Thoughts on the Current Education Problems

Update 10/27/2010 – WATCH THIS VIDEO –

Read a cool article at the NY TimesThe Case for Working With Your Hands – about education and the important role of a child’s/youth’s direct interaction with the things they are interested in pursuing.   Loved it…

I started writing this post end of May, but never finished.  I read another article today about a Professor losing his job over grades, and his lack of desire to acknowledge their value.

“Grades poison the educational environment,” he insists. “We’re training students to be obedient, and to try to read our minds, rather than being a catalyst for learning.” – University of Ottawa professor Denis Rancourt

I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions in all of the conflicts that Prof. Rancourt has had, I must say that I agree with him on this one.  It is extremely important that the education systems not discourage struggling students by giving them poor grades.  Encourage the students to find their own paths, question everything, be imaginative, and not be weighed down by years of psychological self-confidence issues because we have a societal judgement that we pass in the form of letter grades..

I started writing the following on 12/14/2007… in an effort to express my distaste for our education system.  I went to a private school, received great grades, learned many things.   But I saw others who did not. I discovered how much of my delusioned “superiority” was biased based upon my years of perception deprivation and lack of exposure to those who could/did challenge/beat me.  I discovered how several years of early life experience with “hands-on” training proved to have taught the most valuable lessons.  Please enjoy, crtique, add to, duplicate, share, proselytize, etc as long as you give me a link/reference  🙂

I have a dream that one day a 12 year old will be able to tell you their passions in life, and practical steps on how they plan to achieve their goals. It will be normal to see 15 year olds making 20k a year doing something that they love. It will be exciting to see younger leaders in the world. It will be exciting to follow these leaders. It will be invigorating to work with a person who is so passionate for what they are doing. It will be inspiring to all that exist.

Is the key to a long life actually just an early start? How do we step into the future of educating our children, and truly offer them a long life of happiness? How does this affect society? Why am I writing this?

If you haven’t already, you need to read these 2 articles from Time Magazine (How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century Dec. 2006) and HERE (What Ever Happened To Play? April, 2001). These two articles depict very well some of the problems our children are facing at such an early age. This is an age where they have no control over how they are learning in school… an age where they are just learning what they do control in the world, and how they can control the next moment of their lives.

There was a study which showed that children learn at a faster pace between the ages of 0 and 5 years old. They are so curious about the world, and so open to the positive feedback and encouragement they receive. Their curiosity and desire for positive feedback drives their will to sit-up, crawl, stand, walk, sometimes cry, smile, use their toys, want to feed themselves, use their pull-ups, use the remote, learn names/numbers/letters/colors, and sometimes start reading, and so much more, all before the age of 5 years old. Why do you think the children stop learning so fast at age 5? Almost every child in America goes to kindergarten at 5-6 years old? They are most likely going to immediately introduced to structured learning, and will quickly discover they control very little of what happens next.

How do we make this change? You child is enrolled in the STEP LEFT program. (Student Training Empowerment Program’s Life Education for Tomorrow) (NOTE:  This does not exist, it is just based upon my personal vision/dream for STEP)

Kindergarten is nothing like the typical classroom that is currently found across America. When you walk in, it probably looks somewhat chaotic, with 4 and 5 year olds just running around playing games. Some children can be found in self-dispersed groups watching an educational cartoon on one of the 20 TV’s, each playing something different. Some are playing on computers that have games such as showing a picture of dog while displaying various depictions of the letter “d”, while a keyboard or electronic notepad lights up to help the child develop typing and writing skills. One room is a giant maze, that changes daily with different puzzles, leading to a playground, that even the Counselors sometimes prefer using vs. the “off limits” side door.

There are no “Teachers”. A group of adults, mostly parents who are committed to the program and often referred to as a STEP Leader, stand off to the side. Some are reading stories to the children, answering questions, kissing “boo-boos”, smiling, and clapping, while others (Coaches) can be seen busily taking notes on their handheld PC’s. These notes have all kinds of information, with entries spaced every X minutes (to be determined scientifically based on the average attention span of 5-6 year olds). An entry states what each child is doing, what they seem to be most intrigued by at the moment, their emotional state, and their immediate “friends”. There are also checkboxes by categories such as, animals, puzzles, sports, computers, music etc… that are selected based on what is observed to be the child’s strengths. One of the Coaches tells me these are used to help organize the children into groups for fieldtrips. Each group goes on several different fieldtrips every week.

First Grade through Fourth Grade does not exist on any particular timeline. Children whose top 10 strengths have been verifiably identified have been filtered into smaller groups with similar strengths. These children may go on some of the field trips with students whose age ranges may vary from 5 years to 10 years, however, their common interests bring them together, and some of the older children even bond with and help teach some of the younger students. This type of “Peer Teaching” is part of the foundation of the original STEP program, and has been proven to be more conducive to learning.

