July 2, 2003 01:57 PM

I'm surprised more people haven't already responded to Alison's WHB question this week.

She asks (see full question on WHB) what an ideal educational system would be like.

I'm treated to a lot of radical opinions on education on a daily basis, thanks to my partner's unique perspective on teaching. Actually, he ought to be guest blogging and answer to this one; his opinions have influenced me that much.

The first part of her question (there's a second, which I'll get to later):

What do you feel is important to learn to survive in the world and who would teach it? Do you cater to a specific group of students, or are you open to all? What teachers would you choose or what would you look for in a teacher? What would you like the students to leave with?

I would de-standardize curricula. Beyond a basic ability to use a calculator and read/speak the predominant language, integrative thinking is probably the most useful skill a kid of any age could get from school. People seem to reach that most effectively by tying what's going on in the world with what's going on in their lives and what has happened before (fictionally, figuratively, or historically). Some schools have attempted integrative curricula, but they seem to always miss the most important part - the student his or her world.

Schools generally don't have the library resources they need. I don't mean rooms of books - though, yes, those are useful. But classrooms that offer learning opportunities. Books, videos, internet sites, images, recipes, whatever might be vaguely related to the subject at hand. Everyone learns a little differently, is interested in different things. The more resources you have available, the more likely each student is to find something that intrigues him or her.

I think schooling today focuses much too much on proving that things have been remembered and less on allowing the student to evolve an interest. Yes, there are a lot of practical constraints (teaching staff, budget, political demands that schools show the value they add) that lead to our current school system in the US, but that doesn't mean we couldn't come closer to ideal within some of those constraints. Even just giving teachers a few more resources, or a little more freedom to build discussion into the class would help.

As for teachers. Well. It seems like many teachers think of students as a thing to be disciplined or vessels for the importation of knowledge, not collaborators in learning. Some of the shifts in corporate management philosophy (ie referring to employees as "associates", building more collaborative workspaces) would really benefit schools if applied there. We're talking about major, radical reform here, though. School is very much structured in a hierarchy, and the whole structure would have to change (students, teachers, administration, everything) for this to work.

What else do we need? More teachers who actually respect and like their students. I know some. I know some teachers who aren't like this. This wide variance may well be a result of the status of teachers - they're essentially pink collar workers, hardly paid what they're worth. And sending one's children to private school by no means improves their likelihood of encountering respectful, expert teachers - in fact, private school teachers are generally less well-paid and less likely to have expertise in the field they teach.

I could say so much more on this topic, and I probably will. But here's a response for now.

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