COLLEGE PREP: LESS RIGOR, MORE FREEDOM

Many look back fondly to their high school days.
Perhaps their college days were even better.
But Stan Beiner, head of the Epstein School in Sandy Springs, Ga., just outside Atlanta, believes we are turning our middle school students over to high schools who will prepare them for colleges that don’t exist.
They’ll get lots and lots of homework. They’ll take lots of Advanced Placement and honors classes. They will have multiple extracurricular activities.
In other words, to paraphrase Beiner, we are preparing our kids for the “rigors” and “challenges” of a tough four years of college.
If you have gone to college, how did it compare with high school? Were you faced with tough task-master professors beating you up, and bogging you down with the drudgery of academia?
Beiner does not de-emphasize school work. Contrarily, school work should be an integral part of both high school and college. But neither high school nor college should be a mere endurance test. Both should teach students the balance of school work, a part-time job, extracurricular activities and, yes, fun!
“The high school years should be about friends, sports, clubs, youth groups, summers off and, of course, school work,” Beiner says. He uses the story of how he and his wife were informed by his child’s private school that 10th-graders could be invited to college orientations. The parents politely declined. The only expectations they had for their 15-year-old was that she focus on her classes, play sports if she wanted, engage and debate youth group politics, hang out with her friends and worry about boys, he said.
Before anyone expresses outrage at what may seem to him as a lackadaisical attitude of parenting, think about this: when you left high school for college, you were on your own. You had a looser schedule. In some cases, you could set your own schedule. You could, say, arrange your classes to have every Friday or Monday off. In most cases, as long as you did the work, the teachers didn’t care how you did it, as long as you didn’t cheat.
In an old school of thought, piling homework on high school kids was a way to keep them “out of trouble.” There was little worse, in some minds, than a teenager with too much time on his hands.
The fallacy of that argument is that no amount of homework would put the kids most at risk of getting in trouble on the straight and narrow. They simply would blow it off. Meanwhile, bogging down good kids with homework, particularly the kind that is deliberately designed to be tedious and time-consuming, keeps them from getting into activities that would enhance their education and experience – sports, arts or a part-time job, for instance.
They may also miss out on the fun that is an integral part of growing up. They may soon grow resentful of the “prison” they are in. They may “act out” in response.
Beiner’s ideas may be over the top for some. But his point is that college is NOTHING like high school. Anyone who has gone to college knows this. Also, just as important as school work, a student needs to have freedom to learn to manage and use time wisely. This will also help students manage money better – watching what they spend and how they spend it – on their own. The good students will mature more quickly. Those at risk for trouble may find it sooner.
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Beiner says it’s no wonder that cheating, eating disorders and depression are too common among students. He advises parents to make sure kids have time to do what they want, and find out who they are. With today’s gadgets, you need to encourage them to get up from the computer and go out and “play.” Do what they need to do, but also do what they LOVE to do.
In Beiner’s mind, they’ll be much more prepared for college.
Peter

TECHNOLOGY AND EDUCATION: PART 2

Imagine going to school, and not having to lug a lot of books home with you.
Sure, we want students to be more physical, but carrying books, backpacks laden with “stuff” for school, is probably not the best way to be active.
Cheryl Atkinson, superintendent of schools for DeKalb County, Ga., recently announced that by August 2014, every middle school and high school student in DeKalb will have HIS own device, with all his textbooks on it. Every teacher will have a laptop. Every school will be wireless.
Maureen Downey, education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, discussed this in her Dec. 10,2012, column. Atkinson spoke at a DeKalb Chamber of Commerce luncheon about this topic. “The fact is … (students) can’t wait for us to catch up to their style of learning, nor should they have to,” Downey quoted Atkinson.
Technology is eventually going to change education in more ways than one. School districts are scrounging for resources. Their governmental benefactors want to give them as few resources as possible. Many see public education as a costly burden, that wastes much of what is given to it.
Technology can solve a good bit of that problem. Technology is making books – one of education’s biggest costs – obsolete. One day, we could see many classes taught by interactive videos. Imagine having one teacher who teaches a certain subject well, simultaneously broadcast to multiple schools. How many fewer teachers might we need in the future? How many students might get the best education the school district can offer, vs. multiple teachers of various experience and abilities making learning in one school better than learning in another school in the same district?
EVERYTHING A STUDENT NEEDS IS IN HIS POCKET?
Imagine a student carrying everything he needs to learn with in a device. As innovations progress, devices shrink. Someday, everything students need will be in their pockets. Just think: no books, no pencils, no pads of paper. All those supplies that cost money will be totally unnecessary. If you buy each student a device, it will seem like a bargain, compared to all those other supplies.
Education will be like other industries, using technology to do more, and better, with less. These advances may not go over well with teachers and other employees, who will see job opportunities decrease. On the other hand, technology can help the really good teachers get in front of more students. That can only improve education.
Because of the Internet, information is readily available to students. Teachers can spend less and less time imparting information, and more and more time teaching students the best way to use information. Teachers can be more creative with student interaction, and less structured in the classroom.
Education is slow to use technology to increase productivity and improve quality. The education systems have to overcome old barriers to innovation, so that students can learn in their own style, as Atkinson put it.
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We’ve seen many young people so immersed in their gadgets doing insignificant things for hours on end. We’ve seen gadgets keep kids stationary, when they should be moving more. We’ve seen students lugging backpacks full of books and supplies to and from school.
When the school requires them to use their gadgets for educational purposes, they’ll still spend hours with their gadgets, but doing more fruitful tasks. They won’t be lugging books and supplies to and from school, so maybe they’ll want to get out and move more.
Technology may be a curse as well as a blessing, but it is reality. Let’s hope our educational system catches up with reality sooner rather than later.
Peter