Lessons are taught by means of games and puzzles, administered by the STEP Leaders, which capture the attention of the children and carry with them a story, moral, and an open discussion. Completing a lesson brings the reward of points, which can be used to “buy” toys, unlock computer game levels, and even “unlock” other fun rooms. Points are also assigned categories to be later used in molding the program for the individual. One child has accumulated 1 million math points, and will now be joining a more advanced group using puzzles that incorporate learning advanced geometry into finding their solutions. A Coach is nearby to help with questions, and help maintain focus.

Some kids continue playing computer games which get increasingly more focused based on the correct answers provided by the student. Movies are segmented with breaks to encourage the students who are eager for conversations about the movie.  Not the questions prompted on the screen with some special “kids” movie.. a real movie, Leader walks over stops it, and asks questions.. did you see that? everybody come up with a theory on how it ends… etc… It’s amazing to see the discussions surrounding a character’s decisions, underlying themes, and foreshadowing. Some children are playing games on one of the many computers, cleverly integrated with Wikipedia, and other educational databases, that encourage learning through discovery and information valuation.

The STEP Leaders and Coaches are the same as when the children originally started attending the school. They have developed relationships and bonded on many levels. The Leaders have a wonderful grasp on each child’s strengths, and take 1-on-1 time with each one to help them focus on ways to build their strengths. In addition to the group filtered fieldtrips, each child is also taken to one place of their choosing for a 1-on-1 experience with a Leader.

Middle School incorporates more hands on experience for each child based on their strengths. At this point, each child has fully identified and begun embracing their top strengths, and have a more than general understanding of many topics they are most interested in.

Once a child has acquired enough points, they are encouraged to teach lessons to select groups of the younger children, which require that each Student Leader is versed in their core-competencies, able to organize and motivate their group, and communicate the lesson effectively. This helps to build confidence in each Student Leader, and give them the opportunity to be an “authority” on a topic of which they are passionate about. The Student Leaders earn points based on the feedback provided by the younger students, which can be used to “buy” props and other items for their “classroom”.

In addition to the lessons and teaching, each child is enrolled in one of the many non-profit organizations owned by the school, managed by its students who have a particular interest in that area. The students are responsible for every aspect of their organization, from finances and marketing to innovation and development. Some of the organizations are environmentally focused; others are focused on building lower income housing, soup kitchens for the homeless, an animal shelter, a music studio for struggling artists, and portions of the STEP program itself.

Upper School is much more similar to a vocational school, with each child having internships in 3-4 fields of their choosing. The children meet weekly with their Coach, who advises them based on feedback received from the host companies. The Coach also works with each child to help them determine whether they should attend a University for advanced learning in their field, or whether a group of like-minded students should create a company of their own. In every case, they have a Coach who shares their strengths, and acts as more of a mentor than a teacher.

Students who wish to prepare for college are enrolled in the Academics Program which is termed STEP RIGHT (Rapid Intelligence Garnered by Harnessing Technology). These students are focused on learning, and getting into a college known for career-building in the direction needed. E.g.: medicine, teaching, flying, and other careers that currently require a college degree. Students learn in a fast paced environment with professors and using technology while maintaining an internship in their field of choosing.

The program has established relationships with many Colleges and Universities, who have agreed to accept our Students based on their accomplishments and activities throughout the program. There is also much more detailed information to offer the Universities as to the caliber and focus of each student, and detailing a much more justifiable reason that the student should attend.

In this program, from the age of 5 until…., a child is encouraged to do what they want, encouraged to identify and focus on their strengths, and encouraged to apply their strengths in the real world, versus a “real world” paragraph math problem. Each child is more passionate about learning because they are interested in the field they are learning, and they are able to see how what they are doing will help them in the future. Each child feels prepared to STEP into their future.

Grades do not exist. The closest things to grades are points that children earn by partaking in particular activities. These points can be redeemed much like money, and is incorporated into lessons on spending, budgeting, and future planning. The grading system has been abolished, and at no point is a child made to feel inferior to anyone else based on performance. Individuality is encouraged, strengths are promoted, and dreams are embraced.

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Current Education Problems”

  1. Excellent article, but I found your mention of ‘Denis Rancourt’ troubling. The no grades thing is really only a smokescreen for some really strange stuff going on in this case. Google rockourt to get the whole story.

  2. This is why I said.. “I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions in all of the conflicts that Prof. Rancourt has had, I must say that I agree with him on this one.” He made me think to write this article, and I do think that being somewhat radical in his actions, he draws much needed attention to the topic.

  3. Universal Education Increasing population is not the only problem contributing to greater numbers to be educated. A greater percentage of this growing populace needs education. This is partly because of the rise of democratic states, and partly because our society changes rapidly. We also have rising expectations for schools, assigning them new tasks. We increasingly see education as a critical component of democratic society. For intelligent decisions in democratic society we need an educated population. Furthermore, we increasingly see the need for lifelong education. Society changes faster, so what is learned when we are young is fast outdated.

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