Why graded school systems don’t work

I have come to the conclusion there are many concepts in our understanding of how the universe works that are rather intuitive.  One of these ideas is the notion of the learning curve. Said quite simply, everybody learns at a different pace. We all know this is true and have experienced it in our own march towards adulthood. We witness people who learn faster than we and those who learn more slowly.  It is what behavioral scientists call the BELL CURVE.  There is a range of physical characteristics that extends all the way from foot size to how fast we accumulate knowledge. If I measure any physical or mental characteristic of any living thing, plant to human, there will be a range of results. The standard percentages are 2% below average, 14% in the next to lowest area, 68% in the middle, 14% above average and 2% in the upper most area. It is important to understand that being on one side or the other of the curve does not automatically mean that that is a good trait. I am not sure that having size 19 shoes, which would put one very far to the right of the curve, would be much help in out-running a tiger on the Serengeti. In terms of intelligence being in the right top 2% of the curve means you are smarter than 98% of your fellow humans. In some cases this is good.


Here is a picture of what I am referring to.  Notice the percentages in each area.  This could be an IQ chart or a foot-size chart; it really does not matter.  To my point, I want you to consider it as a learning curve chart.  A very small number of people will learn extremely fast and so on and so on.  With this thought in mind, let us take a look at the traditional classroom with students from every point on the curve.  Now, place a teacher in front of these 25 students and ask him/her to keep all 25 children engaged and learning.  Do this for 6 to 7 hours a day, five days a week.  We all know the scenario: the bright kid in the class gets bored and then begins to act out, disrupting the class whenever he wants. The slower children are somewhat lost because the teacher is going too fast.  Then there are all of the kids in the middle who span the distance between the 16% and 84th percentile. 16 to 84 percent is a lot of variation from 16 to 84!  You may ask, why then do we do this?  Why do we feel the need to put all 7 year olds together and all 12 year olds together regardless of how quickly they learn?  The sad truth is that we do it for convenience.  Children are much easier to keep track of if they are grouped homogeneously, based on age.  So, little Johnny who is capable of doing algebra in the second grade will have to wait till he is in middle school.  And little Beth will have to wait untill high school to write sonnets.  Most elementary teachers are not trained to handle the smarter kids in class, and if they are, it is a whole lot more work and they already have far too much keeping up with all the bull-crap the state and county throws at them to waste their valuable time. The idea of a grade-less school system has been discussed many times in the past but has always been pushed aside in favor of the more efficient age-grouped arrangement.

In today’s system we to often tell children of the horrible consequences of failing a grade. We mark them as dumb, uncooperative, attention deficit, inattentive, uninterested and numerous other reasons for not meeting the standards. Rather than label them with all these negative words, why not simply tell them they that they need more time to learn the material!  I dare to suggest an alternative reason for not meeting the standard: maybe the child has a different learning curve! So now this child has been labeled for the rest of his life as a failure simply because we have a strictly (maybe not so strictly enforced in our county!) enforced grade system. Now consider the alternative. Little Bobby needs more time to master the skills of that level and when he is ready, he moves on to new material with his self-esteem in tack and the mastery of that skill set.

Today’s school system is stuck in the mud, and there are no signs of going to 4-wheel drive in the near future.  We are creating a whole generation where a large majority of children are going to be essentially uneducated and unable to participate in a very complex and unforgiving society.  Not only do many of our children suffer from a false over confidence and  inflated self-worth, many of them feel society owes them a THE GOOD LIFE.  Do not misunderstand me on this point, We do have a responsibility to provide a social safety net for all Americans that needs to be fair and cost efficient, but we also have to instill a desire to better one’s self throughout life.  This is where the family and the school system must focus their effort, giving children the desire to seek knowledge, expand horizons, stretch the boundaries of human existence and enjoy the one part of life that makes us so different from any other animal living on this planet- to grow intellectually!

Stuck in the middle with you

It occurred to me late last night, somewhere between the dream state and consciousness that I was stuck in the middle. Yes, we are smack dab in between the roaring east and the sleepy west. Somehow, here in old Hampshire County, we have missed out on both worlds. To the west of us is less development and ever-present quiet, yet to the east of us the ecoterrorists are building faster than one could have imagined. I have heard that our little county is different from all the counties around us, and I tend to agree. We seem to be in a coma-like state, afraid to move into the future and leery of staying in the past. One of the nicest buildings in the whole county, not counting banks, for a long time, was the local jail.  Just recently we were blessed with the arrival of the Hampshire Wellness Center. Have you ever noticed that no matter how depressed an area is, the banks are always architecturally splendid.  To continue, I have lived in this county and watched it grow in crazy ways: no zoning, no overall plan, no announced directions just whatever fit of fantasy happens to flit by in their minds. We did manage to miss the current gas frenzy (for now) and just barely avoided the waste disposal plant on River Road, but one has to wonder what is around the corner for our fair county? We need to decide where we want to be in, oh, say 10 years. One thing is for sure, if we want good decent, honest businesses to come into the county, we will have to fix the school system and the roads! Right now, in our current state, no business will even consider locating in our county. because it is simply not up to speed.  This evening I took my grandson to see a play in Moorfield, WV.  Moorfield is even more undevelopment than we are; nevertheless, they produce several plays a year!  The same is true of Keyser, our other neighbor to the west. Has our county in the last 30 years produced even one play? The answer is NO! Our big county event is donkey basketball, a good fundraiser but hardly a cultural event.

