Every day there’s a new article chronicling the plight of education in the United States. I just read one today in the Atlantic. Every pundit has a different scapegoat. It’s the teachers. It’s the teachers’ unions. It’s the parents. There’s no money. The school day isn’t long enough. Video games are the problem. Blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s all of these … and it’s none of these. The problem is that our children just aren’t learning. But how can we expect anything more of them. We put hurdles in their way every chance we can. The bottom line is we are not giving them the platform they need when they walk into school every morning. If you prepared yourself for work the same way – you’d be in the soup line outside the homeless shelter. I’m not a teacher, or principal. I’m just someone who raised a kid and paid attention what worked for my daughter (and for myself when I was growing up) … and what didn’t. Here’s are my observations – and correspondingly, my suggestions:
- We need more physical education in school, not less. I find it ironic, that many parents put a priority on their own fitness and its benefits, yet don’t care if their children are chained to desks eight hours a day with none. The more exercise, the more oxygen that flows to the brain … and the better it works. We are taught exercise in old age to wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – yet ignore its benefits in young growing minds. And don’t get me started on the child obesity epidemic and the affects it has on focus and learning
- Incorporate healthy food consumption in school. Whether it’s getting rid of junk food or adding healthy ‘in-school’ breakfast programs – food is the fuel for performance. We can say it’s the responsibility of the parents, but that doesn’t fix the problem. We can significantly make a dent by just “kick starting’ our kids every morning by feeding them nourishment that releases it’s energy gradually, rather that in a “spike and crash” fashion that most often is the norm. Even prison food is better. All we have to do is look at ourselves and the effect what types of food has on our own performance.
- Change the average class length to two hours. Don’t increase the length of the school day. We have to get off this chasing the Chinese thing we’re enamoured with. Out of an hour class – only maybe forty minutes of it is actually used for instruction. Subtracting the time it takes to get from class to class, settle into their desks and waiting for the bell to ring – a third of class time is transition. Synaptic connections are strengthened best by focused periods of attention when the brain can build on a single topic – not constantly switching gears. Imagine organizing your work like a normal class schedule – yea right! Giving a child ninety or hundred minutes of concentrated thought on one topic will build the synapses so that half of it isn’t forgotten by the time they get home.
- Teach writing … everywhere and all the time. Outside from composing music, the most stimulating thing you (or your child) can do is write. So why do our kids do so little of it in school. Writing is a skill that will be universal for the rest of their lives. Every discipline in school should incorporate writing in their curriculum. Have the kids write about the subject material – not just memorize. Use English class for more of an editing function – than just composition. By writing about the material in each class, serious thought will need be used.
- Teach to relevancy not random facts. Currently our schools teach facts based around whats going to be on a standardized test. This instruction has no relevancy to our kids. It’s just random stuff that some old guy has told them they’re going to have to learn. Things happen in the world every day – and each can be a learning experience – a experience (a life story) that will stick and will be built on years in the future. You want children to be civic-minded – spend a month on the political elections when they’re happening. Conduct mock elections with the kids having roles in the campaign process. Discuss local as well as national issues. Engage them, show them the relevancy to their lives. Teach to stories. It’s been proven time and time again, a brain digests information via stories far better than anything else. Any sales trainer will tell you this. Yet we continue to pound random irrelevant facts into their brains and wonder why they don’t stick.