Another Single-Focus Education “Fix”

Apparently, the latest “fad” to enter the education reform arena is an intense focus on “subject mastery,” unfortunately to the exclusion of other skills necessary for student success. There’s nothing wrong with the idea that students need to master the subject matter that they’re supposed to be studying.  Such mastery is absolutely necessary, but again, the reformers, at least all those mentioned in The New York Times article on it on November 28th, are throwing the baby out with the bath water.

They have observed, wonder of wonders, that many students with terrible grades actually know the material, and that many other students with good grades don’t.  They have rightly identified a real problem in many American schools – that appearance and behavior and apparent attitude often result in inflated grades for students who really don’t learn what they should.  Unfortunately, from there, a number have gone to the assumption, and even implemented revamped curricula and standards, that very little besides subject mastery matters.  Homework is downgraded to counting not at all, as are attendance and behavior.

This idiocy – and it is idiocy – ignores so many factors I almost don’t know where to begin.  However… first, homework.  If homework is designed properly, it should both require learning and skills mastery. It should also teach students research skills and get the point across that you just can’t find answers in one place.  Admittedly, all too much homework is indeed busywork, but that’s not a problem with the idea of homework;  it’s a problem with how teachers use homework.  Second, if homework isn’t graded, in our society, unfortunately, it doesn’t get done, because we’ve taught children, by example, that the only things that are important are those that “count,” either in dollars or grades.  If homework doesn’t get done, then skills mastery suffers for most students.  In addition, both higher education and jobs requiring that higher education also require “homework,” doing projects and presentations, research, etc., and removing that facet of education or downplaying it into insignificance does students a great disservice.

Second, attendance.  Like it or not, most jobs require attendance.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, because, if you’re not at work, sooner or later you’re going to get fired.  Discounting attendance because there are a few students bright enough to learn matters without being there – and those students are indeed a minority – sends a societal message that encourages a self-centered and eventually self-destructive attitude.  The same is true about behavior.  Employees who continually misbehave get fired.  College graduates who do the same seldom ever make it in either professional or executive positions.

Students not only have to master skills, but they have to learn how to learn, how to apply that learning in society, and put all three together.  Yes, skills mastery is vital… but without the other factors, it’s also useless.

When will we as a society ever get away from the “one-big-simple-fix” attitude?

1 thought on “Another Single-Focus Education “Fix””

  1. Don says:

    First off, I would like to state that I am in no way an intellectual or a wordsmith. Hell, I never even went to college nor made very good grades in public school. Almost all of this was my fault either due to laziness or lack of interest in the subject of the day. The worst of these subjects were science and math. Which brings me to the part where my bad grades was not completely my fault.

    I have no idea what it’s like at other county school systems but my county seemed to have a very hard time keeping science and math teachers. As soon as we hit 6th grade the periods for math and science were just packed with students, there were twice as many students in these classes then any of the other subjects. The math teacher problem in my state got so bad at one point, they were allowing 4th year college students teach whole classes. Even the really bad math teachers that should have been fired never got fired because the demand was so high.

    Remembering at one point in my Junior year I finally came to the conclusion while siting in Algebra 2. That either people who already knew this stuff didn’t want to share or somebody was killing them off. It sounds crazy, but it made sense to my 16 year old hormone idled brain. A Small part of me still believes this for some reason…

    Anyway, I love your Imager series and I cant wait for book 4!

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