So today I’ve been floating around TED Talks. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It was started in 1984, and the goal was to bring people from those three worlds together and see what can come from the experience.
Now, over four days, 50 speakers are each given the challenge to pass on the most important thing they can think of, in an 18-minute time slot. Since 1984, the conference has grown, and the annual conference in long beach sells out a year in advance. It’s impossible and expensive to attend, but then they give it all away for free through out the year.
It seems to me that a lot of people are thinking about education, and I’m definitely no exception to this. This makes sense as a common train of thought, since nearly everyone has some opinion on the way kids, and even adults, are taught. We’ve all gone through some version of an educational system, so we all have thoughts on what was good about it and what was bad.
This is a Talk given by Bill Strickland. Really, it speaks for itself, and if you have the time watch. If not, what you really need to know is that Mr. Strickland built a center for poor people in the poorest, roughest part of Pittsburgh. It’s a high quality life with gourmet food, art, and a fountain. And it saves the lives of kids and families that were otherwise given-up on, by teaching them.
I think education can be the medicine for most of the problems we face today. It can help prevent future issues that lead to the current state of the U.S. Economy. Maybe more people would have avoided the adjustable interest mortgage, knowing that, having started at the lowest possible point, it would have only become more expensive. It can help with issues of global warming and environmental consciousness, by making it something people are aware of.
But I think our (the U.S.) education system, and probably most other systems around the world, really need to go back and take a look at the way things are. When kids can graduate from high school without being able to read or complete simple math (addition and subtraction), we should see we have a problem.
And I think a lot of people do see it, but they’re afraid to say something. Because, probably the same thing that happened to me, happened to them. Back when I was a high school student (keep in mind I went to an elite high school that was supposed to be giving students an opportunity to advance even further than before), I said something to my counselor.
We were talking about ideas and all that, and I said that the way things were being run (i.e. the government) was wrong, because it wasn’t working. Too many people are dissatisfied with the policies coming out, people are struggling to support themselves, and money was going to the wrong places. But, her answer wasn’t to ask why I thought those things, or how I thought they could be improved. She asked me, “well, do you have a better idea? No? Then you can’t say that.”
Now, I have nothing against democracy or the U.S. government. But I do feel like it’s stagnated a bit while change has not, and we need to make up for that. That’s not the point, however. The point is that I think that’s the worst thing someone could have said. If we don’t question organizations and systems openly, we can’t expand them, or grow them, along with the growth and change of human society. Not having a better alternative to something that’s not working doesn’t mean what’s available is the best option. It just means we need to start thinking of how to accommodate the needs a society or group is currently facing.
And education should not only teach, but encourage us to expand on what we have. It should go so far as expect us to do better than we think we can. To use the opportunities we come upon to grow ourselves and leave an imprint on the world (*this relates to Johnny Bunko also). And education should prepare us for our future lives.
Many people would argue, “how can we be prepared for the future? You just said yourself things keep changing,” or something along those lines. The truth is, education can’t do that with the current format. We are leading more and more towards a society that focuses on memorizing formulas and passing tests. Our system is out of date, and needs to be re-worked.
If I were to design an educational system, and anyone who knows me should know I’ve given this a great deal of thought since the time I was in middle school, I would probably be criticized for being so outlandish, and throwing out standard procedures and all that.
We need to bring in other activities as a focus. I think it should be re-quired for students to take a dance or other physical class every day. Not Physical Education, but a course dedicated to say a sport, soccer, swimming. Personally, I think Dance should be re-quired by everyone from a young age. Because, for the rest of our lives, dance is a way to socialize, and to relax. And many people feel excluded from this realm of communication by the time they reach adulthood, because they stopped dancing.
It is also important to impart a consciousness on children. We need to be aware of our environments (both physical and social). We’ve started moving in the right directions with this, by requiring under-grads to take an ethics course. But this only goes so far. Why not start teaching philosophy as a part of the high school curriculum? If we teach the history of philosophy different forms of thought, and let the kids decide for themselves what is best, then I think they are more likely to take away something from it.
Of course, learning things such as math and English (in English speaking countries of course) will forever be important. But I think we should be able to start learning algebra in 6th grade, not 8th. And start moving up from there. We should learn the basics of writing a standard essay starting in middle school, not college. High school should be what it was once supposed to be: higher learning. High school should be the place we start finding the path we really enjoy. Students should be able to choose the things they focus on starting in high school.
It could be designed after the Associates in Arts (2-year) degree program. You start out taking a selection of introductory course into different fields: cooking, visual art, photography, cinematography, advanced sciences/maths, literature, etc. Of course, students need to take a certain number from outside their major interest, and complete a certain selection of required courses.
In a two semester per year program, my require courses would be: 3.5 years of philosophical history, and 0.5 years of philosophical seminar. At least one physical activity every year (meaning at least two semesters of the same activity). 4 years of foreign language – I need to further expand this idea later. While, I’m pretty confident most kids in middle school can operate a computer more efficiently than their parents, I also want to have a class to understand a computer.
The computer class would be either one or two semesters during the first year of high school. In this class, I want to start the kids from scratch, i.e. hardware. Because while they can operate the computer, most kids cannot build one, and do not know how they work. This class would go all the way through building a computer and mod-ing it to fit their needs.
Ideally, I want the kids to take these computers home after course completion, and use them for as long as they can. This solves a big problem for kids who can’t afford a computer, because first, they get the computer, and second, they will know how to build an update a computer themselves, and be able to stay cutting edge without having to buy a brand new computer.
I think my idea for a foreign language would be the most difficult. The first two years would have to get the student up to a relatively conversational level. Teach them what they would need to know to survive in a country that speaks their chosen language. The second two years, would then be any subject taught in a foreign language. To do this, each week would be something like 4 days of the subject, one day of vocabulary and grammar retaining to the subject.
Finally, I would require a reading list for outside of class in high school. Each student would be pared with a faculty adviser, and once a month, do a standard length essay on a different book. All students would be required the same reading list, so everyone will have the same foundation so far is literary accomplishment.
There are just a couple more points that need to be pointed out that haven’t fit in anywhere. First, education should be hands on. Sciences need to be taught in a more visual way, because learning Chemistry and Physics solely through use of a text book and lecture is impossible. Understanding Biology is impossible without examples. And this needs to start from the time we start learning.
Second, getting back to what Bill Strickland said, the environment should be as nice as possible. The buildings don’t have to be brand new, but they should be clean. Their should be flowers and sunlight and nature as much as possible. Lunch rooms should be inviting and lunch food should taste good! (This can be done at an economical price, just think outside the box!)
Finally, this needs to be just more than one school. This has to work within a community; different high schools specializing in different subjects or languages. And colleges will need to re-evaluate their programs as well. But that’s all in time, and it all would start with just one opportunity to open just one school.
So, thats the summary of my vision for education. Really, that’s the short version. I left out a lot of issues, including teacher issues (qualifications, pay, etc). Transportation issues. Finding the resources for all of my ideas. There are many things that would need to be addressed. But I’d love to be the person leading this type of mission. Improving education has been a passion of mine for a long time, and I hope I someday have the chance to put my hands in and do what I can.
The last thing I want to mention is something a friend of mine said to me. She said “Jes, you always have such big dreams.” I think that its important for everyone to have dreams, and if they can, to have big dreams. (Of course, the only thing stopping someone is his/her -self.) I think education should be a means to make reaching someone’s dreams possible.
Anyway, I hope this made someone think a little bit. And, if you see something you want to question, please do. I want to see this as clearly as possible.