Today's issue of Parade Magazine
featured a short piece on how Bill Gates hopes to change education in America. (if you already threw out the Sunday paper, live outside the USA, or generally can't stand reading that slice of conservative propaganda, you can read the article here
). Putting aside the issue of why we are trusting Bill Gates to tell us how we should reform our schools, the article presented some rather messed up ideas. It states -
While educators debate the value of standardized tests, Gates is adamant that we need such tests and that ours should be tougher and more uniform. “Testing is the only objective measurement of our students,” he contends. “It’s incredible that we have no national standard.” As for those who say this will stifle creativity and lead to dull classrooms that only teach students how to pass tests, he replies: “If you don’t know how to read, it doesn’t matter how creative you are. More than a third of the people with high school diplomas have no employable skills.”
First I find it interesting that he doesn't deny that teaching to tests will stifle creativity and lead to dull classrooms. Like many testing advocates he seems to think such things are worth the price of adhering to this sort of system. Secondly, since when did creativity stop being an employable skill? Yes, I think everyone should learn to read. But the sort of "reading" skills taught in order for students to pass tests doesn't often lead to the ability to think creatively or critically. Despite studies that show that students who are allowed to develop all aspects of their intellect (through art and music) actually end up being better readers, there still seems to be the general assumption that things like art, music, and creativity get in the way of real education. I could just try to blame this on Gates being a computer geek and businessman, but this sort of unbalanced approach to education is rampant. Even if people actually think tests are worthwhile (something I highly disagree with), why does it have to be an either/or? If we are seeking to improve the schools and have people like Gates dumping money into them, why can't we seek a more holistic approach that affirms reading, math, and creativity?
I could rant on that topic for awhile given my general frustration with the pathetic state of education in our country and the even more pathetic attempts to fix it, so I'll move on for the moment and point of the other really inane thing the article wrote about Gates. Apparently "Gates also believes in small high schools, where students won’t get sucked into cliques." Okay, I know of schools that had graduating classes of 12 that still had cliques. Size of school has nothing to do with kids getting into cliques. I support smaller schools and much smaller class sizes but not because that will prevent kids from making friends with other people with similar interests. Smaller class sizes lead to more interaction and deeper exploration of subjects. Given a decent teacher (whose purpose is to teach and not to coach students through a test) such deeper interaction will lead to real learning (as opposed to rote memorization) and (dare I say it) more creative and critical students. At least it would be nice if it was allowed to happen, but apparently we are so uncreative and uncritical that we prefer to be told what to do by whoever has the most money.
Labels: Culture, Education