Sunday, June 02, 2002

isntapundit seems to have a problem with the idea that personal anecdotes aren't necessarily empirical truths. (So do several people in the comments section, but I'll stick with this one for now).

This time, I think I'll do a point-for-point. It's big, but it's useful at times.

This attitude, that nobody without their high-school diploma or equivalent can handle a respectable job, is part of the problem. Consider that people graduate from high school unable to read, find Italy on a map, or say which came first, the American or the Russian Revolution. Why is this useless shred of paper, the high school diploma, so glorified in our society?

Isntapundit, you're mixing up problems with the concept and problems with the implementation. The "shred of paper" is only supposed to be a symbol of achievement (just like a degree), and proof of abilities like reading, knowledge of basic geography and basic history, normal mathematic skills (with perhaps higher-level knowledge learned from more advanced courses) are all part of that achievement. The way that you determine the presence of those abilities is through testing and grading. If the kids aren't able to read or do math or whatnot, then perhaps before condemning the whole enterprise you should focus on whether the element in question is flawed.

These two paragraphs, on the other hand, seem to entirely contradict one another:

By contrast, high school provides little or nothing in the way of practical instruction which relates to actually working for a living. When people argue that youngsters shouldn't be cut loose in the job market without basic skills, as a defense of high school, we should wait for the punch line. What we really need is to open our minds to the potential of young people; potential which is often frustrated by such miserable preconceptions as the necessity of a high-school education before one can do any useful work.

In this paragraph, isntapundit is arguing that we should apparently have more vocational training...

That isn't to say we should do away with high school altogether. There's a solid case for exposing youngsters to philosophy, history, the foundations of our liberal society, literature, and various other influences to help them be well-rounded and informed citizens.

...and yet in this one, he's saying the opposite: that it shouldn't all be vocational training, but citizenship education as well. It would seem that he's arguing in favour of more school, not less. There's only so much time you have at your disposal, especially in the accellerated programs that Glenn and others seem to be advocating.

A year-long survey class of all the sciences seems like another reasonable requirement, as does a similar survey in math.

Otherwise known as freshman (or sophomore) science and mathematics, which are requirements for getting a high-school diploma last I checked. This is such a good idea it's already being done, but some students are going to want to go farther in these things. Why not offer it to them?

English could be cut way back. How much value is really added to society when someone writes a book report about A Separate Peace? In high school, I got the five-paragraph essay lesson twice a year for four years. My classmates all either mastered it as freshmen or never did get it; no point in continuing to pound on it.

Just a reminder: benefits to society are immaterial for high-school students. Their education is largely for their own benefit, with the expectation that what benefits them benefits the rest of us in the long run. As for the importance of being able to write a book report about A Seperate Peace? Well, that depends. It can help students write reports, it can teach them to read critically (which has all sorts of benefits), it introduces them to some classic literature and the concepts it highlights (and demonstrates that they understand it), and it might help them better understand the human condition (which is, of course, the goal of the humanities). Just because a course isn't teaching someone to be a walking adding machine doesn't invalidate its value, as isntapundit acknowledged earlier and has conveniently forgotten now. I'll agree that the methods used to teach people how to write essays is needlessly formulaic and complex for what is in actuality a fairly simple enterprise, but that doesn't mean that there should be less English instruction on a whole. Among other things, grammer education in North America simply sucks.

Math and science instruction, beyond the survey level, should be available. But the focus should be on quality instruction for a smaller section of the population, not crappy instruction for everyone. Colleges could provide the advanced courses in some cases.

Indeed, focusing on more intensive instruction for a smaller part of the high-school population would be a good idea.... and is exactly the reason why there are lower-year general requirements that lead to upper-year specializations. (I'm starting to think that isntapundit went to a school where there was no elective structure at all.)

Technical and vocational instruction are underrated. These subjects, ranging from metal shop through auto repair to computer programming, are fun and can provide entry to respectable jobs.

These don't exist already? I would certainly and overwhelming advocate the incorporation of technical and vocational instruction into any high-school curriculum, and I know for sure that my old high school had it. Indeed, we had to take a technical/vocational course as freshmen. I actually quite enjoyed the one I took, which was communications: a blend of video and audio production with computer graphics work that started out broad-based at the freshmen level with increasing specialization up through the senior level.

Again, though, how would you fit this into an "accellerated" program without leaving something else out? There is only so much time in a day, a week, a month, a year, and only so much someone can learn in any of those periods. Since this is undoubtedly the case, the only thing an accellerated program would really mean is either that people would be forced to completely ignore programs that didn't fit their specialization (which is foolish; a lot of kids change what they want to do throughout high school because of a sparked interest in a "required" course) or remove specialization entirely, which would mean students that are even more frustrated in their wishes to specialize. One or the other, you can't have both.

(My own experience with high school was overwhelmingly negative and much of it was a waste of time and energy).

(rest of anecdote cut)

Your personal experiences can not be generalized to the general population. My personal high school experiences proved the cliche "you get out of something what you put into it"... I didn't do well or enjoy school much either, until I stopped farting around and whining and started to try to do well regardless of whether I liked the teacher or not. There are legitimate reasons why one can't attend high school- that's what alternate schools are for. "I hated one of my teachers, and therefore swore off the entire discipline" is not a legitimate reason. I hated my junior-level English teacher with a fiery passion, but never bought the curious notion that the only language one needs to master is mathematics.

Look: I have nothing but admiration for those who left high school early and still succeeded, because it is more difficult for people to do so. Half the reason I continually and loudly beat the drum of alternate education is because the normal education system does fail people, and a safety valve needs to exist so that people can get their education despite the failings of system that teaches it. I said "would likely be" because it takes a great amount of time, effort, skill and luck to gain the skills and knowledge needed to become a good citizen and a successful worker without the basic knowledge that a high-school education represents. That being said, let's not try to generalize commendable success in the face of bad odds into a perscription for society as a whole. Some succeed, but many fail. The plural of anecdote is not data, especially in an environment as non-representative of society at large as the Internet. Most kids leaving high school after their sophomore year are not leaving because they were too bright for their classmates and wanted to be adults early, and I can't understand why we wouldn't want to give someone the best chance they can by educating them while they still have the luxury of study without the need to work to survive.

Edit: A few people in the comments section (Hey Larry) are advocating the idea that some students should get credit-equivalents for knowledge of a particular field. Other than the simple truth that there's more to going to school than taking notes and writing tests, this is actually an idea that I support, with some reservations. This doesn't, however, accomplish anything near what Glenn advocates for anywhere near the number of students that it would need to for Glenn's suggestion to have any effect at all on society at large. I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of kids who leave high school before graduation are not leaving because they're too smart for their classmates, and I also think it's safe to say that some (if not many) of those who are intellectually capable of getting a few of these credits are not necessarily emotionally mature enough to qualify as "adults" in any fashion other than the biological. Emotional and intellectual maturation are not the same thing, and neither are necessarily tied into whether one knows enough about programming and related mathematics to get a few credit-equivalents.

No comments:

Post a Comment