School’s Out Forever

By Jason Menard

If I had to change career course mid-stream, you know what I wouldn’t want to be? A teacher.

Well, to be honest, I’m thinking being a postcard salesman would be number-one on my list – really, does anyone send postcards anymore? Even if you’re on vacation most people simply send an e-mail with digital photos that they’ve taken themselves – beats the bejeezus out of those cheesy “Wish You Were Here” photos.

But besides that and a few other jobs involving sewage treatment and other similar tasks, I think being a teacher would tax my sensibilities. That said, I already have a solid grasp of one of the fundamental philosophies of modern teaching techniques.

The lowest common denominator.

This weekend I had the opportunity to discuss the state of education with a like-minded woman going through teacher’s college. And what she revealed about the curriculum of the future is downright frightening. Instead of challenging our youth, it seems the mandate now is to ensure our youth are getting by through appealing to their current capacities.

Never mind growing their minds; forget taxing their skills in the hope that they expand their horizons and learn. The ideas espoused in her class revolve around engaging the students through tools like cell phones.

Yes, while the battle wages on, those who are defining the future of education are suggesting that capitulation is the best solution. They kids are bringing their cell phones to class and texting away through the lessons anyways, so we might as well figure out a way to deliver the classroom experience through a two-inch square screen.

I don’t consider myself particularly old school in my thinking. I’ve embraced social media both out of necessity for my job and out of true engagement. I think sites like Facebook and Twitter have the potential to bring communities back together in a way not seen since families lived in a 100-km radius and annual Christmas cards actually were made of paper, included letters, and weren’t animated gifs on a screen.

But to appreciate all the best that life has to offer, one must have a solid understanding of basic concepts of the three R’s (maybe that’s where it all started falling apart considering Writing and Arithmetic don’t actually start with R…) Developing a human being is quite similar to erecting a building – sure, you can have all the pretty facades you want, but if you don’t bother establishing a solid foundation, everything’s going to crumble in the end.

It’s a battle that my wife and I have fought for years now, throughout the education system with our son. Starting in elementary school, our explanations that assignments actually needed to include complete sentences and basic spelling were overruled by teachers who handed out premium marks because, “I know what he was trying to say.”

We thought things would be better in high school. In fact, the school’s own charter states that they’re preparing students for life after education. Considering the state of reading now, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that their own expressed concept remains foreign to them. A few dozen lates and multiple projects not handed in are met with a resigned shrug and a “there’s nothing we can do.”

You see, nowadays it doesn’t matter if a student hands in an assignment on time. No, as long as it’s in before the end of the year, that’s good enough. Oh, and we won’t dock marks for the delay because that wouldn’t be fair.

So how, exactly, is that preparing kids for the future? Ask yourself this: if you showed up for work over an hour late repeatedly and blew off multiple deadlines, how long would you keep your job? Right, I thought so.

Technology is a wonderful thing. I admit, when doing my taxes, I reach for a calculator. However, I could do the math in my head. I can figure out tips, I’m good with percentages, and I still remember how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. And, yes, the majority of my writing’s done on a computer, but I still fill copious notebooks by hand. Using paper AND pen! OK, perhaps the text may not be legible to you, but I can improve my penmanship if the audience requires it.

The worst part about all of this is that the schools are absolutely not preparing students for the future. In fact, they’re being sent out into the world woefully unprepared in the skills that are going to benefit them most. In our knowledge-based, technology-driven society communication is key. How you write, the words you choose, and the level of literacy you display have a direct impact on how people perceive you and how effectively you can perform your job.

Even getting a job may be a challenge as a grammatically challenged resume won’t impress too many bosses – and I’ve yet to see a company that hires based on an “i h8 wrk LOL I wnt 2 wrk 4 u bcz I nd mny CUL8R PWB” cover letter.

Like postcards, basic literacy skills, the ability to write coherently, and advanced linguistic performance seem to be a thing of the past. It makes me shudder to think what the history books of the future will say about these generations.

Actually, forget an actual history book. I have a feeling that we’ll have to redefine the term history ‘text’. After all, anything longer than 140 characters may be too challenging for the leaders of our future generations – at least that’s what our educators seem to think.

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