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Paras: Pedagogical Problems — Introduction

June 21, 2011

The austerity that’s being faced in the school system south of the border will not be postponed in the True North for much longer.

The actual act of teaching is being ignored and the dialogue is concentrated on funding public schools receive. The funding formula is attributed loosely to the success of students in public schools which is often measured by an institution’s ability to pump students out of its doors. Essentially, the funding model for schools is similar to that of cattle farms.

Our students have been left to starve in the classrooms to such an extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if those of the far-right would be open to privatising public schools.

The teaching problem in our K-12 education system has spiraled so out of control that I don’t blame the public for their apathy. Real solutions need to be put in place to get youth involved in the classroom and to point them onto a path to success; not as educational robots, but as people.

Pedagogy is the study of being an educator and the process of teaching. We are facing not only a fiscal problem in our education system but a pedagogical problem as well.

Schools often leave students with a void unfilled: curriculums aren’t meant to be engaging but instead they are meant to instil literacy and introductory trade skills in students to prepare them for “the world outside.” We don’t teach youth to analyse the world around them, nor do we teach them about the world in a text book, but in “the world outside.” How do you expect youth to be ready for “the world outside” when the only things they know are elementary literacy skills?

Some say we need to teach our students values. Some push for those that stem from the Bible or Koran. Secularists would retaliate and point to the wrongs of government mixing religions into institutions. Both have a point. Schools don’t teach students how to be good people and citizens; solutions to the problem of character must be found by the students themselves. But then what interpretations are justifiable to teach youth in a society as diverse as ours?

The actual theoretical revolution in teaching students how to be people who are not just literate, but also aware, stems from a Brazilian man named Paulo Friere.  He pioneered a system of education which would become critical pedagogy. It is a very malleable discipline in that educators are pushed to discuss issues, topics and methods that engage youth in “the world outside.”

Friere realized that, “education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it” or it becomes “the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Our current system is the former. It is depriving students so that many youth drop out, let alone continue on to higher levels of education.

Why?

Youth look at secondary school only to find it as a waste of time because they have no engagement in it. They are learning things that they feel don’t apply to them and won’t advance them mentally, emotionally or fiscally. They then look to the fortune of borrowed money a post-secondary degree would cost. Finally they take the opportunity cost into consideration and end up quitting to search for immediate work.

Even in our education system, it isn’t a stretch to say that many students aren’t motivated to stay in school because of the development they gain in the classroom, but rather because of sports. Shouldn’t we have a system the pushes success through critical education instead of physical activity? Or does every mom want a Sidney Crosby or a LeBron James?

Why is it that when Anderson Cooper “asks the hard questions”, which mind you aren’t that hard, he’s considered a good reporter yet when our educators can’t ask the hard questions to get youth motivated, they aren’t considered bad educators?

In every subject there is room for critical thinking. In the humanities subjects like history and anthropology, students are being taught from the past to the present, or as present as possible, where a clear detachment from the material is prevalent.

Seriously, who cares about Catherine the Great?

We are being taught about her instead of the anti-imperialism movement that went on all through the developing world after the Second World War. Or the feminist movement that changed society from the turn of the 20th century onwards. Or the Black Power movement whose heroes not only preached for rights, but, in the case of Huey P. Newton, acted to protect those rights.

Even in the sciences we are rarely taught ethics.

Why wasn’t I taught that Monsanto is looking to patent human genetic code but was narrowly defeated in a Supreme Court Case?

Why hasn’t the cure for cancer been developed yet?

A cure could easily be found in a blade of grass yet that wouldn’t be patentable thus not profitable, that’s why there are more scientists looking to cure hair removal and cosmetics then lethal diseases like cancer and AIDS.

Why did I hear that from a documentary and not the three different science teacher I had in high school?

This is just the introduction of a multi-part series on our need for education reform in a critical capacity. I hope so far that I’ve opened the door for some critical thinking into our schools. Stay tuned for a deeper look and a personal note within the next few days.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Jon permalink
    June 21, 2011 10:10 pm

    Well said sir. I’ve been a co-op student in a grade 3 classroom and the one lesson that I’ve learned is just how inneffective our education system is. I’m excited to hear your future posts on the subject.

