I was reading an article about education yesterday, written by Noam Chomsky. You may not agree with everything he has to say, but the article yesterday really made sense to me.
If you are ‘of a certain age’, you probably remember education as being a very different animal to the schooling you see your children or grandchildren enduring now. Certainly I’ve seen UK education change very much for the worse. I remember so clearly when our daughter asked a question about her school day. I said “why didn’t you ask your teacher that at the time?”, to which she said she had, but the teacher told her there was no time for questions, they had to get through the material of the day or they would be behind before their (next) big exam.
No time for questions? I was stunned. When I asked the teacher, he confirmed it. He said that each day’s lessons were so schedule dependent, that you just couldn’t allow any discussion. At all. I don’t remember the exam that was so important at the time. Kids are tested for everything in the UK, all the time – SATs, GCEs, GCSEs, you just can’t keep up with it.
I remember so well my own education in the US – certainly at that time, I believe that a US education ranked as one of the best in the world. Yes, of course, you had to memorise facts and figures. There were history dates, times tables, the lot! But more than temporarily memorising facts, we were encouraged to figure out how to find out things for ourselves. “Look it up”, our teachers would say. In class, there would be races to look up words in the dictionary, or to look up information in the encyclopedia.
Then there was discussion on current events, too. As part of our civics lessons, we learned about our local, state and federal governments, and talked about how the system worked. As part of our homework, we had to read news magazine articles, and be prepared to discuss them in class. Teachers (and parents) believed that it wasn’t just trench warfare, or learning about the roundheads, that was important to learn about – it was also important to learn about what was going on around us in the world.
I’ll take you back to some of my favorite school memories. Children who attended Patrick Henry Junior High in Sioux Falls, SD may have been lucky enough to have the incredible teacher Miss Girton. I first had her for English and History when I was 13, then after that, I took every course she taught. She was a fantastic teacher! When we were studying the Civil War, she taught us both sides of the conflict. She did the same when we studied WW2 – we learned that there were actually some good reasons for the Germans to feel downtrodden, and that the Allies weren’t always the good guys. Awesome, and certainly not part of the normal course work!
She also taught English, but took me out of class and made me do ‘independent study’, as she called it. “I won’t give you an A unless you do twice as much as everyone else” said she. I thought it incredibly unfair at the time, but eventually realised that she was encouraging me to work harder.
She taught anyone who was willing to learn, that there were at least two sides to the story.
I also remember one of her dire warnings. “Don’t ever let me hear of you committing a felony for stealing $52 dollars”, said she. “If you are going to risk your freedom, make sure the winnings are worth the risk of punishment”. Unorthodox, but effective, advice!
I read today that she is still alive and well, and that it’s not just me who remembers her so fondly. So Miss Girton, thank you so much, and I wish you a continued long and healthy life.