My 16 year old unschooled son and I watched TODAYshow’s Matt Lauer interview President Barrack Obama on education reform this morning. It was a frustrating and depressing scene to watch, as the President inadvertently outlined the problem- that American children’s performance in math and science has declined sharply in one generation- but he was unable to make the connection that the decline occurred during the time when public schools became increasingly standardized!
In the 1990′s and 2000′s, high stakes standardized testing, teaching-to-the-test, increased homework and policies of homework for all grade levels (including for children as young as preschool) became the law of the land. Schools began to slash hands-on learning, recess, movement, outdoor free time, play, art, music, fun activities and field trips, further causing distress and trauma to the bodies and the psychological, creative and intellectual well being of public school children. With this frantic teach-to-the-test mentality of schools, these deprivations of childhood joy needed to become standardized practice in order to corral and indoctrinate millions of children into one cookie-cutter system, with results that guaranteed the failure and mediocrity of the many. These deprivations would quickly come to include the abuse of children’s bio and neurochemisty as well.
The public school system was soon faced with an increase in natural alarm signals in children that resulted from the school’s developmentally inappropriate curriculum: Hyperactivity, lack of focus, inability to learn, lack of attention to the tasks at hand, defiance, aggression, depression, violence, inability to keep oneself still and immobile for six hours per day and then for another three hours of homework. Schools partnered up with Big Pharma to come up with a solution: Mass labeling of American public school children as “learning disabled”, “mentally ill” or brain deficient. This of course lead to subsequent chemical alteration of their brains to induce docility and conformity. Since the early 1990′s there has been a 700% increase in the use of just stimulant drugs alone on children!
Interestingly, according to Newsweek’s “Creativity in America” issue (July 19, 2010), China, who once employed the strictest of measures of their public schooled children, has instituted mass reforms to “extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style”. According to the article, China is currently “adopting a problem-based learning approach”. The article quips, “When a faculty of a major Chinese University asked [American professor Jonathan] Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your [old] model, as fast as we can.’””
Apparently, President Obama is not aware of that. Apparently, he is unaware that in many of the countries that have surpassed American public school children’s performance, they are doing the opposite of what Obama proposes. Some of these countries have shorter school years, shorter classes, more play and outdoor time. President Obama must equally be unaware of the decades of learning theory by Howard Gardner and many others who have found that humans have seven different, equally important forms of intelligence. Public schools only validate and consider two of these intelligences to be worthwhile, namely, Logical-Mathematical and Verbal-Linguistic. The other intelligences, mainly dealing with the arts, the body, socialization and the mind, are considered to be “hobbies” or “skills” rather than equally credible, “academic” intelligences.
Researchers of learning theory are also aware that people learn through one or a combination of three channels: Kinesthetic, Visual and Auditory. Schools mainly teach using the auditory style, lecturing to a group of passive hostages, with little to no interactive dialogue, hands-on imitation or exploration. People who are wired to learn with their hands and bodies or with a combination of watching, reading and doing are labeled as mentally ill, learning disabled or as having “attention deficits”! No wonder we are plummeting in comparison to other countries- Our schools are rendering us all mentally ill!
Albert Einstein stated that test-based “education” destroys the natural learning process rather than helps it: “One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.” He also stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, yet imagination and creativity are all but strangled out of children by the time they end their public school prison sentences.
In 1983, the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk report set in motion this nightmare of standardizing an already hostage-based education system into what the youngest generation is suffering now. In 2001, George W. Bush dealt the final blow to children’s play and freedom with his “No Child Left Behind” act. Now Obama’s “been-there-done-that” education “reform” will recycle more of the same. This waste of millions of childhoods reminds me of another of Einstein’s famous quotes: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”