Education Is For The Children, Not The Schools

Today in the GenForward Living Legacy genealogy blog, I’m looking at the education system. I’m not an expert educator, nor am I claiming to be. What I am good at however is looking at what’s going on around me and drawing some fairly obvious “common sense” conclusions from the actions that I see (always remembering that you have to ignore a lot of the propaganda, it’s the actions that tell you what’s really happening):

The end of another school year looms and its set me to thinking, surely there’s a better way to approach children’s education and a better calendar than the one that gets used, in terms of making everything as beneficial to the student as possible.

I’m not suggesting that there should be no school holidays (although I do think they should be far shorter); the thing that I have really noticed is the affect the constant stop/start seems to have on my son’s mental state and his performance at school.

With almost every lesson that I have ever tried to help him learn, I have found it’s a combination of consistency and momentum. Keeping on reinforcing the same message, whilst at the same time building on what has recently been done. Surely that’s how kids learn and develop good habits? With the school calendar there seems to be none of this methodology being employed.

Let’s look at a typical year. We’re now at the end of the year. I can see from his homework and what he’s been getting up to in school, that for the last month the school has effectively been in test and wind down mode. Now there are really two issues that I have with the system. The first is the whole grading and testing methodology employed, and more importantly who it’s supposed to be measuring. The second is the school calendar itself. I really don’t believe that either are actually designed purely for the benefit of our children.

The whole testing methodology is, in my humble opinion flawed. First of all it’s predominantly multiple guess style tests, an issue I have addressed previously in another of my earlier articles. Secondly, the same attitude of “the results don’t really matter, we can just do it again” that prevails with missed and failed assignments during the school year, rolls over into the testing.

The annual testing period started about 6-8 weeks ago, and the whole focus around that time seemed to be to about getting as good grades as possible for the school. I say for the school because, unlike any of the testing we did when I was at school at this age, if the kids don’t do sufficiently well, they just get them to sit the same test again, obviously after more coaching. I mean really, what does that achieve? A child scores what they score. That’s a reflection of where they are and what help they need surely?

To my mind, this whole “do over” approach sends so many wrong messages to a child in terms of cause and effect and the importance of doing what you’re supposed to be doing in the time allotted to do it, that it makes what little hair I have left, stand on end. It also does not give a real reflection of where a child is at if the only scores we count are the ones as they sit after they have tried a test once, seen what was wrong (and often what the right answers were), and the corrected it on a second attempt.

This approach is not restricted to tests but also extends to graded assignments and homework during the school year. It really makes a mockery of any grade comparison if one child gets his A’s first time, and another never gives in any work on time, and always gives in poor work that they are made to to re-do to be up to standard. How are those two children performing on par with each other? What’s the value of that grade?

I have seen it before during the school year as well, when an assignment was handed out and almost everyone failed. Surely this suggests that something was missing from the teaching in that area? Apparently the best solution was to just award everyone 50 marks for “effort” so that all the grades came within accepted boundaries and just move on.

Surely educating our children is about assessing their needs and addressing those with appropriate teaching, as opposed to doctoring test results with re-tests, so that the school results look better than they would without the interference?

Raising concerns about our son’s slipping performance at the school proved to be a fairly fruitless as well. I do first need to apply a little perspective to this comment. Our son’s performance has been a bit up and down over the course of this year. The problem when trying to address this with the school was their attitude was squarely yes, he’s gone backward but he’s still in the top band so it’s really not worth worrying about. The fact he was at the top of that band and now he’s at the bottom wasn’t seen as as an issue as he’s still a tick in the top band box. I’d lay money if he dropped out of the top band by 1% they’d want to address it though…..

Just for clarification on this point. My issue here is with the way that the system is designed, not really with individuals. If the system makes the most important performance metric for the school, the grades that the students get in tests, of course the schools are going to focus on test passing as of primary importance because that’s what keeps them in a job. You can’t really hold it against the individuals involved.

It’s a bit like the armed forces around the world (totally different thing putting your life on the line of course, I’m just trying to illustrate a point). You may or may not agree with the politics of what on earth we’re doing with forces in any of these places. You may object to the interests that are really being served or the way the conflict is being run as a whole. Regardless of any opinion you have of those fronts, you still have to admire and support the service men and women putting their lives on the line, because of their belief in serving their country and the population at large.

