A friend of my son told me that her cohort was the most educated generation ever. I disagreed. I told her that while I believe that hers could claim more degrees and graduations than ever before, I didn’t really believe they were truly educated. I feel like way too many college graduates have, more or less, just spent 4-6 years learning a trade, like engineering, or software, or psychiatry. They have a LOT of knowledge in a narrow field of study or two. They don’t come out exposed to the ideas and having had the struggles that teach a person how to use that knowledge in a wise way. For the most part, they aren’t exposed to the great literature, even English majors read excerpts and synopses. They’ve memorized a few dates of events and the capitals of a lot of the countries of the world, but they aren’t taught how empires rise and fall, how history can spin on the smallest of incidents.
This is not necessarily the students’ fault, though they could do much to educate themselves while they were studying for their degree. I believe our schools have failed them and failed us. We depend on this rising generation for their innovation and creative abilities to improve life on earth.
The imagination and curiosity killing starts in kindergarten.
“Don’t explore and play and think; sit here in this chair and color this sheet. No, don’t color it blue. It’s obviously an apple; it must be red.
“I don’t care that numbers ‘just work together’ in your head and you always get the right answer. I care that you follow this strict procedure, carefully and laboriously writing each smidgen of information down, in the proper order. No, 3 x 4 is NOT the same thing as 4 x 3 and 12/4 is not division, it’s fractions, and we won’t be getting to either of those things until next year.”
This is not a rant about it being better in the old days. This is not new in the high schools. It was the same when I was there. I didn’t learn to think and learn and explore and grow. I learned to game the system. Nowadays most kids learn early how to game the system and to do it better than I did. They learn what’s important. Like forming straight lines on the way to the cafeteria. Like making sure you fill in the entire bubble on the score sheet. Like finding out what the teacher wants and giving it to her by memorizing just enough to get by on the quizzes. And you learn to go to the pep rally to cheer on the “real” important high school subjects—sports, and winning at all cost.
What’s changed is that now that whole attitude of making kids open their brains to be spoon fed only what they need to get a job, or into law school or the like, has crept upwards and outwards until colleges are just 13th grade. Plus, going to college is so expensive that you have to rush through as fast as you can, getting the minimum amount of credits however you can. There’s no exploring. There’s no asking questions that won’t be on the test. There’s no remembering or letting what you’ve learned influence you beyond the test. High school was like that when I was there, but college wasn’t. We were exposed to a wide variety of thoughts and ways of thinking. We were challenged to examine our own shortcomings and areas of prejudice. We were exposed to new ideas that our teenage brains just hadn’t been ready for.
Now, kids are exposed to almost everything (thanks TV and internet) at a younger and younger age. This has not increased their thinking skills. It has inoculated them against surprise. It has made them think that because they heard about something when they were nine, that they understand it with the depth of a mature human. They read graphic novels of the great literary books and say they read the book. They can’t be forced to read the “dense” prose of even a couple of hundred years ago.
That’s a large part of why I homeschooled. I didn’t want my boys spoon-fed the “correct” curriculum. I tried to show them a broad range of thoughts and thinking and how to apply their thinking and analyzing to anything they encounter. To be able to learn anything they want to or need to. —If you don’t know something, get some books and find out about it. If you need to do something you’ve never done before, figure out how to learn to do it. Don’t be afraid to take on new things.
That’s how we get innovators, leaders, and artists.
If you disagree (or agree) I would love to discuss this in the comments
3 thoughts on “Have We Failed Them?”
Amazing article S. I couldn’t agree with you more. I could write a post about how much I agree with you.
I soooo admire that you home schooled. I fear the curriculum will brainwash my precious baby. Sigh. We’ll see what we’ll do.
But yes, this generation definitely believe they’re the most educated but (I don’t know how it is in the US ) degrees have become A LOT easier to attain, it’s easier to actually get into uni, and of course A levels (SATs for you guys) have become easier. So it’s all about making it easy for every to get a degree…
But if everyone has one, does anyone really have one?
So much to ponder.
That’s why I value my precious brain and am always proud of my knowledge and education.
Thanks so much for this fantastic article.
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I agree. One of the most important lessons is how to learn to think. Computers are often learned the same way. You must hit this button combination or that link to have something happen. When the software or hardware gets upgraded (like before you leave the store with it) or the link gets moved, then everything is lost to the person. No one learns what the functions of the choices like File Save or New or whatever they just know when they finish they are supposed to hit Ctrl+F. Thinking is harder how because of the amount of stuff we have to sift through, but thinking is the real lesson.
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I agree that education has failed us, and the generations to come will be failed some more. When I was in my last year of high school, working to jobs. My mom gave me a choice. She asked if I were to contour to college. I have always been a hands on type of person, I finished high school, at age 16, my work experience has given me more than any classroom ever did. Good for you on the home schooling. In my opinion you need two things in life a passion, and lots of street smarts. I’m not knocking education. It is very important, but it all depends what your passionate about. If your forced by your parents to get a doctorate degree, and you dream of playing the piano or doing art for that matter! What are we or should I say society teaching our kids?