  2. June 21, 2011 10:12 pm

    I cannot explain how excited I was to read this article. This is the single biggest crisis facing the human population. Obviously some are better off than others, but systematically children are becoming programmed robots who can only comprehend the small sliver of academic interest which comes naturally to them. From personal experience, in high school I was made to feel like a complete idiot because I did not understand math or grasp the ‘why should I care’ about science. All that was taught was that memorizing these formulas will guarantee you university. Well, so what? Colleges are pumping out more jobs, and I still have room mates who couldn’t argue a point to save their lives. Since university, my interest in neuroscience has exploded, how come people didn’t tell me how amazing the brain is in high school and how consciousness is simply a delicate chemical balance? Great job sir, I look forward to more

  3. Megan permalink
    June 21, 2011 10:20 pm

    One of the major points that I feel you left out was the discipline within the school system. Public school has become “too easy” or if I may “lazy” allowing children to simply not answer questions and leave them with no deadlines. In high school there is no late policy or mark deductions for when you had your papers in; allowing students to slack off and spend weeks on a paper they should’ve had days for — this barely prepares (if even prepares) them for University or the work force where deadlines are a part of life, causing lazy and unhealthy work habits in all sections. There has also been discussion and in some schools implementation, of removing essays from the high school curriculum because they are not geared towards all learning types, instead being replaced with assignments that are to be answered in a single paragraph. Lastly (and this shocked me) students are now being given the “right to pass” in school; if they do no wish to answer a question they are allowed to pass and not be penalized for not knowing/answering a question — worst case scenario a child could “pass” every question every asked of him/her verbally from KG-Gr 8 !! Based off of these public school changes, its no wonder why no one seems to be prepared for the outside world and some of them are barely being challenged intellectually the figure out what that world is.

  4. June 21, 2011 10:35 pm

    When I was in middle school, teachers and schools were unable to hold children back if they failed school that year. They were ONLY allowed to hold them back if their parents agreed. Most of the times the parents of the students who failed thought it was absurd to penalize their precious pearl so they advanced a grade despite not knowing half of what was required to pass the grade.

  5. Alex Moldovan permalink
    June 21, 2011 11:54 pm

    I do agree with Megan and Parker in that we do coddle our kids more then in the past but thing is society has changed. Basic schooling is a requirement for just about every job on the market. In my parent’s generation dropping out wasn’t as big of an issue because you could always apply for a job in manufacturing which didn’t tend to have literacy requirements as strict as we have now. That was in part why the system was tougher on kids because there was a safety net. If we look at modern societies, like Japan, that have strict school systems in our primarily service sector economy we find hard academics accompanied by a high youth suicide rates and I wouldn’t bet against those kids being many times more stressed then even the most studious of kids in our system. I think, as my next few articles will venture on, that the main issue is one of engagement. We have to give kids reasons to succeed and part of that is talking to the social and economic issues that are relevant to them in their lives from an early(er) stage in their development. Then I think our school’s grades overall will increase then we could look into making programs a bit tougher then they already are. After all our society does reward hard work but it adores those who are innovative. If kids are lead to critical thinking then innovation will follow then hard work will come into place.

  6. eng student permalink
    June 22, 2011 12:21 am

    Lots of landmines here. For background i’m currently in engineering at a canadian university.
    On ethics – not the easiest thing to teach if you are not in the field as each field sees things differently. Defining something as a failure is actually really hard without the advance knowledge gain in the specific field. Usually using case histories is the best way to teach why things are important.
    Sciences – A science teacher is limited to there knowledge and background. A documented is a piece that should be well researched which takes ALOT of time.
    Math – MATH IS EVERYTHING!!! GET USED TO IT! and teach integrals in high school, you won’t be slaughtered in first year calculus. (its required the 1st week in physics) Slope is the single most used concept.
    English – teach grammar and phonics. There are many who have disabilities which would have been corrected or somewhat fixed if this occurs. Also writing would improve dramatically. Parents can GTFO on the subject unless they can prove they know there own grammar rules. Also technical writing is extremely difficult if your English is poor.
    Homework – This bothers me when they give kids less. In university it will be a cycle of class, eat, sleep, study, assignments with party time being the only outlet. Better start early and get used to it so its possible to have free time and sleep!
    Teachers not telling Why – the 1 thing that MUST be changed. Tell me why i should care and I will listen. Tell me because its on the test, I will not care. Bribe me with lego, and I will care. I slept through high school to be honest. My school did a good job with giving us a reason to care and be active. Think globally and act locally is indeed the best moto to teach around.
    The introduction of the internet – teaching kids at a VERY young age to tell a bs site from a legit one. Critical thinking comes with teaching how to pick out crap information from good information. The case of Dihydrogen Monoxide (H2O) is a clear winner.

