Sunday, October 30, 2011

School as the First Circle of Hell

"The fact that no one made demands of her knowledge in her special field was lucky for Simochka.  Not only she but many of her girl friends had graduated from the institute without any such knowledge.  There were many reasons for this.  The young girls had come from high schools with very little grounding in mathematics and physics.  They had learned in the upper grades that at faculty council meetings the school director had scolded the teachers for giving out failing marks, and that even if a pupil didn't study at all he received a diploma...Besides, when their students failed, the examiners were reprimanded as if the failures were spoiled goods in a production process--according to the well-known theory that there are no bad pupils, only bad teachers.  Therefore the examiners did not try to trip the students up but, in fact, attempted to get them through the examination with as good results as possible." 

A novel about America's failure to educate its children?  Nope.  That's from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle and describes Soviet education. 

Fun fact: teacher performance is not only not the sole factor being measured by test scores; it is not even the predominate one.  If you pretend otherwise, teachers (out of self preservation) will see to it that test scores are high, even if those tests have no connection whatsoever to actual student performance.  If you actually want students to learn, they have to be held accountable for their results, mostly by parents.  Those same parents, I might add, should know what teachers are doing in the classroom.  That's the way to hold teachers accountable.  Abandoning that role to the state and their "quantifiable measures" is irresponsible but easy.  Sure enough, that's the path we're moving down.  

Some folks might take offense at the idea of "tripping up" students.  Let me reword that for you: challenge the students.  Find out which students can really think by letting them stand on their own two feet and run through a mental obstacle course. Of course, to do this means those kids that can't tie their own shoes (figuratively and, I'm afraid, often literally) won't be in the classroom anymore. 

Sadly, this is all about equality.  If you can't get the kids who don't do well to pick up their pace, you focus all of your energy on rising them up an inch at the expense of the talented and motivated who could climb mountaintops if there was any motivation for teachers to focus on them instead. 

"There are no bad pupils, only bad teachers."  

If you believe that, you must be the product of a Soviet style educational system. 

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