All posts tagged education

I have never been totally enchanted by America’s public education system. In fact, since leaving high school, I have become fairly disgusted by it, and Doctorow’s Little Brother did little to improve my views. Throughout America, a fairly substantial number of people are growing more and more aware of the ways in which public education does not live up to its ideals. Take, for example, this critical article that highlighting some of the major failures in public schools. Personally, standardized testing tops my list, but I also feel that the surveillance and prison-like status of the school in Little Brother is a huge deal in society today.

While no school is nearly as strict and technologically secure as Cesar Chavez High, we get closer and closer every day. It is difficult to skip a high school class without phone calls home and permanent strikes on one’s record. Furthermore, more and more schools are installing cameras in hallways and classrooms, and this article talks about having teachers wear cameras to combat misbehaviour. In my opinion, increased security is not the solution. By stifling the students, it is quite possible that they will only become more determined to undermine the system. Like Marcus, they will continue their behaviours, even under threat of punishment if they get caught. Cameras, rules, and other security measures only attack the symptoms of misbehaving children. To truly eliminate this issue, and allow schools to go back to focusing on teaching, rather than discipline, the root causes need to be addressed. Unfortunately, root causes arise from a number of factors, including family life, income, and personal beliefs. To address these will involve huge efforts by the entire country, which is honestly not something we are ready or willing to do at the moment. In fact, improving the quality of life overall is an aspect of utopianizing America as a whole.

Little Brother introduces one path that life can take for those whose behaviours do not suit those in power. These destructive paths could be eliminated if the behaviours are solved at the source. However, to do seems to require both technological and societal advances, to the point that security is either strong enough to work or until we believe security is not necessary in public schools. Yet to get to that point will require huge leaps in American values or scientific research, both of which are hindered by the public education system. This means it may be impossible to ever improve our current system, and brings up the necessity for total reform. Total reform, however, will also likely require major efforts on the behalf of all Americans. Until most people are united in this goal, it will be impossible to drastically induce change.

The YA dystopian novel Feed by M. T. Anderson is a satire in multi-perspectives. One of the aspects is that people become less intelligent—they lose the ability to think. While this is caused by an improper use of, or overdependence on, technology as well as the domination of consumeristic values, education also plays a vital role, which leads me to reflect on the various types of educational systems at present.

Titus totally denies the value in our current education: “Back then, it was big boring, and all the kids were meg null, because they didn’t learn anything useful, it was all like, da da da da, this happened in fourteen ninety-two, da da da da, when you mix like, chalk and water, it makes nitroglycerin, and that kind of shit?” (Anderson 59). In contrast, their futuristic “SchoolTM” is “pretty brag, because it teaches us how the world can be used, like mainly how to use our feeds…how to work technology and how to find bargains and what’s the best way to get a job and how to decorate our bedroom” (Anderson 59). The key difference is the “usefulness”: most of what we learn today in school will never be applied to help us survive in society. Then why do we still study them? I found the answer in Feed. As they depend completely on technology for knowledge, their brains are not trained to think, and therefore the only possible solution to every problem is asking for help from the feed.

How about our own educational systems? Are they mostly practical or do they target thinking ability? The debate in China on the extent to which western, or mostly American, education system should be adopted has been a focus in recent years. Compared to U.S. students, Chinese students learn more difficult materials and are able to solve much more complicated problems from primary school to college. However, when they enter work to solve real world problems, the Chinese do poorly on average compared to Americans, even in academia. It was first confusing to me since the Chinese are clearly trained in sophisticated and intensive thinking, how can they lose at a later stage? The analogy from Feed brought me insight on depth versus breadth: as Chinese students choose between STEM and social sciences in high school and only take classes in their major in college, all US students have to take courses from all disciplines to complete general education. In a sense, the Chinese education is similar to SchoolTM where the study is only relevant in a specific context, whether it is the feed or the convoluted problems made up by teachers in a specific field. Just as Titus is helpless on problems that can’t be solved by the feed, Chinese students are inadequate in solving real world problems due to their mind set bounded to solving unrealistic problems on paper. In comparison, American students are exposed to diverse ways of thinking as different strategies are used in STEM fields, social sciences and humanities.

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“General Education Requirement”. General Education Requirements.

Such a wider variety in the “thinking strategy toolbox” empowers them to try out different approaches when simply using complicated equations doesn’t help in laying out a business plan for their company. Therefore, the problem with Chinese education system is not the super hard tests as most people believe, but the lack of variety of subjects. More courses should be introduced at an earlier stage, for instance, psychology, sociology, archeology, philosophy and engineering basics classes may be introduced in high school or even middle school. Students should be exposed to different modes of thinking throughout their education, which prevents over-reliance on any one approach and ending up as “dumb” later in practice.

I stumbled across an article written by Joshua Garrison for the American Educational History Journal that I think could be incredibly useful for many people’s papers. This article surrounds the topic of how education is portrayed and utilized in dystopias, and compares this with how people view eduction in the “real” world.

The article opens with a real Presidential speech about school, and discusses the negative backlash to the speech. This opens up the article into a further discussion about the role of education in politics, and different political views on, or fears of, public education. The article talks briefly about the definition of dystopia, and how it essentially represents the writer’s “worst fears”.  Garrison mentions how both political parties employ “dystopian imagery” to push their own agendas, and bring down the other side. Next, Garrison names several dystopian novels, more or less in chronological order starting in the 1800s and moving to present day, and describes the role of education in each one. He compares and contrasts the novels, and explains how the educational set-up in each one was inspired by real life events, such as the rise of the  Ford-style Model-T industrial line, where everyone works as a part of a larger system in a pre-determined group. Though each novel is different, Garrison ultimately argues that every author saw children’s schooling in their dystopia as a way to impose control. Garrison concludes with some examples from various novels, where the kid is the “corrupt” one, brainwashed by society, and the parent is the one who recognizes he or she is in a dystopia. I thought this was an interesting contrast to our class, where most protagonists are still school-aged.

The author argues that the role of education, both in real life and in dystopian novels, is a political tool. In dystopias, education is used to brainwash children into believing false statements, or into believing a specific way the world “works”. In real life, Garrison argues, the role and implementation of public education is a controversial topic because both sides of the political spectrum fear the other side will promote their ideas. Thus, modern day dystopias can be created, because the “worst fears” of a certain political group will come true with the success of another group. Ultimately, Garrison’s point is that the role of public education in “real life” is very complicated, as some argue it is the key to equality and democracy, while others argue it strips the rights and freedoms of citizens. This constant debate and fear of role of education being in the wrong hands is mirrored in several best-selling dystopias.

Garrison makes a clear and fair argument since he never takes a political stance on public education, or sides with a political party. The article gives evidence in form of direct quotes from people of varying political identity, but never deems one as right or wrong.