Educated People Damage Education

I grapple with the paradox of my post title daily. Think about those words. The Uneducated do not create or implement educational policy at any level. Degreed people do. “No Child Left Behind” was not developed by non-degreed folks, yet inarguably NCLB has been the worst “education reform” since President Reagan declared ketchup a vegetable.

When we argue about Educational Policy we are arguing with other supposed educated people about paths to follow which result in more educated adults. People with educations are then the problem, right? I do not mean to say “people with education degrees are the problem;” I mean people responsible for evaluating, analyzing, creating and implementing education policy are the problem.

The fact educated people are at the root of our educational problems bothers me greatly. Seriously. How can educated people, people with BA/BS degrees, perhaps Master’s, or even Ph.D’s, be responsible for damaging an educational system from which they are the product? The illogic of educated people damaging education baffles me.

Currently, Congress is debating continuation of low student loan interest rates [washpostlink]. Continuing low student loan interest rates should be a no-brainer and not worthy of debate. But, educated people argue with other educated people about the benefits and costs of student loans. Do these people remember their loans? Were they at all grateful for the loans? Do they understand the costs of college even at local community colleges and regional universities? Or, did opponents of student loans even have student loans? How did he/she pay for an education?

Watching C-Span, I am struck by the shear obtuseness of our Congresspeople. How soon they forget the benefits and experiences of their college life. Did he/she even pay attention? Did they really receive an education, or did he/she merely jump through the hoops of coursework and for their perseverance were awarded BA/BS degree? And, now, comfortable with their election – no, their ‘elevation’ to public office, are now confident in their role as a public policy leader.

In a recent Chronicle Review, a supplement to the Chronicle of Higher Education, dated March 2, 2012, professor Andrew Delbanco wrote “College At Risk.” A wonderful, eloquent piece striking to the heart of the fate of Higher Education, as the Educated seek to push NCLB-type standardized testing into the hallowed halls of colleges and universities, potentially resulting in the newly graduated receiving less “learning.”

How can the newly graduated be receiving less education?

Standardized testing is essentially a box. Faculty set “learning objectives” based on criteria determined either through in-house focus groups, or using a set of Federally-derived criteria. Then, faculty are obligated to teach to the criteria, assess students on their absorption of knowledge, and evaluate teaching modes and methods.

Nothing is wrong with evaluating teaching modes. Faculty should always be on the lookout for new, different, and interesting pedagogical tools. Teaching should be fun, interesting, enlightening, and focused on challenging students perceptions and tearing-down and building-up their knowledge.

Teaching-To-A-Test is nothing but teaching to a test. Assessments truly only test a student’s ability to take an assessment. Standardized tests do not effectively evaluate a student’s creativity, wisdom, or wit. Furthermore, the Real World rarely comes in standardized packages. People need to be able to synthesize a variety of data from which real world decisions are made. Teaching to a standardized test in no way can prepare a student for handling real world situations. Thus, a student can perform very well on standardized tests yet not be prepared for either college/university or life after high school/college/university. The words above are mine, my sentiments, but Dr. Delbanco pretty much says the same thing:

“…we need to keep in mind that standardized test-at least those that exist today-are simply incapable of measuring the qualities that should be the fruits of a true liberal arts education: creativity, wisdom, humility, and insight into ethical as well as empirical questions.”

Dr. Delbanco makes many great points. I won’t cover all here simply because I don’t want to get myself in trouble with re-creating Chronicle of Higher Education material.

Dr. Delbanco states

“…there is mounting evidence the law [NCLB] has had little positive effect, while driving “soft” subjects such as art and music to the margins or out of the curriculum altogether.

Standardized test are major problems for a couple reasons. They do not adequately measure teaching or learning. Creativity fostering classes like art and music are eliminated. Another casualty from Standardized Testing is physical education. I remember a minimum of two recesses while in elementary school. I also had gym class. We learned games, tumbling, and general physical fitness. Many behavioral problems found in elementary have a simple solution – exercise. Yet, we have educated adults arguing against longer school days which would allow additional “soft” subjects and more exercise. Arts, music, and exercise have well-documented positive correlations with learning.

Why don’t educated people recognize the damage they leave in their wake?

Dr. Delbanco may have an answer to my question.

“…student tend to arrive in college already largely formed in their habits and attitudes…preoccupied with the struggles of adulthood: finding or keeping a job, making or saving a marriage, doing right by their children.”

Especially in the community college environment, with both kids straight from high school and adults back in school, Dr. Delbanco’s statement is absolutely factual. Students often grouse about homework; even if reading a chapter of the course textbook is the only assignment, students complain the assignment is too much. Yes, a true story. I once had a student tell me she did not have time for the textbook reading assignment.

“I have 1,2,3 kids and I have to have my mother/babysitter/mother-in-law watch them while I’m in school. I have to keep my GPA up so I can keep my food stamps/health insurance. I work part-time, too, and I am active in church.”

I return to the premise of my post. I see two problems: people who make educational policy are products of the institutions they are destroying, and two, those people with little more than BA/BS are not listening to how ridiculous their ideas are nor examining the downstream effects of their choices. In other words, they may not have measurable critical-thinking skills.

As we move more and more towards the precipice of Standardized Testing in Higher Education, critical-thinking skills developed from a truly liberal arts education will gradually evaporate. As more graduates of Higher Education Standardized Testing filter into public policy, fewer people who appreciate knowledge and wisdom will hold positions of power. Some people will be able to afford real liberal arts education, though. I envision a developing caste-like system of educated people: a large body of like-minded but intellectually stunted people representing the by-products of Standardized Testing, and a few people capable of analytical thought and intellectual pursuits, yet viewed as elitists and unrealistic.

My fears are already being realized, though. Attacks, mostly by the uneducated and the GOP, upon higher education and education, in general, are on the rise. States slash higher education budgets, hurting one of the few national economies which pays dividends, and for which the United States is currently respected. The respect of a U.S. education is changing, though. The density of U.S.-educated foreign nationals is increasing, and these educated people are returning to their home countries, thereby raising the local, regional, and national educational standards. While a U.S. diploma has instant cache abroad, the respect of the conferred U.S. degree is diminishing as the world looks on and witnesses the scuttling of the U.S. educational system by the blind, the ignorant, the fearful, and the uninspired.

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