“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” — Albert Einstein
COMMENTARY: Sorry Albert, the first death in a heavily administered public school education system is student curiosity. Most students initially come to school curious about everything, but if their curiosity is not nurtured, it dies — as does their desire to learn.
To really learn using literacy and numeracy, the student must perceive an internal need for those abilities. This is where higher-order thinking skills develop. But these activities are on the decline because of testing-fixated administrators.
America has gone on a journey to measure education that is immeasurable for administrators fixated on accountability. The core of education, curiosity, is being ignored so that the administrative testing mission can be achieved.
Example: Lately there is a push to constrain teacher absences even when teachers are sick. New Mexico reportedly saved $3 million last year by strong-arming teachers to come to school even when sick so they didn’t have to use substitute teachers. How does having a teacher with active pneumonia in school help anything?
An army of armchair accountants in the public schools is counting things to be able to say whether schools are good or not. The army counts teacher absences and what parents answer on surveys and how the bulletin boards look and which bubbles children mark on tests.
It’s a scam, and most people in education realize that public school education has been hijacked by administrators intent only upon gaining power and money. They are enabled by politicians only intent on gaining power and money. If America had enemies, what would they do different in our public schools? Nothing! They are being destroyed as if an enemy were intent on their destruction.
When I judge public schools, I look for active curiosity in that school’s students. If they sit in mind-numbing silence preparing for an endless supply of mind-numbing tests, they are intellectually dead. Mostly, the testing-fixated administrators cause the intellectual deaths of the school’s students.
Very active, student-led classrooms are run by teachers who give lots of items of curiosity to the class and direct gently the students to uses of literacy and numeracy. There isn’t one model of a curiosity-based classroom. It depends on the students that year in that classroom, not the curriculum directors.
Teachers must be agile to find what each year’s students find interesting and tie it back to the need for literacy and numeracy. It can be done, but not in schools dominated by top-down, testing-fixated administrators.
Those administrators who live by the constant use of tests are trying to measure the immeasurable when it comes to education. They focus on tests to induce teachers to juke the system by having students study for the accountability tests rather than spending their time on learning activities.
One of the most stressful jobs is being a bus driver, since there is a time schedule but the driver cannot control the traffic. Likewise, teachers are put in a system where curiosity, the core of learning, is removed — yet their job evaluation is put on testing for which the students have no interest. Very stressful.
I would like to see schools return to a curiosity-based curriculum where there are many activities designed to stimulate student curiosity. Return art and music to prominence along with having an active garden in each school tended by students. They will plan and direct the growth, then harvest and use the products.
Also, I think elementary school in the fourth grade should start teaching students to fly using flight simulators. It stimulates geometry and percentages and the language of flight. I also think a virtual zoo should be at every school so that teachers can see which animals capture the attention of their students.
We must do away with the notion that if students are happy, they are somehow not getting a good education. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Walt Disney wrote, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” If this current generation of administrators kill the curiosity in our young people, what will be our nation’s future? Very bleak.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.