Sunday, December 26, 2010

We Need an Education Santa

HARBESON: A wish list for Education Santa

CLARK COUNTY — Don’t you just love the spirit behind the idea of Santa? Santa cares about kids and enjoys asking them questions. Santa is very curious about what a child is interested in.

I wish this spirit could spread to the schools because we desperately need an Education Santa, someone who cares enough to ask kids what they want.

People say our education system is for the children but it’s not. We don’t let students have much say at all in determining what they will learn and how they will go about learning it.

The folks in control don’t bother to ask children questions that could give them information to help teach students what they’d like to learn. Instead, students must sit quietly at their desks while the adults continually fight with each other over what education means and how to make it happen.

It doesn’t take long for most children to learn this vital lesson: individual interests don’t matter. They are quickly smashed down as the system molds kids to fit inside identical boxes, where very specific skills are crammed into a very tight schedule. Then when these students are finally set free and expected to figure out what they are interested in, most of them don’t have a clue.

It’s not that the schools don’t ask kids questions. Schools are hyper-focused on asking kids questions. It’s just that those questions have nothing to do with the individual child. The questions and answers are predesigned and predetermined by those who think a child’s interest is irrelevant.

Some teachers understand this very well and object to being held to standards that are based on how well they get students to succumb to this process. They understand that to excel as a teacher in the current system is to turn out a robotic product that is nearly devoid of any natural curiosity and desire to learn. And it only gets worse as the child moves along the conveyor belt.

A skilled teacher would welcome merit pay in a situation where the child and teacher collaborate together on a topic the student wants to learn. But this is not the purpose of an education system based on the nasty combination of compulsory attendance and funding. Our system is really only looking for teachers willing to train students in the two essential elements necessary to keep the system going: conformity and obedience to authority.

However, for those who really want to, it is possible to play Education Santa and ask the children what they want. I must warn you though, whether you’re a teacher or a parent, if you do decide to play this part, you’ll soon discover that respecting children enough to ask them questions and take their answers seriously will put you at direct odds with the goals of the compulsory system.

The people in charge will likely fight you in any attempts you make to give more respect to the kids. Remember, the system isn’t built on the freedom and flexibility needed to really help a child learn what he’s interested in learning. So if you dare to play Education Santa, you’re probably going to have to climb up the chimney and out of the coercive system.

Rest assured, though, that plenty of other Education Santas are already out there flying around and they would be glad to share the varied resources piled high in their sleds. They’re all happy to assist because they know that helping a child learn by following his interests at his own pace is the best educational gift anyone can give. And it’s just as much fun for the Santas too.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson slipped on some figgy pudding yesterday while chasing 10 lords a leaping at the company Christmas party.

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