Education: The struggles to get it right. Part Two. By David Reid Otey

Before children enter a school building for ”formal” education,  they are already equipped with curiosity, imagination, willingness to learn, energy, excitement, expectation for fun, joy and wonder. Kids already naturally lean towards certain ‘ways’ of taking information in, of categorizing and using the information as a life skill before they enter the class room.  Every child has a talent area where the child’s mind goes frequently and consistently.  It’s that ‘something’ they like to create, to study, to play and experiment with. Music, Art, Cooking, Sports, Building, etc. Kids already have ‘their way’  of looking at ‘their world’, of figuring things out for themselves and choosing what is worth their attention. This is what every person is born with: a natural connection to the world through curiosity of the senses  with a natural purpose of understanding what surrounds them and affects them. So, what is the purpose  of having school at all in the formal public sense?  Two main reasons, I think.

One is to keep the kids off the streets. It cuts down on possible crime rates and gang formations, on any negative that would exist more so with kids on the streets all the time. The second reason is to maintain the community structures and businesses that make every town’s existence possible. Someone will have to take over the businesses and services that make every community run smooth. Those are the two practical reasons for schools.  There has always been school, if you count the teachings kids get at home all the time in helping their parents with caring for the house and the family and sometimes a family business. But in the far, far past, there wasn’t the chance for kids to see or learn much beyond their own front yard or the beyond the limits of their town, city and communities. With a public school they have the chance to know more about what’s in the whole world rather than just a tiny percentage their hometown represents. This extra knowledge gives them more ideas of interest and might help them discover, for the first time, things they are good at doing.

Elementary school is the most likely place for new information to be exciting. Then comes Junior High and Senior High where children start getting beaten over the head with redundancy in English, Language and Math classes. When I did a “block” teaching assignment, which is free assistant labor for a paid public school teacher in their classroom, I was told to teach Algebra. I needed exciting ideas so I approached a math professor at the University I studied at. He took me into a back room full of shelves and books. He pulled out a book and said, “Here are some good math games and mind puzzles for them”. I looked it over and said thank you but handed it back. I left his office wondering why he could not think of a practical use for Algebra. I soon discovered the use in areas of money and sales. And a friend of mine showed me how he used Algebra figuring roof pitch before building a roof and for figuring how many shingles to order.  In a “student teaching” session, which is the same as ”block” only ten weeks longer, I watched a special education teacher use a ’21 spelling rules’ workbook with her students. Really ? There was no creative writing. This was a ‘waste time’ class, as far as I was concerned. As more and more examples of these “more of the same” content situations appeared, I started wondering what else was possible to make our students really capable of getting on with life after school. Even newspapers nation wide would carry articles about schools not preparing students for the real world, claiming a high percentage of graduates could barely read and spell, or do simple math calculations. They needed retraining by the people who hired them. So I have a framework of an idea. Nothing really new but a blend of the old and the new.

Taking the practice of apprenticeship, it goes like this. For grades 6,7,8,9, a student chooses an occupation from a list. This occupation is the area of focus that all math and reading and language and spelling will come through. Every occupation has an extensive vocabulary with many words inter-defined. Every occupation uses math in some capacity. History, Social Studies, Health and Geography can also be taught through an occupational focus. Three weeks before the end of each nine week quarter, the student is given a one week opportunity to put in for an occupation change for the next quarter or to stay in the current one. Think of the experiences and ideas and curiosities that would be aroused, enlivened and excited from exposure to this format. In grades 10, 11, 12, the students would choose two occupations and be made to stay in those occupations for all three years. This would guarantee every student being capable and trained for at least two kinds of jobs. This would also help more students decide on college education and exactly what they’d like to do, thereby reducing needless expense floating around majors and minors and circumvent poor academic counselors.

The list of occupations would cover sciences, law, medicine specifics–nurse and doctor and surgeon topics, music–instruments and writing and singing and performing, theater/acting, cooking, business, construction specifics–carpenter, electrician, plumber, arts, writing/journalism, radio/television, movie industry, semi-driving,  farming/agriculture, operating heavy machinery–bulldozers and such,  wood working/furniture and more, watch repair, sales work, sewing/seamstress, and more. This would obviously take work preparing and setting up for, but that is what ”real” teaching of youth should be in the first place. It would take help from the community at large to make it successful. It would be worth it because it would make education sensible and directly related to the needs of both the children and of the community. It would create more pride in belonging to the world at large. We would see more talent showing up in the world of entrepreneurs. So many benefits to this and great payoffs for the investments required. This, to me, would be ‘getting it right’ in our education system.     The End.