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What's wrong with our schools?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Our math and science scores continue to slip when compared to many other countries in the world. A generation ago we were at the top, now we find ourselves mired in the middle and it seems like there's almost as many reasons why that are offered by educational experts as there are experts.

Having been an educator for more than 30 years now, I strongly believe that one of the primary reasons why our scores continue to slip is the attitude we take with our students about the educational process. When I was growing up, there were things not perceived as "fun" that we had to do anyway and education was one of those things. Becoming an educated person is not easy and it often isn't fun either. It requires work and sacrifice. It requires long hours of studying and memorizing. Most young people, both then and now, would have preferred to hang out with friends and do what young people do rather than boarding themselves up in their rooms with a textbook and preparing properly for an exam.

The difference between then and now is that we did it anyway because we knew our futures depended on it. Today it's a different story. Every year an educator somewhere develops a new teaching and learning strategy that purports to make learning more "fun." The faculty at McCook Community College and the north and south campuses of North Platte Community college were exposed to one of those "experts" just last week, much like public school teachers are exposed to them every year too.

In addition to the educational "fads" that seem to appear every year, we also have distance learning classes that are broadcast to area high schools so that their students can take college courses while still in high school. This isn't a worst case scenario because at least the high school students are exposed to a college curriculum led by a college teacher. The elephant in the room however, when it comes to higher education, are online classes where the lessons are placed in secure locations on the Internet and students submit their assignments electronically without ever seeing the teacher.

The level and degree of fraud increases exponentially with anonymity and that's what an online course provides. There's no way to know if the student submitting the assignments is the actual student who signed up for the course or someone they've hired to take it for them. "For profit" colleges and universities started this fad several years ago and it is quickly sweeping across the nation and MCC is a part of it too. I don't teach online classes but I have many colleagues that do and the general dislike for it is palpable.

Regardless of the incredible technological advances we've made in the past 20 years or so, one thing hasn't changed. Some things are still hard to do and becoming an educated person is one of them. I tell my students on the first day of class that many of them won't leave with a degree because it IS hard and that's the way it's supposed to be. A college graduate, over their lifetime of work, on average, will make substantially more money than a person with a high school diploma and the reason for that is their level of skill and knowledge. If we graduated everyone, then that standard would also start to decline because it's significance would be diminished.

I've always thought that learning was a wonderful experience. I discovered a long time ago that it was pretty cool to go to bed knowing things I didn't know when I got up that morning.

But that attitude seems to be dying among a significant number of college students. Now the emphasis seems to be on the end and not the means. Just give me a degree, they say, and they'll take care of things from there.

But without the basic knowledge the degree represents, these kinds of student are in for a rude awakening because it's not the degree that keeps a job and gets one promoted with salaries that increase as well. It's the knowledge that the degree represents. You can have one without the other but to have the best chance at being successful in today's world, you need both.

And that's the thing that's lost on more and more college students with each year that goes by.

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Mr. Hendricks would seem to be saying the thing I've always thought to be the base of learning which is learning how to learn.That is a rather difficult skill but , in my opinion, the single most important one to be gained from any educational experience.It's most readily facilitated by the desire to learn for the sake of learning itself rather than for any economic advantage to be attained. Unfortunately this attitude does not seem to prevail within this country, and when coupled with the fact that we've really never arrived at a societal definition of what constitutes a "good" education and a "well-educated" individual it complicates the process from top to bottom.

-- Posted by davis_x_machina on Mon, Jan 24, 2011, at 9:43 AM

Online education is here to stay. It's far more efficient, and less costly.

You don't take a trip across the nation on a horse or in a Model T. You use modern technology. You don't cook your meals over an open fire and live in a cave, either.

Tehnological progress happens in every field. In my business, I started out with pencil and paper 35 years ago, but am on the 8th generation of computers I have used, doing the work in a more modern way.

It is and will continue to happen in education, too. How we learn is not as important as that we do it. Even though I have a college degree, most of what I have learned was self taught or learned by experience.


-- Posted by Boomer62 on Fri, Jan 28, 2011, at 6:55 PM

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Mike Hendricks
Mike at Night