Wednesday, October 6, 2010


"Mankind needs more to be reminded, than informed."
—Samuel Johnson

"We must change our attitudes about school, the nature of young people, and how one achieves in academics. No school reform will succeed without a far-reaching transformation that goes beyond teachers and curriculum."

Doomed to Fail

Paul A. Zoch, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004, pp. 200-202

American schools must change student attitudes by making clear the purpose of being in school. Students must understand that going to school is their job, something most do not now realize. Many students, thinking it is the teacher’s job to do what will “make” them smart, feel little need to take their classes seriously. End-of-course tests and an altered view of how success is achieved would help students focus their efforts and give them a feeling that school is a real mission, one that demands seriousness of purpose, dedication, and diligence. If they study more diligently, they might even come to enjoy learning and the feeling of real accomplishment.

Students should be told in plain language why they must take academic courses in school, why society has decided that they must learn math, English, the sciences, a foreign language, history and social studies. Most students do not understand why they must learn these subjects; they tend to think of school only in terms of a future job. Some say they must learn such things in order to be well-rounded individuals, which is not a bad answer. But students should begin learning from their earliest school days that academic subjects are the primary means to understanding world civilization. These disciplines are essential to the development of an educated person who will be the equal of all other educated persons in America’s republican democracy. To many Americans, academic subjects seem to be required because of mere tradition.

Changing what is expected of students will simultaneously change the attitudes of teachers, improving the morale and status of the teaching profession. The knee-jerk tendency in the United States is to charge teachers with incompetence for any perceived failure of their students or their schools. Considering what teachers are expected to do—make students smart without causing them stress, and make their time at school a joyful, emotionally fulfilling experience—teachers cannot but fail and thus incur society’s contempt. Placing responsibility for learning on the students, and expecting teachers only to present competent lessons (as teachers in Japan and other countries are expected to do), might retain many of the large percentage of teachers who leave within the first three years, and might reduce the burnout factor among veterans.

At the same time we should change the relative responsibilities of teachers and students, we should reduce the number of hours teachers teach per day. So important is such a change that Stevenson and Stigler make it their first recommendation for changing the schools. Teacher in the United States should teach the same number of hours that teachers in other countries do—approximately four a day or slightly less, instead of five or more. Reducing teaching hours will relieve teachers and also make it possible to lengthen the school day so that teachers can require failing students to attend tutoring sessions. Many teachers do not tutor as willingly as they should, one reason being that at the end of the day they are exhausted and have lesson plans to make, tests and quizzes to grade, and paperwork to complete. With more time during the day for non-instructional work, teachers can be required to tutor students who want and need help. Mandatory after-school tutoring for failing students should take precedence over all extra-curricular activities.

Our educational system must look to students and what they do as the fount of success. A few of the authors quoted in this book have noted the irony that in the United States, though famous for our work ethic, in our schools we don’t expect students to work at their studies. One observer noted that to study the relationship between school success and character development, he had to go to Japan. We must change our attitudes about school, the nature of young people, and how one achieves in academics. No school reform will succeed without a far-reaching transformation that goes beyond teachers and curriculum. We need also to change the attitudes of the education experts, who continually promote an unworkable and unfeasible educational philosophy and then flay teachers for their inability to meet impossible expectations.

Education is so important in the United States that we expect teachers, who are professionals trained in pedagogical science, to get the job done. We sincerely want all students to learn so that they may lead good, productive lives. But teachers, parents, and adults cannot do it for them. The nation is looking for educational excellence in the wrong place, in the actions of teachers. We must instead expect students to create their success, give them our full support and guidance in their labors, encourage and expect them to try again with renewed effort and persistence when they fail, and reward them for their success...

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