Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kenny Saved by the Bell: The Individual at School.

Above all, when we look at the episodes of South Park, especially the ones that are most controversial (see my blog earlier), it is obvious that Butters, or Kenny, or Cartman, or any of the others continually question the status quo around them. The established rules of society are unquestioned, until Matt Stone and Trey Parker do so in a hilarious and sarcastic way. The series has been banned in some places in Russia, and I'm sure have been banned from many households in America. Society has long kept those who question the world around them at arms length. Skeptics are those who question the rules of society, who evaluate the reasoning behind them, and often, as Jonathan Swift or Lewis Carroll did, write bitingly funny works of literature exposing the paradoxes of the cultures around them. Thus we have, in "A Modest Proposal," a quite serious argument to eat the 8-year-olds of the Irish poor, as they are being squeezed out of all other treasures through taxes and other rules.

Obviously, the powers that be have no wish to have people stabbing 95 Theses on the doors of the government, or of the church (nowadays it would be published at blogs). Therefore, the same characteristics that promote individuality would be the ones that society (the church, the school) would want to squash. Because different thoughts would be detrimental to the people who are currently in power. Thankfully, in America, such thoughts and questions are asked openly, what with the 1st Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech (that statement alone would take a blog of much length, but I'll let it pass.) However, in order to express those thoughts, one must first have to learn how to form the questions and base his or her opinions upon facts and theories. Thus one way to control skeptics and other thinkers is to control the education system so that everyone is taught equally, and taught in such a way that it is hard to form opinions and question those that are educating the students. In a similar manner, I have found it extremely hard to have any kind of philosophical or theological conversation in the churches I have attended, as anything that would be looked as questionable would be considered sinful. I want to look at, in this blog (and probably the next), the way in which education should work in this country, and also why questioning the church is vital for a person's spiritual growth.

I've often wondered, in my days since I taught, what happened to some of the students I saw struggling through the day. There was one student, last name Price, who did no homework, was a constant disruption in class, and probably should have been expelled long before he got to my class (probably through social promotions.) But I noticed that he did have skill, intelligence, the open eyes that signal some fire burning inside them. But as Prometheus brought that fire, I couldn't help but think that somehow, our school was trying to squelch it. I heard stories of his abilities, how he could easily take apart a lawn mower, repair it, and put it back together, with the skill of an expert mechanic. I've seen other students, who, while they couldn't understand or deal with reading assignments and abstract math problems, could draw wondrous pictures of images in their head. While student teaching at NW High in Macon, I had the students draw a picture of what they thought Grendel would look like. I had one student, who, while he failed miserably on English assignments, drew a monster that I'd substitute for Grendel from then on. I will accept that it is partially their fault that they have not learned how to become educated in audio or visual manners, I often wonder how we have failed in developing the talents of these individuals.

When we take a look at the education system as a whole, we see that students are herded like cattle into a school and taught as closely the same as possible, even while the talented are forsaken and the struggling students are forgotten, placed in broom closets and given ISPs. I would have given anything to see Price taken to a Technical school and taught the intricacies of the mechanical world. He would have (and might still now) make more money than some of the brightest students in his class. And I would give equally to see the truly gifted children taken to higher and higher levels, where their talent would shine forth, instead of languishing in the back of classrooms where teachers repeat things for grade after grade, or teach to some standardized test that means little to the children, and a whole lot to the school systems and their wallets.

Take the educational system that Thoreau used as a teacher in Concord, Mass in the 1830's. Concord Academy used the classroom the world gave them. Thoreau used the tools he had (his father ran a pencil factory) and took the students on trips picking blueberries, from which he no doubt taught as Plato and Socrates did, in the shadows of trees below the city walls of Athens. The children then read the books and did the homework they had to do, only to go on another quest the next day. With the small class size, each student was, hopefully, taught and trained to be the best they could be given their own specific abilities. He despised rote learning and canings for punishment, rather teaching self-regulation as discipline.

We cannot do this with all the children that exist today (the thousands in Conyers alone would make it impossible). But perhaps the time is here to look at public education as not something to be given equally among all pupils, but more individually, to each according to his ability. Why would society think that, putting 1000 children in one building, that they should all learn the same way, getting the same information at the same time all for, supposedly, the same purpose. The idea of the school as some training ground for college is absurd, and should be rejected outright. There are other countries, such as Japan, that teach their children differently, and include the training needed to become successful in today's markets. Here's a proposal that might work:

Each child should be taught similarly until about the 7th or 8th grade, and this differs little from that of today's public schools. During these years, teachers should write down observations about the students and place them in a file (much like they have now), about the strengths and weaknesses of each child. They should be interviewed once every 3 years or so, and those wishes and desires of what they want to do should be noted and encouraged. A child should have his own say so into what path his education should take. At the point of 7th grade, the file should be looked at, along with the child's interviews and the opinions of the parents, and then they should be given options... stay in a college preparatory program, one that would prepare someone for a liberal arts degree... go to a school that would train students for technical and vocational work, much like the Rockdale Career Academy, but supervised by private companies that want to develop and train students in working with cars, computers, graphic design, accounting...etc... or maybe something much different, much like the Academy in Ancient Greece, which would train the literary and philosophical minded students in law, philosophy, liberal arts...etc... And there are others as well... medical school, athletic training, ROTC... as long as there is a private need for those students, and the private industry would invest into the children that are being trained, with instruments and instructors, and, if they are good enough, jobs for the graduates, this would be an excellent way to develop the kinesthetic learner into someone who would be truly successful in their lives. Learn with your hands, mold the knowledge with your fingers, create as God created, breathe life into the lifeless. I would so enjoy seeing the children of this country develop themselves into a force that no other country could compete with. And the advances and the technological breakthroughs that would result of this. Truly amazing!! The world would turn upside down, all because of the training of the individual, not the herding of the masses.

We cannot answer a child's soul until they ask "why?" And if they are punished for questioning the world they live in, then learning becomes a punishment. The most brilliant child in the world, one with bright, hungry eyes, asking their parents every question in the world, doesn't that make you want to lift them up so that they can bask in the realm of knowledge and wisdom and become the best person that they can be? But if we ignore them, talking on our cell phone and leaving the teaching up to those who are barely able to survive (today's modern teachers), then have we not failed in raising the children we have borne? They were brought into the world to achieve what no other human could, whatever that may be. We should do whatever it takes to enable our children to learn and grow and flourish, to reach the limits of what they can conceive, and then to keep on going.

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