General Considerations of Public Education in New Mexico – April 2022
by Michael Swickard
In every educational activity, the student’s curiosity must be engaged. Curiosity is the currency of learning. It is the core of real education. Without curiosity being engaged, all that is left is rote memorization which does not promote thinking skills nor long-term remembrance.
Very harmful are public schools that focus entirely on the accountability tests at the end of the year. Students have no curiosity nor any interest in tests. They want to do interesting activities. Instead of doing interesting activities that will lead to the development of thinking skills, some public schools try to trick the system into thinking that the end of the year score on the test really represents the student’s ability that year. These tests assume students do normal activities until the day of the test. Instead, schools spend much of the year preparing for the tests. One student was told that if the scores were bad then the teacher might be fired. The student was traumatized by the notion. But that was a lie.
End of the year accountability tests must be formative for the students and quickly used the rest of the year and over the summer to help individual students. They should not be used politically as the product of the schools to serve political gain. In those schools, the results are released during the summer as a summative evaluation of the teachers and administrators.
Because of the enormous political effort on accountability and comparison to other schools, there is the temptation to cheat. For teachers and administrators, it should always be career ending to be caught cheating or knowing about cheating without disclosing the cheating.
So, what about real education? Real education seeks to give students the numerate and literate abilities, so they have the tools to satisfy their curiosity. Remember, curiosity is the currency of learning. Students boost their numerate and literate abilities while engaged in these tasks. The focus of curiosity is individualistic so it must be fostered individually though most students of the same age have somewhat similar curiosities.
Education must develop the tools in student for them to be able to read, speak, write, and analyze. The students make use of those abilities over the years. If they do not continue to use those abilities, the abilities will atrophy as if they had never been acquired in the first place.
Importantly, schools should not push students toward specific occupations that often years from now may not be active. Example: going to college may not be appropriate for each student. That every schoolteacher and administrator is a college graduate has no bearing on this.
In our country there are political concerns about using any language other than American English. This concern is only valuable to politicians who divide us. Using multiple languages is valuable to English ability and Mathematical thinking. Schools should focus on American English but also offer other languages. Not to be a translator in any other language but to understand multiple cultures and bolster the student’s math abilities.
While engaged in educational settings, students must enjoy the passage of time. It does not need to be a carnival, however, if students spend their time not enjoying each day and only longing for the end of the day, nothing useful will occur. Some people proclaim that they didn’t like school and their kids should not either. If the school does not make the day enjoyable, the staff will gain a paycheck and the student will gain nothing but a loathing for learning.
Educational activities must be age appropriate for individual students. The adults in education have fully developed brains while the students of different ages do not. The goal is to have Formal Operational Thinking abilities. This centers on the ability to do Abstract Thinking. Young children have Concrete Operational Thinking abilities but cannot do Abstract Thinking. Example: ask a young child, “Do you have a brother?” The child will reply, “Yes.” Then ask, “Does your brother have a brother?” Often the child will say that they do not know. They cannot think abstractly until certain parts of their brain develop.
All educational activities must be age-appropriate for the students. Research in brain development must be understood to match brain development with educational activities. Brain development is individualistic, and no amount of political desire can change that fact. I saw a post where students in another country were said to be doing Calculus at a very young age to prove that that country’s educational system was better than ours. The post did not seem valid since the Formal Operational Thinking required would not be present in the students as a whole. There can be Savants occasionally like Mozart, but as a whole the brains must develop first.
Educational activities must be based on replicated research. If a school is going to try something new, then the approval of students being researched, and their parents, is required in a Human Subjects Test Form. With more than a hundred years of replicated research, trying something new should not happen because someone says, “Hey, let’s just try this.”
While this seems self-evident, students must always retain their dignity. They should feel they are the core of the school, not the teachers or administrators. They should always feel that they are the reason for the entire activity and that they are highly valued by the community.
All competition within the school or between schools must be fair. Age, size and gender give advantages that cannot be ignored. In sports like wrestling the separation by size is critical. The level playing field of physical attributes need to be for all appropriate sports.
Finally, things the students enjoy such as recess, lunch and PE/Art/Music must be essential to the school’s daily offering. Two recesses a day and a lunch period long enough that students can eat all of their lunch is important. However, it is lacking in many schools who are trying to bolster test scores by canceling all enjoyable activities while practicing for the test. Politicians who push the political notion of “rigor” do not understand students and learning.
Schools are a convenient target which does need to improve but getting politics out is critical to the students being able to thrive. But only if we have the schools operate correctly.