Ignorance is not stupidity. Ignorance is the absence of knowledge. Example, are baby boys ignorant or stupid? They are ignorant, but eager learners. They watch, copy, listen, explore, and fall down. They must learn to control their bodies; they must learn what is good to eat; they must learn to communicate; they must learn how to ride bicycles, play tag, kick a ball, write their names, be nice to grandma, be nicer to girls, and so on.
Schools are important, because what children learn in school, they could not learn by themselves. Schools teach them the ways the world works. Schools teach socialization on a much bigger scale than at home or in the neighborhood. Schools show children that their home and community are not universal, there are other people, and other places that are much, much different. Schools teach how to answer questions and solve problems. Schools teach English the way that gives them the best avenue to written and spoken knowledge. It might not match the way things are at home, but awareness of the “other-“worlds outside their experience is crucial for their future.
In the most primitive societies, people learn what survival has taught. Live or die is the standard of measure. Children start learning as innocents: parents give “protected” lessons, small doses of harsh truths; they provide regular rescues and frequent warnings of the dangers. As children develop, parents and family show them life skills in increments, and let them practice within safe limits; let them make small levels of all the natural mistakes, and suffer slight versions of all the natural penalties and results. Primitive environments offer little slack between action and consequence.
The family teaches them the practical skills of eating, drinking, bathing, shelter. Children learn to hunt, fish, farm, gather, make and use tools. Their family shows them how to escape danger, hide from threats, and adopt social skills. The kids learn what is required to stay alive. After they can demonstrate the basics, they begin to refine and master whatever they need to live and prosper as an adult.
The parents, siblings, family and tribal members know that survival demands awareness of the differences between success, failure, and everything in between. Children and adults constantly watch, listen, practice, and compete with others to improve their knowledge and skills. They win some, they lose some, they best some, and lose to others to find their place on the scales of mastery.
They are never allowed to go forward believing they can do something they cannot. Life hangs in the balance, not only for the child, but for everyone in the connected community. Mistakes by one spell critical danger for them all. What you don’t know will kill you. Ignorance is death.
I like the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This is the essence of ignorance – you have no clue that things exist that could be vital to your life. You are oblivious to dangers and opportunities, because they have never been revealed to you. You are blind and deaf to what you could have and do, if you only knew you didn’t know. Because then you could learn about those parts of life, and add them, if you are interested.
What happens when a child is not given direct links to truth and consequences? What happens when they get vague or misleading feedback? How will they fare in real-life competition when they grow up, after being praised for mastery they do not have?
Today, I read about the importance of education and thinking skills when competing for jobs. I also read about poor children drifting through public school with other poor kids, copying their buddies, or family, or neighbors, dropping out early, because their friends do, or their parents did. Even if they stay the course and graduate, how many are discouraged and disappointed when they venture into the “real world” nobody told them the truth about?
How is that working for us? Almost a quarter of the students entering college or junior college require remedial courses to fill the yawning holes in their high school learning. Why do they have a high school diploma that leaves them in the ditch for higher education? How has the freshman year in college become the junior/senior year of high school?
Public schools like DISD have 90%+ poor children to educate. This is a daunting mission. Leaders and teachers are both proud and embarrassed with their jobs. The truth is they provide educational foster care for their students for 12 years. They are the substitute family for these children. They feed them breakfast and lunch. They show them all the knowledge they know how to show. They have after-school activities for those whose parents work, to keep them safe, so they don’t have to be alone at home. They try to widen the children’s social perceptions and self-esteem, because poverty has wrecked them; home is where learning stops.
They cannot mitigate the parents’ problems, and the environment at home. They cannot add staff empowered to backup teachers who face “class management” problems. The poorest public schools have given up, because they cannot win; the problems are overwhelming; every factor is against them succeeding. So, what choices do they have? They either quit or compromise to survive as employees of public institutions; they point to marginal gains, and use subjective standards to describe “progress. “
They are deceiving us and our children mentally, emotionally, and socially. The object seems to be to get them to age 18 alive, and teach them enough to justify sending them into the world on their own. It does not matter that they do not know what they do not know is ahead.
The advent and prevalence of “alternative evaluation” such as “participation awards,” has deprived children of the ability to answer life’s most important questions: What happened? Did I win, lose, or draw? What did I do or not do to get my results?
Part of the occlusion comes from cumulative generations of parents who have no foundation in their own education. They cannot measure or judge their child’s knowledge or understanding of subjects that are foreign to themselves. Another contributor is the deliberate removal of clear measurement standards from school. Whether grades are A – F, or 100 – 0, they give the student a place to stand on their personal learning curve.
All the malarkey about emotional intelligence, self-acceptance, cultural awareness, instead of mastery of subjects, derails education, and generates unprepared high school “graduates.”
Such subterfuge is just a smoke-screen to camouflage ineffective teaching systems, unsuccessful learning efforts, incompetent, deluded teachers, and dishonest, political, school officials. Federal and state money to schools can rely on reported student achievement and advancement. When the students do not perform on standardized tests of basic subjects, penalties arise for the school district. The incentives to “play the game” are vast.
The saddest thing about this structure is its cumulative self-perpetuation. High school drop-outs do not just disappear, they grow up, they have children whose parents are not educated or enthralled by the school experience. These children do not have adult models of success, and are less likely to value and complete high school. They grow up, they have children who have two generations of parents with limited education, and success, and so on.
The answer is not to pass students from overcrowded class to overcrowded class, frustrating year to frustrating year, with phony, political, grading methods; it is not to issue them a counterfeit high school diploma, and kiss them good-bye.
What are the answers? Cut the psycho-babble crap; forget the “participation” trophies; tell our children the truth; give them grades on a finite scale; offer them tangible ways to measure what they really know; teach them learning skills and habits. Let them see who has learned, and who has not. If they fail to learn some parts of subjects, show them; then let them know that failing once, or twice, or ten times is not the end, show them how not to quit, show them how to try again. No child learns to walk or ride a bicycle on the first try. Why should other learning be different?
Want to see motivated, determined learning? Watch children play sports and games. Kids will practice and practice until they find out what works, what does not, who is good at them, who is not. Failure does not stop them when they want to play. Golf is a great example. Golfers are not daunted by the fact they may never be excellent.
We are telling parents and children that their only hope is college. At best, this false notion leads many underqualified students to enter college unprepared, to struggle into insurmountable debt, fail, drop-out, or earn a useless, jobless “degree.” College is not the only way to qualify for a respectable job.
The absence of non-college career training is a glaring omission in modern education. Why can’t we emphasize quality trade schools as respectable alternatives to college? Restore prestige to learning trades. A master plumber can earn more than a poorly-performing college graduate. Trades offer decent earnings opportunities, as well as professional pride and respect. In addition, most trades cannot be “outsourced” to another country, or eliminated by technology.
Offer trade-related courses in high school as an alternative to college preparatory courses?
Reinstate work/study programs related to trades.
Offer trades training to undereducated parents
Let parents and children see that most trades require knowledge of basic math, language, and science.
Offer trades-enhanced GED diplomas
Let parents bring their children to afternoon and early evening classes.
Think about the stages of human mastery:
Discover something you want or need to learn
Test your current knowledge
If you fail, analyze, learn, and adjust
Retry, analyze, learn, and adjust
Once you learn the basics, practice, analyze, learn, and refine
Practice, analyze, learn, and refine until you excel.
What might happen if we taught this mindset and process?