Consider some of the basic symbols of education in the United States: the textbook, the chalkboard, and the apple. Thanks to technological innovations and cultural forces, we’ve seen textbooks supplanted by videos and e-books, SMART Boards replace chalkboards, and the apple on the teacher’s desk pushed aside by the latest gadgets from, well, Apple. Just as our classrooms have changed significantly since the 1800s, so have our ideas about the purpose of schools. There needs to be change done to make sure that our students excel in their learning and the only way this will happen is if both the teachers and students both want this to happen. Two authors that I have recently been introduced to both believe that there is something wrong with our current school system and the way that we choose to educate our children. Now, the question is: what must be done in order to improve our educational system?
Now, my specific personal experience to this was in the sixth grade. In the sixth grade, my teacher’s name was Mr. Mike, and although there was originally one teacher for the class, Mrs. Pundavela, the class was too big for her to handle alone. I had been in Mrs. Pundavela’s class the fourth and fifth grade because at that school there were three grades to a class, so I knew how she taught and her methods and habits. Mr. Mike, however, was very different. Mrs. Pundavela was a very traditional teacher and believed that practice, along with severe corrections and minor embarrassment, made perfect. She gave a lot of writing assignments and quizzes in book club readings that it was ridiculous, but she was a good teacher. Mr. Mike’s class was very different, he allowed us to have silent reading to ourselves and we could discuss our books or not but he mainly focused on us comprehending the material for ourselves and not for him. Of course he would be there in case we had questions, but only if we sought him out.
I noticed many of the kids from the previous year were doing better and a little more confident. Mr. Mike reminded me of this essay because he felt that as long as we understood and registered the work we were supposed to, the method that which we learned was an insignificant factor. On one side we have John Gatto, a public school teacher that taught in some of the lowest achieving schools in Manhattan, and in some of the finest. After teaching for thirty years he found out the key issue to our school systems problem was boredom. He said that everywhere he taught he knew he would be surrounded boredom, when he would ask students why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And Gatto really felt this was true, he believed their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.
When going to the teachers to get their view on this issue they would typically go to blame the students for the problem saying, “Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades?” Gatto knew there was definitely a problem with the school system but instead of blaming one individual aspect of the system he thought we were all to blame. He thought the only way to fix it was ourselves. He believed that once you understood the logic behind schooling, it’s tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. Gatto later went on explaining what some of the things schools systems tried to do to ‘trap’ your child and gave some advice on how to avoid the trap by saying, “School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently… Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.” (Gatto 6)
Now, examining another author by the name John Holt we examine similar views on the educational system and what must be done to improve the school system so that we our educating our kids in a way that will maximize their potential. In John Holt’s essay, “How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading”, he poses a problem. He suggests that children hate reading and most adolescents in elementary and middle school do not read due to the association they make between books and repercussion. He argues that within the school system, teachers want to ensure that children comprehend what they believe is the proper message, word usage, etc., and the method for that is quizzing and questioning.
Holt believes that children dislike reading because they may feel intimidated by certain words or concepts thus making them apprehensive to reading. He also suggests how writing is also unfamiliar territory to students, especially those with spelling problems. At the end, he advises a solution, one that he is familiar with, that will help teachers get their students to excel in reading and writing. He poses alternative assignments, for books he will allow each student to pick his own and there will be no content or vocabulary quizzing and for writing he just wants them to write without stopping or thinking about grammatical or spelling errors. He concludes that these and similar projects will be more productive than those from traditional English curriculum.
After going over and examining both authors arguments and viewpoints I found myself agreeing with a lot of what they had to say. I thought that Gatto’s ways were however a little extreme in certain ways such as saying kids do not really need schooling. I thought Holt’s essay was a little more was insightful and posed a strong argument that was more realistic and less drastic. I agreed with his views and conclusions based off of personal experience, being in a class setting where a few of my peers were not on the same level as my other classmates and I. I understand that if someone equates anything with punishment or embarrassment, they will always do anything they can to avoid it in the future. I also agree with his alternative examples, if a teacher removes all fears that his students have equated with reading and writing, they will have no hesitation to jump into an assignment. Another good point he raised was giving the students a choice on what to read and write, I think he is correct that if a student is interested he will finish whatever he is doing, whether it be reading or writing.
In conclusion, I believe that as we as a society are starting to modernize I believe that our current school system should too. In order for this to happen everyone is going to want to make this change, not only the teachers but also the students. Both sides are going to have to stop going through the motions and just getting by and instead take pride in what they do and really want to prosper.
Gatto, John T. “Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids and Why.” Readings for OSU Writers (2012): 21-28. Print. Holt, John. “How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading.” Readings For OSU Writers (2012): 29-38. Print.