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When I Went To School …
Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg
A dean reconsiders educational reform and progress
Times they aren't a-changin' they've changed! Just visit the school of your youth and see for yourself.
There's a lot of truth in humor. Consider, if you will, a comical description of how the teaching of math has changed over the past 50+ years. It comes courtesy of a friend:
A Sample Math Question in the 1950s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?
A Sample Math Question in the 1960s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?
A Sample Math Question in the 1970s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?
A Sample Math Question in the 1980s: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.
A Sample Math Question in the 1990s: A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers.)
A Sample Math Question in 2007: Un ranchero vende una carretera de madera para $100. El cuesto de la produccion era $80. Cuantos tortillas se puede comprar?
While many of the educational changes that have evolved since we were children are negative, others are very much the opposite. One seldom hears today, for example, of schools even parochial ones in which corporal punishment is practiced. Even when children act up and lack discipline, not hitting students is definitely an improvement. But we must be on guard to make sure that in trying to enhance our children's educational experience, that changes are not being made merely for change's sake. Rather, they are true advancements: Constructive. If something isn't broke, let us not try to fix it and possibly break it.
As a dean, I can state without the slightest bit of hesitation that even with all the educational changes and improvements, we are now much less effective in providing the quality education then we did in years past. In an effort to possibly reverse the situation, I enlisted a group of instructors of both religious and secular studies to share their thoughts on how education has changed. The following were their responses:
Boundaries between adults and children have been altered. Today's children don't know what to say or how to speak to an adult even to a teacher.
- There is an emphasis on procedures and politics, and not on behavior. We are so worried about being politically or legally correct that we ignore the core behaviors that we should expect from children. Teachers hesitate to reprimand a child when necessary out of fear of major ramifications and repercussion..
- We never went to school when ill. Today, children are sent off to school when they should be in bed because both parents are working and it is a challenge to make other arrangements.
- In years past, schooling began at a much later age and even kindergarten was only for part of the day. Today, again as a result of the working parents and peer pressure, we send children to school much too young and they stay there too many hours. To justify this poor behavior, studies were prepared to show the benefits of early childhood education.
- There is a lack of the use of a pencil and not as much writing. When we were children, we wrote with a pencil so that we could easily correct a mistake. Today, our children are raised with an attitude of taking little responsibility for mistakes. We have fooled ourselves into believing that the spell-checker application is a good one.
- We worked harder as students. The work ethic of the student has decreased significantly. Very few students know the meaning of hard work today.
- We would stop and think before speaking. As children, we were not allowed to raise our hand while the teacher spoke, as that was seen as a sign of disrespect. Today, children are being raised to say what they want and as soon as they think of it, without thinking it over.
- There is almost zero respect shown by students. Students speak and act with much disrespect and they are being shown by example that it is acceptable.
- Currently, children don't write enough. When we were children, we suffered from calluses on our fingers from so much writing.
- As we live in a "throw-away society," when so much that is produced is disposable, children have not seen or have lost an appreciation for resources.
- The technology available to students is obviously different than what we had. We think that this is resulting in a good change, but there are more negative results than we wish to admit.
- Children today are afraid of the world and they need the school to provide more of a safe haven.
- We live in a society of entertainment and it is more difficult to teach without the glitz.
- Students in the past would never come in the vicinity of a teacher's desk and today there are no "off limits".
- When we were children, we used to have writing punishments. For example, we had to write something hundreds of times. Today, we know better not to use writing as a punishment.
- Years back, we were required to do much more reading and much more writing. Today, we are raising illiterate children.
- Children aren't being taught to communicate well, either in the written form and verbally, using full sentences and complete thoughts. Technological lingo has affected our general communication.
- Today, we have a much better handle and approach to help children with special needs.
- Children today are exposed to life much too early. They lose their innocence at an early age, when they are not ready for it.
- The respect from the home to the teacher has changed drastically. When we went to school, our parents would never speak derogatorily about a teacher or the school, and definitely not in the presence or earshot of the child.
- Children are being spoon-fed too much these days and they don't know what it means to work hard to accomplish a goal. The harder it gets, the more we reduce the goal.
- Children today don't find the ordinary activities of yesterday exciting and we hear much too often that children are bored.
- Our schoolwork and projects were valued and we saved them for years.
Educational progress, the opposite of it and the above list are so massive and important that they can't possibly be adequately addressed in a column this size. So why, then, do I share all of this with you? Because I hope it will help ignite a conversation about these issues. Hopefully, by raising awareness, we can move in the right direction.
JWR contributor Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg is dean of Torah Academy in Minneapolis and a columnist for Yated Neeman. Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, Yated Neeman