  7. June 22, 2011 12:35 am

    I think teaching kids critical thinking at a young age is also a very important thing to do. Kids are very susceptible to misinformation. Kids believe in a lot of things because it sounds good to them and they just don’t know better. Parents and educators should work together to teach kids how to think critically and look at all sides of each argument, rather than hold to one opinion and never waver. Holding true to your convictions is not always a bad thing, but it is when you block out everything else and don’t give it a chance to make sense.

  8. Sean permalink
    June 22, 2011 1:06 am

    On the topic of secularization of curriculum; I heard that in the US the company has a big stake in Texas’ school system, which has a very strict religious board that pushes hard for a certain curriculum to be approved. Since the books the company publishes are set to that standard it often gets reciprocated across the rest of the country.

  9. June 22, 2011 1:14 am

    I would like to see more tech education in school. The key reason why many folks in my stats classes didn’t get a high enough mark is because they had no idea in terms of how to use data sets in excel. I used boolean logic to create a simple equation to discern whether or not every row’s data results in a true or false value. I was done in less than 5 minutes. My fellow students? Oh, they typed over 200 lines manually.

    Fact of life: if you can’t use a computer and software that comes with it to the best of your ability, tough luck in the working world.

  10. James P. permalink
    June 22, 2011 2:21 am

    I’m just exiting High School, so I figured I’ll share my thoughts.

    This is my 3rd time writing this massive post. I’ll basically sum it up extremely quickly…
    -content in highschools isn’t interesting.
    -content in highschools isn’t engaging.
    -teenagers are recommended to ‘prepare themselves for anything’ come university, which basically means dumping tons of academic work that teens aren’t interested in the subjects they are taking.

    I can write a reply extrapolating on those 3 points, but what I’ve written (and consequently cut) nearly exceeded the original post length… so I’ll spare everyone here.

  11. June 22, 2011 5:30 am

    James: we’d honestly really enjoy hearing it!

    • James P. permalink
      June 22, 2011 3:54 pm

      I’ll to be concise, so I don’t end up writing more than I need to/so that it’ll be as organized as possible.

      CONTENT IN HIGH SCHOOLS IS NOT INTERESTING

      It’s true. Take me for example. I love the bleeding edge of physics discovery. I love reading about the Large Hadron Collider. I love reading about the universe as it exists, and learning about the origins of it. I love learning about all of these highly theoretical theories that are being proposed every day, that threaten what we know to be true today. In highschool, I took both Physics 20 and Physics 30… what did I learn. Optics, mirrors, refraction, reflection, projective motion, dynamics, waves and wavelengths, electromagnetic energy, power/work/energy, nuclear physics. Only one of those subjects interested me, and if you haven’t guessed — it’s the last topic. While the information presented was great basic information… it wasn’t interesting in the slightest – I don’t think anybody really *wanted* to learn those things. Some of the information, like Projectile Motion, could POSSIBLY have a realife use, but other things – like calculating dipoters for lenses – was pretty dumb and didn’t really do much for me.

      Or how about Highschool English classes? Canadian Lit. had some of both the most interesting pieces and some of the most boring pieces of literature I’ve read. Some of the class was indeed interesting.. I read the book ‘Three Day Road’ which is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, but, I also read content that quite literally put me to sleep. I know that the content studied IS Canadian, but it’s certainly not the cream of the crop. The other Grade 12 level English class dealt with some good and some bad pieces of work, as well. The Kite Runner was good, and I know that some people really enjoyed Nineteen Eighty Four, but other kids can’t stand Shakespeare (who I believe is, inpart the bane of most English Education today).

      That said, the content inside of these coureses isn’t always interesting. In fact, a lot of the time, the content isn’t interesting at all. I can see where some of this information will fit into the grand scheme of education and learning (if you’re going to be a physicist, those basics ARE important), but the boring basics need to be heavily supplemented with interesting content, or student’s simply won’t have the desire to be educated, and will continue coming to school simply because someone is behind them with a finger extended towards the door.

      CONTENT IN HIGH SCHOOLS IS NOT ENGAGING

      You can’t engage students over boring content. You can try, but students simply won’t pay anymore attention then the absolute basic amount. That’s basically it. The second part of this is that content really *isn’t* engaging, even with interesting material. I know that over the last decade or so, there has been a push to make teaching more engaging, but the efforts aren’t showing through. Teachers often leave their course work alone, causing kids to do the same worksheets that require them to read through content and answer questions. Overall, this is an *alright* way of learning, but with kids growing up in this digital age, more has to be done to engage and interact with the students. Students are growing up in an age of connectivity like they have never been before, and it’s changing the way they think. The material needs to change to engage students in new ways. I’m not sure how to do this, but I do know that there must be a way.

