleasing the teacher and caring parents. There is a desire of earning praise for your performance. The grade is the indication of “goodness”. It will always be that, but should remain a measure more than a goal. The grade is a measurement tool, like a ruler.

Somewhere along the way, education changed for me into building personal knowledge rather than recording a grade to please others. The grade remained a measure of pride as it is always good for motivation and setting the pace. The “education system” however, still keeps the pressure on the achieved score at a predetermined time, because it is the recordable success measure and usually the primary key to higher access to further structured education.

What I have seen in today’s world is an over demanding emphasis to measure everything. In business it is called metrics. I was taught in the corporate world, performance action toward a goal is not valuable unless it can be measured and put on a chart. The score soon becomes the goal, rather than just the passing reference milepost. In business the hard number of the customer satisfaction score now far outweighs how that number was obtained.

Various salespeople have begged me for all 10’s on a pending survey because their goal (and paycheck) is based on the score and not automatic true customer satisfaction. “What do I have to do for you to get all 10’s on the survey?” They are rewarded for 10’s not 9’s. Think about that. I do. I am far from perfect and so are they. Should I ever give (or get) a 10?

Education has now trickled down to the same corporate process. Teachers are measured by the metric of their student’s test scores because that is convenient for management. So the teacher’s and student’s goal becomes the improvement of the metric rather than the true education of the student.

I loved my life’s work as I never stopped the learning process. There has never been a point where I thought I know all I need to know, and I could just go on with the rest of my life with what I have.

Outside of the formal governed institutional education scoring system structure, I explored a world of available learning with the only reward being an added knowledge or skill.

Yet, I often dipped back into the formal education process when it was to my benefit. But my goal was not the score. It was the source of knowledge I required.

I became addicted to technical hobbies because for me they are the ultimate learning experience. No grades, no pass or failure. Well, there is failure. But in this case it is called a learning experience. It is a far better system of learning what I need and want to know, rather than someone else’s opinion of what I should know.

Sometimes there are tests. I am not anti-testing. Testing proves qualifications and qualification leads to certain advancements. Life itself is a test. Formal testing is alright with me. I have certain credentials that are useful, obtained through testing. A pilot’s license, an FCC amateur radio license, Certified Energy Manager (CEM) and many more credentials acquired through testing of my abilities and knowledge.

I have been a teacher for most of my adult life. I use tests all the time with my students. But I use them as a measurement of my teaching and evidence that I am getting the information through to my students. Some of them didn’t even look like tests to my student. Let me call it a trial. It’s much like a master and an apprentice. In a room full of apprentices, show me what you have learned.

A test should never be a fear. If I feared a test it was because I knew I didn’t know the material. That was because it was a subject in which I was not motivated to study or memorize. Thankfully, most of my testing I faced without fear of failure. The question became looking for “tricks”, a cruel form of examination.

The test score is a measure of progress for further training, not a competitive event to be achieved by one point over the minimum or the even the highest score possible. My teaching was directed to people who wanted to be there and wanted to learn from what I was offering. They were self-motivated to learn. I was actually testing my success in teaching knowledge and methods they were paying me to provide. That is a big difference from mandated public education systems. I used the test as a part of the learning process and not a barrier of fear to be hurtled and passed.

I have failed some students. That is because it wasn’t their choice to be there. It becomes evident immediately by their behavior. It happens. I just make sure it is not something I am doing incorrectly in my teaching. In my subject matter, there is no way to cheat. Cribbing was never a concern.

Teaching should be a whole lot of how to learn the method (of learning) and not so much time proving what you can remember as an answer for a test. Test the method of knowing what to do, more than just the knowing the result.

Comments are closed.