Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This will go on your transcript

Rita's comments on the post below are quite interesting, but I can't decide if I'm convinced: do we really give too much credit to the transformative power of education? In terms of 19th century France, education (plus military service) were apparently what taught those across metropolitan France the French language. In terms of my own, 20th-21st century experience, school is simply where kids are for most waking hours. Except, as Rita herself has mentioned, on teen-oriented TV shows, teenagers' lives revolve around school. So from that alone, there's the temptation to believe that whatever takes place at school could have some kind of an impact on society.

As for Rita's other point, responding to complaints about the quality of teaching: "But who needs the most talented people in America to teach remedial English to 14-year-olds? Better that those people become rocket scientists and poets, and leave the remedial English teaching to their personable, sympathetic, and literate but not necessarily brilliant peers."

This brings up another question, which is what assessment in education is even about in the first place. Grades are, as Rita correctly points out, not arbitrary, but what they measure, at least before college, is hard work and a determination to get good grades, not brilliance. The "most talented" in this context generally refers to students who have excelled in school, not necessarily rocket scientists (who, for the record, do plenty of teaching) and in all likelihood not poets. An 'A' only goes from meaning 'good boy' or 'good girl' to meaning 'genius' in contexts where the coursework and the fellow students are already at a very high level.

How does this all relate? The skills needed to be socially mobile (or to not regress to the mean) have to do with taking work seriously, but knowing when to cut corners, basically, prioritizing. Many brilliant people do not have these skills, and many who have them are not brilliant. But enough are in both categories to allow at least some mobility, sometimes. Or something.

2 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

I don't know that finding a precise form of evaluating who is REALLY a genius matters much in this case. It's not as though we centrally apportion teaching jobs to those we deem to be competent but mediocre or anything like that. People choose their professions, and brilliant people are as free to choose teaching (by which I mean, primary and secondary school teaching) as anyone else. I am only opposed to the popular line of argument that suggests that our school system is underperforming because "the best minds of our generation" are avoiding teaching, and that we should make a concerted national effort to lure these people away from law, medicine, engineering, journalism, academia, etc. and into high school classrooms (*cough* TFA).

From what I've seen in terms of school reform efforts (which is not too much, granted), the most successful schools serving poor kids are the most disciplined and demanding. What seems to affect test scores most is not arts education or ethnic instruction, but long school days, strict behavior codes, high expectations, and consistent discipline. You don't need someone with a perfect SAT score or 10-page resume to do that. Nuns have managed pretty well for a century or so.

What any of that has to do with mobility though, I'm not sure.

Phoebe said...

I see your point. I'm still not sure there's anything wrong with luring people away from law or engineering in favor of teaching high school, if the job paid better. In France, this was (is?) part of getting a doctorate. The fact that Sartre taught high school always pops up in his bios. Except in high schools where the main issue is preventing people from shooting one another during class, there's no reason the whole enterprise can't be made a bit more challenging. As for the nuns, about whom I know next to nothing, they'd be useful for everything you mention in terms of discipline, but I'm not sure how they'd help with "high expectations."

Relatedly, are you sure there's no way to get rid of private schools?