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aamen's picture

Education and Change

Reading over the last couple of comments prompted me to start thinking about what I really believe the purpose of education to be.  I certainly agree that higher education does not have to be a goal or priority for everyone, and I don’t see anything wrong with teaching kids how to take tests.  However, I don’t think that knowing how to take standardized tests should be the primary skill that kids coming out of elementary school possess.  The overall reason that we go to school is to learn, and it seems to me that the general goal of a classroom should be to make sure that the students are learning and retaining as many skills/as much information as is possible.


I went to a Montessori school for kindergarten and the first couple years of elementary school.  Like Rebecca said, I remember the focus of the classroom being primarily on everyone figuring out in their own way how to solve problems creatively.  For some exercises teachers actually put us in groups of kids who all tended to do things differently, and let us all explain to each other different ways to do the tasks.  In contrast, in my later years of elementary school I remember math problems being counted as wrong if students didn’t write them out exactly how the teacher wanted, even if the ideas and answers were correct.  I talked to a relative recently who is currently teaching 4th grade, and she said that it is understood at her school that kids coming from Montessori programs are generally (academically speaking) around two years ahead of the other students in the class.  Clearly something about the way the Montessori classrooms are run helps the students to learn skills and retain information in a stronger, more efficient way than in traditional classrooms.  In class last week I brought up the example of the “jigsaw classroom”, where researchers found that getting the kids of different ethnicities to cooperate led to more cohesion and friendships in the classroom.  In order to promote this cooperation, they gave each student a part of the day’s lesson plan to be responsible for, which meant that they all had to listen to and learn from each other.  In addition to the social factors, the researchers also found that in this type of classroom the kids tended to have significantly greater recollection of what they had covered and learned in class.  If the goal of education is to allow students to learn the most in the most efficient way possible, it seems to me that there are changes that could be made to our current general education system that would bring us closer to this goal.  For example, it seems to be helpful to allow the students themselves to be responsible for teaching or explaining some part of the material.


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