Monday, November 30, 2009

An Ideal Education (Excerpt from "Philosophy of an Ideal Education" by Yours truly, Gabriel Gethin)

Children begin elementary school at age 4 or 5 and end elementary school with 6th grade. When they graduate elementary school, they are equipped with the most basic tools education can offer, how to read and write, how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, how to show up on time to school, how to raise your hand to answer a question, and so on. Once in high school, 7th grade, the student begins a rigorous liberal arts training in subjects including mathematics, rhetoric, history, government and politics, philosophy, literature, psychology, sciences, and world language. Upon graduating high school after completing 10th grade, the 16 year old is equipped with knowledge of how to learn, interdisciplinary knowledge across a broad range of subjects and, more importantly, has developed enough self-knowledge to know what his/her own talents and interests are. After graduation, the individual decides what path is best for him or herself. The choices are nearly endless. The individual can study marine biology with actual marine biologists at vocational school while gaining real life experience at the same time. The individual can go to junior college to continue with the liberal arts. The individual can go onto college and choose a major he/she knows will both earn him/her a job and will be interesting and pleasing to learn. No matter what path the individual takes, the outcome is an educated human being who has amassed an abundance of knowledge and wisdom and is valuable to society in some way—economically, politically, scientifically, militarily.


Tay Darramont said...

Ahhh, if only. I cannot even begin to articulate how much I wish what you are describing was true. I am very interested in learning more about your philosophy of an ideal education, especially with regards to the following points:

1. A substantial proportion of the student population is overwhelmed even with current educational standards. Would these students have the motivation and ability to succeed in such a rigorous educational system as you describe?

2. Would it be possible to complete such an intense education within the current 6-7 hours per day, 180 days per year model, or would the school day and/or year have to be extended (especially considering that it would be completed two years earlier)?

3. In your educational model, would the grading system be the same as it is now, or modified in some way? How about the college application process? Would every student be guaranteed a spot in his/her preferred institution of higher education?

Gabriel Gethin said...

I once read an article called "A Model for High Schools by David S. Broder. It described an alternative high school for dropouts, or kids kicked out of high school. Here's the first paragraph, "The assigned readings for Aurora del Val's students last week were sections of the writings of Greek philosopher Plato and black nationalist Malcolm X. For 90 minutes her 14 young scholars wrestled verbally with twin paradoxes: Plato's insistence that prisoners in a cave might find the shadows on the wall more real than the outside world, and Malcolm's declaration that his intellectual freedom began when he entered prison." Clearly, this is difficult stuff. Nevertheless, these high school dropouts worked with this. Something like 9 out of 10 went on to get a college degree I believe. I am convinced that the reason kids feel overwhelmed is because they are in large classes, they are doing boring work, and sometimes, they are just too smart for the work they are being given. I believe students should be in small classes with lots of attention. Students should be given work that challenges them (regardless of their level) without overwhelming them. This is easier to accomplish than it seems. Give more intense class discussions and less intense homework is my personal solution. Another thing, students do not want bad grades. Often, I find students work harder when they are challenged (the motivation you mentioned). As long as the work is not totally over their heads, then they have the ability (you mentioned) to succeed as well.

Gabriel Gethin said...

In response to the second question. The United States has one of the shortest school years of all the industrialized countries. I believe summer vacation is pointless, it should be abolished. Being off for 8 weeks (or something like that) does not refresh students, it cleanses them. It cleanses them of all academic knowledge from the previous year. I've spent months reviewing in my math class because students do not remember anything from last year! I think schools should have 2 weeks off every season. 2 in April and 2 in December are already built in Easter and Christmas). Perhaps July and October 2 week breaks? I do not really care. Summer vacation is just too long and it has become pointless. Schools are air-conditioned now, there is no reason to send kids home. As for time spent in school, I do not think an extra half hour would hurt anyone. What's 30 minutes times 180 days? 5400 minutes would be added to the school year just by adding 30 minutes to the end of a school day. Those 30 minutes could be evenly distributed to classes. Piece of cake with a dramatic result.

Gabriel Gethin said...

Your last series of questions is tough. I do not really have a problem with the current grading system; since I get good grades anyway. I suppose there's room for improvement; there always is. I think I would be cool if there was a new type of test. In addition to multiple choice, short answer, and essay, I think there should be debate/discussion tests too. In this type of test, the teacher would engage the student in a discussion or debate of some kind in which the teacher would pose questions on the material discussed in class and the student would have to call upon the knowledge he/she learned in class to answer the teachers questions. The teacher could continue by playing devil's advocate to the students ideas, or asking follow up questions to judge if the student payed attention and retained the information learned in class.

In regards to college applications, I've never filled one out. Therefore, I have no opinion.

In the system of education I theorized, there would be so many choices for higher education that I doubt institutions would have to deny students too often. Naturally, if a school only accepts the best and the student applying is not a top student, the said student would be rejected. However, I would hope that schools appeal to certain passions, not abilities. There would be schools for the lovers of ideas, for the lovers of science and math, and lovers of politics, yet there would also be schools that blended everything together for the undecided, or extremely curious, student. Does that answer your final question?

Tay Darramont said...

I am in love with your ideas and want to live in your utopia. I especially like the idea of a university or college where, instead of focusing narrowly on one subject and skimming superficially over the others, a student could explore many subjects in quite a bit of depth. The "da Vinci" approach to college, if you will.

Nevertheless, though I have no problem with moderately extending the school day or year, I disagree that summer vacation is pointless. It gives students an opportunity to experience things that just would not be possible during the school year or during a two-week break. For example, last summer my family took a month-long road trip and I volunteered at a Girl Scout summer camp. This was an incredibly enriching experience that I (and for that matter, the children at camp) would have missed if school had still been in session.

True, since the camp was two weeks long, it technically could have taken place during a two-week break, but remember, children and especially adolescents need time that is restful and unscheduled. It gives us opportunities to read, write, visit museums and cultural events, create music and art, think and dream. And learning can still take place over the summer if a student is sufficiently motivated (which, as you say, would happen more frequently if students were challenged in school); last summer, I studied French independently and learned more in one summer than I would have in a regular year-long French class. What is necessary is a balance; school is certainly the most important priority in a student's life, but that does not mean it is the only one.

Gabriel Gethin said...

Balance is key to everything. Education, politics, work, emotions, and so on. In education, a balance is needed in the work load. Enough to challenge but not too much to demoralize, or drive insane. A balance is needed between vocational and liberal arts education. A student needs to be aware and knowledgeable about many topics and many subjects, but still should be able to specialize in the subjects he/she likes best and/or performs best in. Naturally, this balance is difficult to achieve. Such is the overall challenge of life.