Short version: High schools should prepare students for LIFE. Not college.
Long version: I have traditional ideas when it comes to education. That, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of educating going on since schools ditched the Classical Method in the 40’s and began experimenting with kooky social engineering methods. The Classical Method is broken down into two sections: the trivium and quadrivium. (Susan Wise Bauer has an exceptional article about the Classical Method, and the late Dorothy Sayer’s article The Lost Tools of Learning is outstanding– that was written in 1947!). The trivium covers grammar, logic, and rhetoric for the primary grades, and the quadrivium taught arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Schools today stuff children full of facts, some trivial, some meaningful, but by and large schools do not teach children to think logically and to communicate logically and coherently. Sometime after the 1950’s, schools largely adopted John Dewey’s philosophy of “student-based” education; that is, that a student must be allowed free expression, and his school experience molded to allow for that freedom of expression. He is taught enough to get by– that is, he knows enough mathematics to get by on his job and enough grammar to fill out a job application. But to reason and deduce and communicate reason and deduction? If you are reading the headlines, you see that isn’t happening very much.
Allow me to quote from Sayer’s article. It is BRILLIANT and so aptly illustrates what the point of this post is:
When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects–but does that always mean that they actually know more?
Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?
Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?
Yes, I have felt that sinking of the heart. I attended several schools (government-run) and graduated knowing very little that prepared me for a life of logical thinking and reasoning. Oh sure, I could work at McDonald’s, or even work a professional job and earn money. That’s what social engineering is all about– getting the kid to function just enough to earn something to pay the IRS, but educating them so little that they cannot reason and recognize the injustice of the system that needs their labor. In return, we are rewarded with cars and TV. Big whoop.
One day, I was homeschooling my daughter in algebra. We were both struggling with the problems, as well as the concept of it all. Why do we have to do this? What purpose will it serve for life? This is useless! But then it struck me– work like this teaches logic. It forces the brain to think in patterns, as if the logic and critical thinking carves a pathway through the brain. So while we may not overtly do algebra at the grocery store (yet, we do if we do such tasks as compare prices by units and such), the learning of algebra has opened up a pattern of thinking that will endure forever, unless of course it dies from neglect and misuse.
So what does this all have to do with college?
One hundred years ago, a student learned all he needed to know by high school graduation. See this very interesting graduation test from 1895 in Salina, Kansas; a student was required to pass this test to graduate. While some of the questions pertain uniquely to a long-lost agricultural society (loads of wheat, and so forth), it’s obvious that students were able to think — and expected to think — logically at an early age.
Today, we have the perpetual student, where an individual is really not a full-fledged, educated adult until he is 25– 13 years of high school with 4 years of college thrown in. That’s outrageous! And judging by today’s standards, the “educated” description is highly suspect. The educational system of the schools are defective. It may not be evident in elementary school, where the child’s natural curiosities lead him on, but studies show that by 8th grade, the student’s education is so defunct that it would have been better that the child graduated in 5th grade. Standards are continually being revised and watered down to artificially inflate tests results. See Samuel Blumefeld’s great article The Great American Education Fraud and Education vs. Training.
College is, by and large, a vast waste of time. By the time the child graduates, he (or his parents) are thousands of dollars in debt. Degrees, especially the popular Liberal Arts degrees, mean very little to nothing. Of course, professional degrees mean something, but FOUR YEARS for most degrees?! I wonder if colleges are encouraging high schools to tailor high school education to admission into college, since the colleges have a vested financial interest in so doing….
Certainly I am taking advantage of stereotypes for some of my examples, but truly– if high schools were doing their jobs properly, there would be no need of higher education save for highly skilled professions such as in the medical field or aeronautics. High schools should not tailor their curriculum to appease colleges. High schools should tailor their curriculum to educate students. Unfortunately, looking at the statistics, many high schools are doing neither. 🙁
What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers–they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education [ought to be] simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain. -Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning