Monday, September 15, 2014

The Stupidification of Education

Stupidification, you say?  It's a perfectly cromulent word.

I especially chose a word that doesn't actually exist because that's precisely what is going on in the world of education.  It's been going on in some fashion for years but it's hitting a crisis level.

When teaching stopped being a profession of those who loved a given subject matter and became the province of people with degrees in "education," the book was closed forever on actual instruction.  Everything became a "best practices" exercise.  I am specifically reminded of a spelling "program" that was foisted upon me as a fourth grader. There were eighteen levels of expertise and because I am one of those freaks of nature who can spell easily, I passed every last one. I was the only kid in the class who could and the poor teacher--who had doubtlessly grown up in cute little Baltimore County Maryland and went to Baltimore's cute little teacher's college on cute little York Road and now taught at a cute little Baltimore County elementary school--had no bloody idea what to do, because she'd been indoctrinated in the wonders of The System.  Throwing up her hands in frustration--literally, I watched it--she went to the principal who gave her a spelling book from the 50s to use with me.  It was just as ludicrously easy as the System that had been developed by a Team Of Experts, but I'm sure the principal then thought of herself as a Problem Solver.  The sort of frightening aspect was that they were both actually angry at me because I fried the system.

Although I have great students this year, I really don't get to actually teach them very much.  I need to use so many various aspects of "technology" that I have no time to cover actual material.  These are every bit as foolish as the spelling program, but they're all electronic.

Let me point out that my county does not actually have a curriculum.  It has a "framework."  This supposedly gives the teacher considerable freedom; you can pick your own works of literature, for instance--but very little guidance.  The framework says "We expect you to teach this concept.  Now go find something to teach it with."  If you ask what works of literature should be used, the usual response is "Oh, there's all KINDS of stuff online!!!"  (I'm hoping that you can picture the perky face of the person saying that.)

Here's a breakdown of all the things I'm expected to use on a daily basis.  I have eighty minute long classes, so you do the math and figure out how much time is left for actual instruction.
--Attendance must be taken online.  The same program ostensibly functions as a gradebook but doesn't seem to work very well, yet.
--Each student is issued a chromebook.  The county mandates that students participate in twenty minutes of "SSR" daily.  (This stands for Self-Selected Reading.  Acronyms apparently embiggen us all.) They are held accountable through a live Google form.  Google docs are the darling of the county.
--County-wide use of is mandated.  I'm being tracked to make sure I'm using it.
--There's a different application that helps students with writing.  It actually isn't a bad thing, but once again, I'm being tracked to make sure it's being used.
--One class is an entirely scripted reading program.  I pretty much just press "play" a lot.
--Yet another beast called "Edmodo" is supposed to function like an academic version of Facebook.  It's about as user-friendly as a demonically-possessed chainsaw but I'm supposed to post all of my assignments on it.
--I'm supposed to be using a system called Edmentum that provides tutorial lessons and assessments.  Some of its information seems to be pretty good, but I'm not entirely sure because I only get to see a dummy version of it--so I don't actually know what it's telling my kids.  I helped one student with an assignment on this thing and the test answers were wildly incorrect.

Years ago I worked in an office at Johns Hopkins.  My boss was a woman who thought of herself as being very tech-savvy (and grotesquely enough actually used the word "savvy")  Unfortunately her actual knowledge base had pretty much stopped with ENIAC so what she usually accomplished was the creation of a complete mess.  The concept of shared drives was completely foreign to her but she loved the idea of them.  She ended up sending files all over the university because she just couldn't get how it worked.

Education has disintegrated to a similar point.  Everyone at higher levels is in love with the idea of technology but they don't really understand how it works, or in many cases, that it doesn't.  We are, in effect, trying to use a Pianola to replay .mpg files.  Technology can be a wonderful tool, but simply throwing it at teachers and students for the sake of being able to say it's being used is rapidly destroying our children.

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