Sunday, June 19, 2011

Graduations and Education in Today's World

Over the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend two different graduation ceremonies.  One was filled with the typical pageantry associated with these types of graduations - Pomp and Circumstance (a song we can all 'hum', yet are there words?), the Processional, the Recessional, Awarding of Diplomas.  The auditorium was filled with family and friends and, as usual, there was the requisite amount of picture-taking and well-wishes after the fact.  The other, though it had its own ceremonial gestures, was not quite as prim and proper.  Ironically, it seemed that both groups of graduates were filled with hope and promise, eagerness and apprehension.  You see the first group were high school seniors who were awarded their 'You're a grown-up now' papers.  They can now go face the world as adults - some heading to college, some heading into the workforce, some starting a family, and the others that will reside on mom and dad's couch for the next few years until they find themselves.  The second group was comprised of older individuals (relatively speaking) that had recently completed the GED program and were finally receiving their diplomas as well.  It was the first time I had attended one of these ceremonies for GED recipients and I was impressed.  All of these people, for whatever reason, had been left without a diploma in years gone by.  Impressively, though, they made a concious choice to return to school and get that diploma.  Let's face it, at 17 or 18, you still don't know what will make you happy for the rest of your life.  Some of these folks had gotten pregnant and had children, others had to quit school to help raise their siblings, while others still simply "dropped out."  No matter what the reason, though, they were here.  They had their families and friends with them as well, and they got cheers beyond belief when they finally made that walk across the stage, proudly, in their caps and gowns.  The smiles that evening were unbelievable, and their comments to the crowd of, "I finally made it!" were heartwarming.  They had something to prove and, unlike the high school seniors of the other graduation, they did this on their own terms without benefit of a parent demanding they get good grades and make it through.  It was impressive, to say the least, and a side of people I had rarely seen.

Don't get me wrong - the other graduation was nice, too, however it was typical of the annual event held across the country.  The scary part, for me, was what was to come this week.  You see, as the girls that I previously mentioned were sitting and talking with us, we began to discuss their grades.  We talked about the subjects they had problems with.  They complained, universally, about their teachers for certain subjects.  It was the same thing we had all done many years ago, yet there seemed to be something different.  As I have written in previous posts, you know that this is a subject near and dear to me, and one I care about greatly.  Being curious, I had to ask a few questions.  We were discussing History class and how they couldn't "get it".  What, I asked, was the problem and what was it that they couldn't "get".  They hit me with the subjects of History class that I struggle with to this day - The Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas.  Yes, there are more but, quite honestly, these still send shivers through me.  I decided to venture into subjects of which I was sure they were informed.  I asked about the Civil War....and was appalled.  Yeah, sorry.  They go to a high school named "Lee-Davis," yet get taught very little about the Civil War.  My blood pressure began to rise.  Okay, how about...and then it happened.  The recently graduated young lady told me, though it seemed I was criticizing their abilities to remember anything having to do with history, that she wrote a term paper on the concentration camps and got a score of 3950 of a possible 4000.  Based on that alone, I ask you, dear readers, if you think she'd have a grasp on the material.  Don't you think she pretty much, "nailed it?"  Me, too.  "What was the story of the concentration camps?" I asked.  "What was their significance?"  The reply I got was, "They killed a lot of people."  Fair answer and somewhat accurate but, I think we can all agree, not what I was looking for.  "Who did they kill?"  Again, a sparkling response - "The Germans."  Wait...I, umm....I about this, let's try again.  Might have been momentary confusion.  "You mean the Germans were the ones doing the killing, right?  Let me ask, how did they kill them?"  Please, everyone, before you read the response, please take a seat.  "They lined them up."  That's when it happened.  I could take it no longer.  "Are you kidding me?  The concentration camps, otherwise known as 'extermination camps', were for the killing of Jews.  Have you ever heard of the Holocaust?"  My voice might have risen a little in pitch and volume.  We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing what happened and how, with a term paper score that high, the teacher might have been absent the day the papers were graded.  The biggest compliment was from Brittany who told me they learned more in that fifteen minutes than entire week of history class.  I'm scared.

My point is this - I am seriously concerned about the education our children are getting at present.  I'm not blaming it all on the teachers.  I believe they have been 'put in a box' and are held accountable based almost entirely on their pupils standardized test scores.  We have an educational system that is more concerned with posting great scores on these exams so the funding can continue to flow into their districts.  I understand that reasoning, however might the test scores rise based on our educating the students properly and teaching them rather than having them simply memorize things?  My daughter, along with the other two girls, then informed me that, "It's hard and we can't learn it the way they teach it.  It's boring."  I told her they have been learning, not memorizing, since they were born.  I used the stove analogy - do you stick your hand on a red-hot burner?  Of course not...because somewhere along the line you 'learned' it was hot.  Maybe by burning yourself.  Regardless, you learned not to touch it.  Period.  We need to take the time to educate our children rather than training them to be breathing memory chips.  If they learn it, it will stay with them.  If they memorize it, it's gone when the test is over.  As a society, we need to focus our energy on doing what we did in years past - make learning fun and make it something a student wants to do.  We must help them yearn to learn.  Hey, that's kind of catchy, huh?  Perhaps, we can use that as our new sound bite when the next politician wants to get elected.  it sure beats, "Just Say NO!" or, "It takes a village to raise an idiot."  Wait...I might have that wrong.  It might have been idiots trying to tell us how to raise our kids while they neglected to educate them.  We need a solution....and we need educators and elected officials that care more about the students than they do about standardized testing.  Just my opinion.

Until next time.............

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