Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Disheartening educational news

As the day dawned, Tuesday was starting out like much of the weather recently, as a very nice day. The weather forecast does say that by this afternoon, there’ll be a change that could bring some windy rain, possibly thunder, to some areas. As that old forecast goes quite frequently lately, not all cities and towns will get any. I’m hoping my place is among those that the storms miss.

Gator Wife spent yesterday taking it easy. She did not go to the doctor after calling out sick at her part time job, a rare event for her. But she was feeling better and getting better rapidly as the day wore on. She now believes she must watch more closely what she eats. She says she can trace both this latest experience as well as the one a few weeks ago directly to diet. So she’ll watch what she eats and keep track of it so that if another occurrence happens, she’ll be able to isolate at least some food causing her problem.

We’re still going to take any easy day today just to be sure so she’ll be comfortable tomorrow when she returns to the work place.

I mentioned yesterday that the newspaper, and so now radio and TV, reported that the State Department of Education has tossed out the results of one of its Learning Results tests because 80% of the eighth graders who took it last spring failed. Because all those youngsters didn’t pass it, the DOE has proclaimed the test invalid. Of course, it was the test and not the way school is taught today. I was shocked at what passes today as a book report, for example; it can be a post card with a picture drawn on one side and a sentence on the other. Now that’s writing preparation.

To make matters worse, today’s Press Herald reported that more than a third of Maine schools failed to make progress on the No Child Left Behind Act last year. Maine determines its growth by using the Learning Results tests and SAT scores. The DOE says that there was minimal improvement in a couple of areas, but not the kind of improvement they had wanted. As a result, progress in Maine’s educational system continues to fall short.

I think without any thing substantial except personal observation that modern technology is hurting the growth of our children. Schools may have gone overboard on the use of modern technology to substitute for basic learning. Although extremely useful and necessary in our world today, computers and cell phones may be among the leading problems.

We need to be able to use computers to exist in this modern world, and I use one several times daily even though I’m retired. I do not use a cell phone, although I have one, enough even to be put in the seldom category. For some reason, many in our educational community feel that the computers have to be introduced early is school so the youngsters will be prepared to exist in the so-called outside world.

In math, the times tables need to be emphasized again, along with simple, with some complex, computations in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I’m asked why do students need to know those things when a calculator will take a lot of time and tediousness from the process. I think it’s simple: in order to get correct results easily with a calculator, and yes, I use one, one needs to first know what to input and why the correct input is necessary.

I’ve mentioned many times watching today’s young people working a cash register at a store. Get just one little step out of the expected, and the clerk gets extremely frustrated. I watched one break into tears once when she told a customer a price. The customer gave the clerk a bill slightly higher and the clerk could handle that easily. Punch in the size of the bill, subtract the cost and read the change on the screen. But in this instance, the customer changed her mind and gave the clerk the larger bill and then added the exact change. The clerk broke into tears and had to call a supervisor because she didn’t know what to do.

How can we expect youngsters to grow up being able to express themselves in writing if we don’t have them write? The computer is not the answer. Every time I make a mistake here, for example, I get either a red squiggly line indicating a spelling error or a green one hinting a possible grammar mistake. I don’t have to think about it. But I learned to write many, many years ago. A friend of mine told me about a student passing in a term paper. The student never wrote one but rather either got one free or bought one on the Internet and passed it in as original. It is important to be able to express oneself in the written word, but if the basics of writing are not taught, and the grammar of writing is not taught, then failure will be the result.

Perhaps one of the worst inventions is the text message on a cell phone. I heard of, but have no specific source, teachers who allow the shortcuts used in text messaging to filter into classroom work and home work. What’s the lesson learned here? They weren’t texting, but on my way to Senior Fitness this morning, I saw three teenagers walking side by side. All three had a cell phone to their ears. I thought it was so sad that three people couldn’t walk together in conversation without having to use that cell phone. Perhaps the schools, and our society today, haven’t taught them how to have a simple conversation.

I’m getting way too long here but there’s so much more in so many more subjects that another day will be needed. Meanwhile, perhaps, just perhaps, the need to return to the basics, as trite as that is, is something that must be considered if we are to change the directions of the state’s Learning Results.


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