:authentic" literature, chromebooks, falling reading scores, High Stakes Testing, mandatory, non-readers, Reading, technology is god, the awakening of the canon, the educratic resume culture, weapons of mass distraction
You have often, gentle readers, seen me decry the declining standards in our public schools. I’ve provided problems and solutions, solutions that can be immediately implemented and will cost little or nothing. But who listens to me? I’m just a teacher. What the hell could I possibly know about education? It’s too important to be left to mere teachers!
This is hardly a new topic. Back in 1987, Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr. published a book titled What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? “Not much,” was their general conclusion. In the same year—that’s 32 years ago, by the way—E. D. Hirsch, Jr. published a best seller titled Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know. Hirsch too was less than encouraged by the knowledge base of our young, though he took some pains to blame the educational establishment, as one rightly should. Our children are, generally, no less intelligent than ever before, but in many instances, education is failing them. They, and their parents, aren’t helping either.
For a more contemporary opinion, let us visit Annie Holmquist, writing at Intellectual Takeout:
Have you ever thought that high school graduates today… well, just don’t seem to know or understand as much as they once did?
As a matter of fact, I have…
According to a new research report from the Urban Institute, such a thought is not simply a result of generational pride. Data from The Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) confirms the assumption that recent generations of high school students are not doing as well as they once were.
Take reading scores. As the chart below demonstrates, 4th and 8th grade reading scores have experienced an increase in the years since 1992. High school seniors, however, have experienced a steady decline in reading scores over the same time period.
Is it possible that these falling scores are the result of diminished rigor in the high school curriculum?
Having recently dug up a curriculum manual for Texas high schools from 1922, I decided to explore this question by comparing its 9th grade reading recommendations with those the San Antonio Independent School District recommended for the 2015-16 school year.
Both syllabi included recommendations for poetry, fiction, short stories, drama, and non-fiction. Both syllabi implied that the books on the lists were simply suggestions, which might not necessarily be used in their entirety.
To give an idea of the difference between the two, I plugged the fiction titles from both lists into a text analyzer which measures reading difficulty. The results? Reading material in today’s freshman literature classes measures around a 5th grade level. In 1922, however, freshman literature fare often measured at an 11th or 12th grade level.
I’ve noticed the same issue, and the reasons are not particularly complex:
1) Contemporary Children are non-readers. By the time they get to high school, many will admit to not having completed an entire book of any length or difficulty in many years. For most, the idea of reading for pleasure is utterly foreign.
Non-readers are deficient in every way. They don’t make the neural connections necessary to be effective adults. They don’t think clearly, speak clearly, their vocabularies are miniscule, and they lose absolutely vital practice at concentration—paying attention–something very hard to do without consistent, focused practice.
We certainly do them no favors by not requiring reading, and even less by giving them only “authentic,” trivial pseudo-literature to read.
2) The Technology Is God Theme. Many schools have embraced the idea that technology is salvation. This usually results in buying Chromebooks, small, cheap laptops, and the mandate they be used for virtually everything to justify the investment. Simultaneously, involvement in social media is often mandated as well.
Kids usually use Chromebooks for surfing the Internet rather than doing any work, and when a mere tool becomes the be all and end all of a curriculum, there is no curriculum. Mistaking tools for substance is a fundamental error, one deadly to actual learning, but fruitful to Google’s bottom line, and to post-retirement jobs for educators that steered business to Google and similar companies.
3) Weapons of Mass Distraction: You recognize, I’m sure, I speak of cell phones, and their associated destructive devices, earbuds. We hold in our hands far more computing power than guided spacecraft to the Moon and back, ready access to the near sum total of human knowledge, yet what do kids do with it? Texting, sexting, social media, porn, and similar intellectual pursuits. So addicted to their phones are many teenagers–I actually watch them–if they cannot use them at will, become nervous and fidgety, unable to concentrate, in some cases, nearly unable to function.
Allowing kids cell phones and ear buds in school provokes constant distractions, not only for the kids who will use them at every opportunity, but for the teachers who must constantly keep at the kids, telling them to pocket their phones and earbuds. If the kid’s minds are on how to use their phones without a teacher seeing them, they are not focused on learning.
Simply banning them on campus is the most direct solution, but kids, and even some parents, argue the damned things are a natural right, and too many gutless educators don’t oppose that kind of lunacy.
4) Mandatory, high stakes testing. Part of the accountability movement, once a state adopts them, the tests become the tail wagging the dog. Everything from scheduling, curriculum, extracurricular activities, every facet of education must adjust to accommodate them, and always at the loss of enormous portions of the curriculum in the core, tested disciplines, such as English, history, science and math.
The solution? End them, and anything like them. We already have buildings full of people known as “teachers,” who can write and administer tests and myriad other assignments, for only their current salaries. Freeing up all of that time for actual learning might, just might, have a positive effect.
5) The Awokening Of The Canon. Gradually, the traditional literary canon has been replaced with what is called “authentic” literature. This is the idea that children, particularly minority children, cannot learn, and will not pay attention unless the literature they read is “authentic,” in other words, all about them and what generally white female, leftist educators think their experience ought to be if they are to grow up to be proper social justice warriors.
This results in ignoring the most valuable literature of the ages, and replacing it with trendy, woke nonsense, commonly written on a very low level. This is not to suggest all contemporary literature is of little value, but much sold for school use is very authentic–and academically dismal.
6) The Educratic Resume Culture. In many schools, administrative staff attend conferences or read journals and whatever is being sold there suddenly becomes the one methods or system that will revolutionize education, make students achieve at previously unimaginable levels, and burnish their resume as brilliant educational innovators.
These “systems” always ignore human nature and try to force every teacher, regardless of their experience and ability, to do exactly the same things. This inevitably leads to mediocre teaching, and to the elimination of a great deal of class time, focused instead on mindless navel gazing about curriculum kids won’t have time to learn because they’re so busy with resume building dog and pony shows.
Return to teaching and learning, and holding school. Let nothing get in the way. It’s so simple it can’t possibly happen. It won’t enrich anyone, it won’t build political power, it won’t build educratic bureaucracies, and won’t provide highly paid consulting and other jobs in the private, education industry for former administrators. Worse, the results would be immediate and dramatic, and a great many educrats and others would have a great deal of explaining to do.
Let them. Make them.