Educational Keep-away: Stop Wasting [Our] Time
Ever wonder why you finished the school year without making it to the last chapters of your textbooks? Was it the pacing of the lessons or did the students' lack of comprehension slow things down? It could have been either of these or another reason entirely. There are many sources of wasted time in the system, and they aren't always what you think.
Education officials (not necessarily educators themselves) often blame extra-curricular activities for lower test scores or failed benchmarks, so they try to get rid of programs like recess and culture expos. They do not know how to differentiate from good and bad distractions. Recess and expos are not bad distractions; recess provides a needed break to academic concentration, while said expos fulfill a variety of social needs such as individual expression of character and ethnic background. Japan has both, and their Spartan educational system well surpasses our American one. My sensei told us that this is due to how lessons are structured and reinforced. In America, we are simply doing it wrong. This is not hard to imagine. One distraction I think we can do away with to a certain degree is the bus evacuation drill. This is required through twelfth grade, but I think it stopped being truly necessary by middle school. In high school, everyone was bored with it and could jump off the back of the bus with ease; it had only posed a challenge when we were elementary school munchkins. One year it gave a pair of twins an opportunity to switch places and go to the wrong classes with the teachers none the wiser; it was a laugh when they finally revealed themselves.
Through college, the hierarchy of courses can be dubious at best and downright scandalous at worst. The movie Accepted touched on this a little, showing how prerequisites and other course requirements for your major can screw things up and prevent you from studying what you really want to learn about. This can be chalked up to your path being laid out for you toward your degree of choice and the system knowing what's best for you, which can actually be worse than not being able to reach the end of the text books in high school. In the latter case, you at least have the opportunity to do extra reading on your own if you so desire; after all, time marches on and therefore lessons have to reach farther and farther back. Ten months is not sufficient to cover everything from the Revolutionary War to the modern era (we always got stuck around World War II, just in time for important dates in May relevant to the subject). Certain lessons also require more time than others, so equal coverage cannot always be allotted and timed perfectly.
The worst crime of the educational system is the pay-to-play setup of college courses. Whether college tuition should be free or not is a different discussion. The content of undergrad to graduate courses can be disconcerting depending on the topics offered at each level. In high school, my library internship amounted to busywork, but I learned from it and felt like I was contributing to the school. My undergrad library science courses laid the foundation for the area of study, but one of the full-time professors noted that all of it was high school level material; the real learning wouldn't take place until the graduate level. It was like being told to put more quarters into the payphone to get to the real grist of the conversation I was trying to have. I didn't feel like paying into the system anymore since I had (and still have) my undergrad loans to deal with first, so I hung up the phone. If there's one thing I don't like it's being jerked around. If you're not going to teach me anything useful until the graduate level, what sort of education am I currently paying for? What sort of meaningful life lessons or experiences am I getting out of it? It would be nice if teachers dropped nuggets of wisdom from time to time outside of the lessons or at least teach a moral to be taken out of history instead of just dates and facts to be tested on later.
Let's consider lessons on World War II. Due to its many facets, it does take the longest to cover and comprehend the atrocities that occurred on both fronts. The images and descriptions of those atrocities will never leave the students' minds, but let's go a step further and make it relevant to their lives or at least the world we now live in. Some classes have students read The Wave, but this does not always drive the point home, especially for those stubborn and reluctant to read. Bottom line: bullies are oppressors. Those who oppress their peers are bullies. The Nazis did more than just oppress people. Don't be Nazis. Don't be bullies. If you can't make that lesson the take-away message in order to decrease bullying and prevent history from repeating itself, then your mission has failed. Of course, the way current events have turned out, a student will likely accuse you of calling him a Nazi and have you fired. A teacher was recently fired for standing up for a student who was being bullied, the bully claiming to have been threatened by the teacher when in reality she did not. A similar thing happened in that fourth Minds book in the dystopian version of Winnipeg when Lenora and Coren were accosted by a mob of parents for picking on two girls who had been about to beat up a younger girl and take her toy. Kids these days indeed. Adults these days too for enabling this sort of behavior.
In conclusion, education may not be a waste of time but it certainly does waste a lot of your time. At the risk of letting the inmates run the asylum, students should be able to have a little more input in what they learn and when. To say the system needs an overhaul is an understatement, but those in charge would likely take away the wrong aspects of the learning experience and beef up those that are unnecessary for true learning to take place. It's like they're playing keep-away with what we really hope to achieve and find worthwhile, delaying its availability and charging more for it. This is not a game. Stop wasting our time.