Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Education

In late February of this year, I wrote about a forward thinking school district where, among other things, it installed wireless Internet on one of its school buses. This type of thinking, I claimed, was allowing students to get more done rather than abuse the privilege as people suspected would happen.

Education has been a steadily under-appreciated topic in this country, in my opinion. Granted, there are the stories of teachers who are relegated to the "rubber room" in NYC (which has since been abolished); the teachers union who protects the under performers simply because they have tenure; etc. But I personally know several good teachers who are paid ridiculously low salaries considering the importance of the work they do. (And yet they still do it because of their love for what they do especially given how much of a positive impact they can have on today's youth.)

An Op-Ed piece in the NY Times yesterday highlighted exactly the amount of damage our neglect and perverse ways of protecting the institution at the expense of the overall quality of the result has done. The piece discusses the precarious drop in the number of people with college degrees (especially among the all-important 25-34 year old demographic) to 12th place out of 36 developed nations.

This is, as you can imagine, scary to say the least. Given the state of the economy you'd think that people would do whatever it took to secure a college degree in hopes of it providing some degree of financial and career stability, but it would seem (at first glance at least) that we are doing just the opposite. Worse, the government are doing nothing to help the situation given that funding just isn't being made available with the view that it is a long-term investment in our country's future. Consider, for example, the state of Hawaii where (according to the article) schools were closed 17 Fridays last school year for budgetary reasons.

Let's not hold the students blameless either. I recall working for 7 months out of every year (starting with my junior year) and going to school for 1 semester only. Part of this was due to the fact that I wanted the work experience, but I also needed the money to survive while attending that one semester. Those 7 months' of wages funded my automobile, insurance, books, etc. so that I would be able to complete my education. Yet there seems to be an attitude of laziness that prevails now where "just good enough" is all that people strive for.

Consider, then, one school district's answer: the Mount Olive, NJ district school board last week adopted a policy where the grade of D is no longer in use. Instead, students either get an A, B or C or they get an F. The minimum passing grade, then, has been raised by an appropriate number of points thus forcing them to get beyond the "just good enough" attitude and actually put some effort into their learning.

In college calculus, we had a professor who, one semester, would not allow anyone to leave the final exam until they got every answer correct. We would turn in our exam; he would grade it; and if there were incorrect answers he would even provide a small hint to help us solve the problem. We were annoyed - after all, there were other finals to study for - but in the end we were better for it because he forced us to truly comprehend the previous 3 month's worth of instruction.

Such an attitude would not hurt today, but we need to get everyone on board: the students, the teachers, and the government's budgetary captains.

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