Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2005 Issue

Taken To School: What's Wrong With Education

Dunce

Today's kids aren't as dumb as they let on.


By Michael Stillman

Do you want to know what's wrong with education today? I know. Recently, I had an opportunity to return to class with a bunch of high schoolers, some 40 years after my own graduation. Now more observer than participant, it all became clear. It's not poor teachers, old books, bad facilities, or any of the other things we blamed when we were students. No it isn't. The problem is with the students. Let me explain.

My son recently got his first car and first license. Do you know what insurance costs for a young male? If not, you don't want to. I asked the agent if there was anything I could do to reduce the cost. One suggestion was that he take a drug and alcohol awareness program. That would save him 5%. Then, she added, "you too can save 5% by taking the course." The course is given in two-hour sessions, over three days. Well, I was going to have to drive him to class, and probably sit around for the two hours anyway, so why not join in and save the 5%? The manager warned me that they did not have any sessions specifically for older drivers, so I would primarily be in class with younger people, but that I would still earn my discount. So I signed up.

Let me tell you, they weren't kidding about it being a class of younger people. My son was the second oldest student in the class, and I've got 40 years on him. This was a class of high school students, one college student, and one geezer. For three days, I reported to class, and observed the behavior and interactions between my fellow students, and came away understanding why they aren't learning anything in school.

The course was for the most part what I expected. The instructor long ago realized you can't make kids do anything. Telling them they shouldn't drink and drive or do drugs and drive is as likely to be counterproductive as successful. Not even movies about or other explanations of the terrible consequences of drunken driving was likely to move them. So he approached the course as informational. He essentially told the kids he couldn't make them do anything, so instead he would just present the data. What, if anything they did with it, he explained, was up to them. All he could do was present the facts.

Speaking aside to me before class, he explained he would be happy if someone, just one, of these kids was affected by what he taught. He was resigned to the fact that it might impact no one. As he explained, those who are concerned about the dangers aren't going to drink and drive. Those who aren't concerned, or lack the self-discipline to resist the pressures that lead them to drink and drive, will continue to do so anyway. Effectively, these kids would spend six hours ignoring what was said in the classroom and then go about doing what they were going to do anyway. They were only there to save 5%, and once they put in their time, they would get that certificate which entitled them to a discount. All else would be forgotten.

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