I enjoy many aspects associated with living in our county, but I am also capable of seeing ways in which we could  improve. So here I sit on my little chunk of earth watching the trees rustle in the wind and listening to bird chatter, thankful for where I am in this world, but also wondering how the future will unfold in our little county. Since this is my home, I will probably stay here for as long as I can but will always wonder why we are so stuck in the middle….

Blowing my top over tops

I just came from the bathroom, where I spent too much time frustrated by a simple safety lid on the peroxide I used to brush my teeth.  My old bottle was empty so I decided to open a new one.  After unscrewing the standard lid, I saw the all-to-familiar safety lid.  Using my very short fingernail, I attempted to tear the lid from the bottle.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, I grabbed the sharpest device I could find in the bathroom, the handle of a toothbrush and began to stab at the glued on lid with little success at first, finally breaking through the somewhat impenetrable layer to the inside of the bottle.  With this task completed, I began the arduous job of removing the left over material glued to the container opening. This prevents the liquid from scattering all over the place when poured.  This is no easy task and must be approached with caution.  After several attempts, I was able to remove most of the covering from the container.  HOLY CRAP, I just wasted five minutes of my life taking a lid off a container!  Earlier in the evening I had a similar battle with a bag of potato chips which won a partial victory in that some of the chips floated through the air landing on the floor as the bag suddenly opened.  Last week I went to war with a plastic oil container while changing the oil in my car.  The plastic containers that Costco items often come in present a whole new level of frustration brought on by the once simple task of opening a container.  Lately I have been carrying a carpet knife around in my pocket so I can easily destroy most containers.  My wife says I am going to cut my hand off eventually and she is probably right. I could go on and on but I am sure at this point, YOU GET THE POINT!  Why in the world do we need such incredible tamper proof ingenuity in everything we buy?  I might understand sealing up our food so that some crazy guy does not go into a grocery store to put razor blades in our cereal, or worst yet, our yogurt. But why do we need to super-securely seal up a car oil jug or peroxide bottle?  Maybe someone is planning on poisoning a car?  Our society has become so obsessed with keeping everyone safe that we are moving into the ludicrous zone of safety creation.

Another point of contention for me is in the area of outdoor power tools.  Starting up the riding lawn mower is akin to a space shuttle launch!  The throttle must be in the right position.  The choke must be set right.  The blade must be disengaged properly.  The brake must be engaged.  There must be a person of significant weight sitting on the seat, and then and only then, can you find out that the battery has died since the last time you used the mower.  Another pet peeve with my mower is that I cannot back up unless I hit a small yellow button.  Yes, yes, these features all make the mower somewhat safer; it is a fast-moving metal blade, cutting an outdoor surface (grass) where it might strike rocks, dog bones or numerous other objects to send them whirling at high-speed at unsuspecting bystanders.  But….if I want to back up, I believe it is my decision, and if I am stupid enough to back up without looking where I am going, then I should be the proud winner of a Darwin Award.  For those who do not know what a Darwin award is, you are in for some real entertainment when you read about how our fellow humans eliminate themselves from the gene-pool in all kinds of creative ways. (  http://www.darwinawards.com/  )

This blog was brought on by winter,  my least favorite season!  The trees are dead and brown, the sky tends to be gray and overcast, the temperatures cold. Because of my aversion to cold (probably brought on by my California birth) I am stuck inside feeding a fireplace insert.  Some of you are thinking, what a pansy, and may be right when it comes to cold; I am a pansy!  Some people contend that depression may be brought on by  winter and a vitamin D deficiency, which happens predictably when one does not get enough sun.  I know I often get depressed in the throes winter.  Sometimes I go to the window when the sun shows its face and stand there basking in the its rays.  I am so much wanting spring to make its debut, in less than 20 days!  I am hoping it comes early so that the trees and wildlife can come alive even sooner.  Three cheers for spring!  In the meantime, I will continue to take out my frustrations opening lids and tops!