Anyway, enough of my issues with school performance metrics being the primary goal rather than children’s education. We move on with the calendar.

So, testing out of the way, the last month of school seems to be one long wind down to the summer holiday. We’re even getting random days off thrown into the mix. A couple of weeks ago they got a random day off because there wasn’t enough bad weather this year, so they had spare “bad weather” day to use up. Then the following week it’s another random day off for teacher training (couldn’t have been done on the previous week’s day off? Or in the 3 month break coming up?). We’re lucky there’s one of us at home to cope with all this, but how on earth are parents meant to deal with it if both work full time?! Then we get into the last week which seems to break down into a week long party.

Next we begin practically 3 months of nothing. Now, maybe my son’s different from every other child in existence (I don’t think so!), but he has trouble remembering things from one day to the next (unless it’s to do with ants, each to their own I suppose). If we did nothing with him educationally over the summer (and I know we wouldn’t be in a minority if we did that), He’d almost be back to a blank slate day one of the new school year.

Now yes there’s summer camp kids can be sent to which do benefit them (but can every parent afford a 3 month procession of these at several hundred dollars a week each?). We also always try to work a little bit of general school stuff into his day to day life during the holidays, just to prevent a total train wreck come the start of the new school year. I’m not talking mountains here, maybe a page or two of basic math to keep it in his head. However, even taking this approach seems to be a bit of a double edged sword.

When the next school year eventually rolls round, the first month seems to be entirely spent just going over what they did the previous year (obviously because a massive gap in learning leads to a regression in learning which is kind of my point). Dropping a child into that who’s already up to speed, can mean some boredom due to lack of new learning. Either way, another month of what could be productive learning time goes on re-learning what wouldn’t have been forgotten without a 3 month break.

Chuck in a few random days off for things like Columbus Day and we’re well on the way to the Thanksgiving break. Probably a decent six weeks or so of new subject schooling, before the wind down starts again the week before the Thanksgiving break. Then we’re back into testing mode at the beginning of December which pretty much then runs into the wind down for the winter break holiday of another week or so.

Then, we’re back into decent teaching time (weather permitting and allowing for teacher training days and waiver days), for a nice six to eight week run before another week off for Spring Break. Then almost as soon as they are back from spring break the beginning of the new testing period brings a halt to learning. Couple of weeks more and then it’s more testing, and re-tests for those who didn’t score enough in the first tests! By now, another year has flown by and we’re where we are now, winding down to the breakup at the beginning of June, having managed a total of maybe 2-3 months of solid time for teaching fresh things within a 12 month year.

Surely there has to be a better way to educate and engage our children? A week off here and there, no problem, of course, everyone needs a break and it’s not so hard to get back up to speed afterwards. But such a huge break in the summer causes a mental reset to such a degree, that the early part of the new school year is then spent getting the kids switched back on to the level they were at 3 month’s previously.

Now our son is about to move to middle school after the break this summer. Maybe things will be a bit different in terms of less time spent winding down running into holidays, and winding back up after them. I don’t know for sure and as always, I am prepared to keep an open mind until I have evidence on which to base an opinion. That being said, the calendar is still the same so I can’t really see how the real big problem of the annual reset will go away.

This kind of thing does also happen in other countries to lesser degree, but the summer break here is just so madly long. In the UK for example we’d get 6 weeks as a summer break. Even that seemed like forever, especially as it would invariably rain for half of it.

The basis for the current school calendar comes from a time and environment now long since gone. Surely in today’s modern society it’s time for someone to get a grip of this and make the move to year round education?

As ever when I start an article about one of my opinions that’s primarily based on my own common sense, I did some research before I finished things off. If seems that I am not alone in my beliefs. It also seems that there’s evidence that common sense does apply, and that year round schooling can be beneficial for children’s learning. It seems that there’s really no argument with the fact that such a long break in the summer causes huge regression in students.

There is however also a depressing aspect that looking into this subject brought to light, which again really just nails home my point about who the system is for the benefit of. Some school districts are already looking at year round schooling as an option. The problem is that one of the big drivers in this happening is actually about being able to process more children with a given set of facilities, rather than the benefit to the child of more stable and continuous learning. Sometimes it sux to be right.

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