Are You Smarter Than Your Kids?

As the ongoing debate about whether exams are getting easier fades into a background buzz of people saying “rhubarb, rhubarb” until next year, ITV which has been somewhat tardy in getting its autumn schedules onto our screens had to resort to squeezing a peak time documentary from the tired controversy by getting a group of parents to sit the exams pupils have just taken.
Asking “are you smarter than your kids” is not the same as asking if exams are getting easier of course so the program falls down at once.
The fact that should concern us because it relates to the pertinent question of whether our kids are getting crap education just so the statistics can look good for the sake of the politicians is “why are more entrants passing and average grades rising each year.” Empirical evidence suggests that while pupils are leaving school with truckloads of As and Bs each year many are lacking even basic skills.
I have always had doubts about the efficacy of education and what is more the A to Z (well A to W which is near enough) of wise men are with me on that. “What we must learn to do we learn by doing,” Aristotle said, while Oscar Wilde declared “nothing that is worth learning can possibly be taught.” Too right. Most of what I learned at school has turned out to be totally irrelevant in real life. I recall my problems with Pythagoras’ Theorem and a certain looney maths teacher called Batty Bland. All maths teachers are looney to some degree of course but in the “Stark Raving Bonkers stakes Batty led the field by a distance.
“But what use it sir,” I asked each time he tried to explain that the square of the hypotenuse does something utterly pointless and boring.
At last he gave in and tried to explain it though a practical analogy. “If you are out walking and see a tall building Thorpe, by using Pythagoras you can find out how tall it is.”
I promise you, hand on heart, that while having appreciated the aesthetic qualities of many tall buildings I have never felt tempted to work out how tall they are. Never, ever!
In life, as we learn practical lessons, the academic mush of school is usually forgotten, to be replaced by things that are relevant to our lives. I was always a duffer at maths, still am. As a result of a condition possibly related to dyslexia, my mind goes blank when I am confronted with an algebraic equation and yet in my job I could solve the complex problems posed by needing to balance telecommunications traffic across a network. Quite simply that was a practical problem and I can do practical. What we have to learn to do we learn by doing.
Where modern education fails is in its focus on the narrow objective of passing exams. The purpose of education is not to force feed pupils on information so they can regurgitate it on examination day, education should tech them to want to learn. Life is much richer if we learn constantly and for us to want to learn constantly we must be made curious.
When pupils are leaving school without their curiosity ignited then education is failing.

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The Machiavelli Youth?

After reading the previuous entry a friend asked be had I been kicked off by a documentary series on Channel 4 about the Hitler youth and how they were indoctrinated with the idea that previous generations were fools who had no idea about the realities of life. The young fascists were conditioned to reject any ideas of social responsibility and pursue only self fulfillment.
Well actually that series had by passed me altogether, but I rather wish I had seen it as it seems to throw up some interesting comparisons with my observations on the segregation of age groups in modern centre – right democracies.

Remember, you heard it from Machiavelli first.