Teach Them the Basics, Then Teach Them to Think

“Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes.”- Norman Douglas

I’m currently living in a state where the public education system routinely scares me. In an age where we should be enabling students to be able, independent thinkers, my poor students are caught between teachers staying on top of their profession and tutors who are a bit behind the times.

One of the local school districts has taken a brave step forward this year and is working toward applying some of the newer research to their teaching. It’s leading to more real-world applications of their skills, more group work, and a severe lack of textbooks (yay for not crippling the local high schoolers!). As I like to keep myself somewhat up-to-date on advances in the field of education, I’m fine with this and can roll right along with it.

But some of my colleagues are retired teachers. They don’t really get it. I actually had quite the debate with one of them over the textbook issue. To her, if the student has no textbook, then they can’t be doing homework, and if they aren’t doing homework, then they can’t be learning the concepts.

These students often bring in worksheets developed by the teachers to reflect what they’re learning in class. They bring in packets called toolkits that they fill out and study while working on these prescribed worksheets. I’d argue that many of these students have much more reliable homework than I ever had as a kid because it’s just a few problems for each concept, and it’s an elegant blend of straight computation and word problems. The English students come in with projects that require more analysis and research than was ever expected of me (but I did anyway) when I was in school.

Perhaps it’s a generation gap. Perhaps it’s different methods of keeping up with things. Perhaps it’s a combination of those coupled with a state trying to establish what its children need to know and how to imbue them with that knowledge.

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