I have been in the education field for 10 years. Many of my colleagues have been there much longer than I have and have seen many more changes than I. Generally, they say, the pendulum seems to swing back and forth, with this year’s “new idea” being something that they saw 15 or 20 years ago.
Progress is a given. Well, I guess it is usually progress. Let’s say that change is a given. We see our world speeding toward ever more technology. We have smartphones, smart TVs, computers that recognize our fingerprints and our voices, and technology that does everything for us—and therefore must be smarter than we are.
There have been many changes in education lately. Many. Now, I went to school quite a while ago. And while I live and teach in California, I was educated in Massachusetts. I feel that I got a good education. I think we might call the educations we got back then “classical educations,” which was a good thing—back then. We knew things: facts, formulas. We could recite the Gettysburg Address and maybe a poem or two. We read classics. We were graded on our handwriting. And our spelling. And our grammar. And we knew about the explorers and the parts of the United States Government.
Enough reminiscing….let’s talk about what is happening now. Please note that I am not commenting on whether or not I like what is happening. I think some of the changes are good. Perhaps what I dislike most is what is being dropped, not what is being added. And, contrary to the intention, which is to make curriculum more rigorous, I think it is actually being dumbed down. And I guess, why not? Computers will be doing almost everything for us. So, our job is only to create the technology that can do these things for us. Who needs the Gettysburg Address?
So, let’s see…what is changing in the schools?
1. Cursive is out. Although seven or eight states have voted to keep it in the curriculum, cursive writing is not mentioned in the new standards. It is not a “21st century skill.” And where it is left in the curriculum, it is taught in elementary school for a year or two, and then left. Cursive really needs to be practiced. SO? Well, research indicates that the process of cursive writing is good for brain development—better than either printing or typing. Cursive is also faster than printing, should your computer (God forbid) run out of steam or crash. Cursive is also a beautiful art. Back in the day, we learned printing, typing, and cursive. Now, students apparently cannot handle all three. Dumbing down?
2. Memorization is out. Math teachers agree that it is crucial for students to memorize the multiplication tables, although there has been talk of getting rid of that skill too. We have calculators! Forget memorizing any poems or historical documents—or the spelling of words. Facts? Who needs them? The standards concentrate on critical thinking. I personally think you need some background information to think critically, not to mention the writing and speaking skills (that seem to be currently lacking) to express those thoughts. SO: I hope that my surgeon has memorized which bone is which, and which medications are for which diseases, and what other medications they interact with. I hope my dentist knows which tooth is which. I don’t want to watch a Shakespearean play in which the characters have trouble memorizing their lines. I don’t want to see a lawyer who hasn’t memorized some aspects of the law. And it is nice to be able to recite a famous poem or quote—just to feel educated. I asked my students to memorize something. Many of them were overwhelmed. They didn’t even bother to try. Dumbing down?
3. Grammar is out. Diagramming sentences? Too difficult and who needs it, anyway? Parts of speech? Phooey! The standards say that students should know how to write using complex sentences and that they should know how to use clauses and correct punctuation. However, it doesn’t really say how and when they should learn any of these things. At least in the grade I teach. SO: People who actually grew up diagramming sentences know their grammar. Today’s students don’t. Both colleges and companies complain that writing well is a huge issue. I taught a group of accountants who said that about 90 percent of their jobs consist of writing! Diagramming sentences? Spelling correctly? Too difficult. Dumbing down.
4. STEM. This acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. No, there is no A for art, and the E doesn’t stand for English. This is the push in education today because this is where the jobs are: creating technology that can do the other stuff for us. SO: All the great ideas in the world are meaningless if you can’t express them understandably in writing and speaking. Besides, someone has to know spelling and grammar to program all these technological devices that are going to do it all for us. Writing? Too difficult. Dumbing down.
5. The SAT is being changed. In 2006 the Scholastic Aptitude Test, generally a requirement for applying to colleges and thought to be a predictor of college success, added a writing test to the math and English language bubble sections. Now, it is 2014 and the writing section is being “optional.” The scoring of the test is back to 1600 (800 for math and 800 for verbal) and the writing, if done, will be graded separately. Why is the writing not required? Who knows? I guess we don’t need writing. Bubbling is so much easier. This is a bit unusual because in the public schools K-12, bubbling is being removed in favor of short answers and essays on the standardized tests. Of course, a computer is going to score these essays. How? Who knows? In some of this writing, spelling and grammar won’t count, anyway. In addition, guessing on the SAT used to be penalized. No more. Guess all those bubbles and you might just get a good score—perhaps the answer is always C, after all! Oh, and the vocabulary is being simplified….no more of those big words you never use. Actually, I see those words used all the times in books. Oh, what’s a book? Dumbed down.
Oddly enough, I also read yesterday that the ACT, another college entrance exam, is becoming more popular than the SAT, which strikes me as odd, since two weeks ago I read that the ACT was being discontinued.
Now what does this all have to do with aliens? I thought you would never ask!
Look at the picture of the alien:
Gigantic eyes: We will be needing those eyes to stare at the computer screen all day doing our 21st century jobs, which will consist of developing newer and better technology to do everything else for us, giving us time to continue creating new technology. These big eyes will not get eyestrain from staring at a screen all day.
Long fingers: We don’t need them to write, so we don’t need five of them, with fingers that can grasp a pencil. These long fingers fit well around a mouse and can really work a keyboard!
Big head: I am not sure it is a big head so much as a small and shrunken body. Muscle wasting from no activity. Sitting in a chair all day in front of a screen won’t do much for your physique. You won’t really need anything more than eyes and fingers, anyway.
Greenish/gray color: Sun? What sun? You’d look greenish gray if you never got outside in the sun either! Your shrunken legs and body wouldn’t have the strength to get you outside, anyway. And there’s always Facebook if you need to see your friends.
So…that is the alien in your future!
The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite. —Thomas Sowel
Visit my new Books Page where you can buy my books on Amazon, Kindle, in quantity from my distributors, or as a PDF download!