      But of course, you can have really engaging content… you just need it to be interesting.

      NON-ACADEMIC STUDENTS ARE TAKING ON ACADEMIC SCHEDULES

      This is a massive problem in highschools from my area for sure, and I’d imagine other schools, too.

      During orientation, just before you pick your classes, guidance councellers get up on stage and basically strongly recommend students to do the full academic schedule. This basically means:
      -2 or 3 sciences (4 – 6 classes)
      -Englishes (5 classes)
      -ALL Math classes (7 classes)
      -3 Social Sciences
      and, if you’re with a catholic school
      -3 Christian Ethics classes, required.

      This lineup gives you 24 classes total, which is enough to graduate on. This is one of the largest problems when it comes to the ‘robotifying’ of students: non-academic students take on full-academic schedules. I seen far too much of this in my time at Highschool – and this comes to the detriment of the first two points I listed: how can you engage and interest students with content they have no chance of enjoying/be interested by? Good luck! Too often students take “everything they need” to be “fully ready” for beyond Highschool. The truth is that if Students only wanted 24 credits, they could be out of Highschool 1 semester early… too bad that < 0.01% students know that.

      Plenty of students do invest themselves into electives, but they only do so by throwing that on top of their existing academic schedule. Who ever said that the majority of students should be graduating with 30 credits? We need to guide students to choose a more desirable schedule. I'd say it's likely that reducing stress, and focusing interest on a few carefully selected classes would raise both interest and engagement, provided that the material and teaching style is designed for it. Stop making students grind through all math classes (including Calc) and several sciences. Sure, they come out more educated… but the quality of education isn't anywhere near what it should be.

  12. anonymous permalink
    June 22, 2011 12:25 pm

    Why teach history if I can just google anything and learn about it in 5 minutes?
    Why write with proper grammar and punctuation if no one cares when I make a mistake, or spell correctly when everything has auto-correct?
    Why study economics when nothing is for sure?

    In highschool I learned what apathy was, then i stopped trying….

  13. June 22, 2011 3:39 pm

    Its nice to see an article touching on the pedagogical problems – especially since I myself viewed high school as a daycare. Personally, I find that the curriculum fails to engage students in a way that allows them to properly learn. Instead of engaging with lessons, you are taught to be passive, accept, and regurgitate information – if you couldn’t do that, you probably didn’t do very well; at least I didn’t. My opinions were constantly thwarted with supposed best intentions as my opinions were a distraction to other students. Honestly, high school produces cookie cutter kids, you don’t learn enough to develop your own opinions, let alone defend them. You learn mainstream events in some chronological fashion that may or may not be important depending on the popular opinion of the moment.

  14. June 24, 2011 8:55 am

    “Teaching ethics” HA!

    Let me tell you, it’s this attitude that is ruining our system.

    We need to stop blaming the curriculum, it has worked in the past to bring up literacy, employment, and labour productivity…

    Start looking at parents. Start looking at changing the set-up of schools. Not the curriculum.

    And by the way, “Ethics” are EXTREMELY subjective. A high school student does not need to know about Monsanto, if he really wanted to know, he could go to radical leftism 101 at some local community centre… honestly

    We need math, English, science and history to be taught to children, this provides standards for them to apply to their LATER career ambitions- them thinking it isn’t interesting is not an issue of changing the curriculum.

    The logic you are following is basically as follows: If we notice that people do not find their jobs interesting, they should go up to their employers and say “this is boring, you should let me do my work on my laptop on the golf course- it’ll make me more productive” you’d get fired.

    If you don’t think what you are being taught is interesting, you either need to suck it up, or find another school.

    This brings me to the next point- our schooling system needs to be re-vamped, we need something called school choice/ vouchers.

    Basically, this has been implemented in several schools in the U.S., Sweden, New Zealand and Alberta; it is when the govn’t pays for a “voucher” that is good to use to attend any school- public or private.

    I’d go into the just of it all- but alas I am at work.

    However it is has shown improvement in graduation rates and test scores across the board.

    So- just because you are passionate about your political views, does not mean they are the only valid opinions and “truths” and should not be taught in school.

    I find it very upsetting when people are saying “oh I saw this fact in an underground documentary and now I will petition my local school board to introduce it into our children’s curriculum”.

    Our schooling is very much based off of the basic facts and knowledge we need to thrive later on in life- and is not some political brainwashing tool.

    I’m sorry, but this article is absurd.

    btw, I’m sure you are not a research scientist, so I don’t think it is a good idea to be throwing arround that cure for cancer line much…

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