The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Learning is Not Climbing Someone Else’s Ladder

on June 27, 2018

Since I am not dealing with new school events right now, I’m explaining some of my personal thoughts about education for your consideration—and, I hope, to give me some feedback.  


In the heat of an argument about education with another high school student–who was also a friend—I put my core belief into a few words: “Learning is not climbing someone else’s ladder”. What I meant was that the same classes should not be forced on all students. Despite the wealth of knowledge and skills taught in those four years high school many of us would not use or even remember most of them. At that time I was not able to explain my belief in language that might persuade my friend– or anyone else. So I just stopped arguing and changed the subject.

Despite my belief I got through the algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics, and foreign language classes in high school that I had been required to take. But I really cared only about getting good grades. Once I graduated from high school much of what I had been taught began to slip away. Algebra, and geometry particularly, went fast. I had no need of them in my private life or four years of college, where I majored in English and the Dramatic Arts.

After college I got married and bore four children. As those children grew up they needed less attention from me each year, and I began to want a job. The one in my heart was to be a teacher. But first I had to learn new skills in order to get that job. So I started to take night courses at a nearby college. I also began to write letters to local news papers, supplementing or criticizing what had appeared on their pages. I had realized as I reached maturity that I wanted to write as well as teach.

Although it took me three years of night classes and summer programs to be fully qualified for a teaching certificate, I didn’t find the process onerous. It was what I was meant for all along, until high school got in my way and “prepared” me for the type of future I was not meant to have.

My argument—in case you haven’t figured it out by now—is that high schools should be structured differently, not putting students into a fixed set of classes based on a tradition that is disappearing rapidly. The concept of preparation for college is changing these days—much faster than high school programs. Along with the fact that college students become adept in certain traditional skills, many colleges have added one or more occupational programs to their offerings.

So what should high schools do to bring their programs up to date and begin to serve the needs of all students? A few high schools in large cities have already become specialized, but the range of what any one school can offer is limited.  Another possibility might be to allow beginning high school students to select the classes that most appeal to them. The school could offer new 9th graders a few weeks of introductions to the classes available and allow them to make some choices–along with one year of the basics of English, math, chemistry, and a foreign language. That opportunity would give students an idea about which classes would be available and then allow them to choose the path most attractive for the four years of school to come.  On the other hand it might be better to do what a few large cities have done: turn each high school into the base of only two or three different programs and let students choose which school they want to go to. I’m sure that others have even better ideas for high school change, and I’d like to hear them.

Let me close today’s message by letting you know that I was was finally able to complete the saying that expressed my beliefs about the way people learn: “Learning is not climbing someone else’s ladder. It is weaving your own web from the scraps of meaning and beauty you pick up on your journey through life.”

 

 

 


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