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Wednesday, March 02, 2005


David Topitzer

The premise of the recent Time Magazine article, "How To Build a Student For The 21st Century," (December 18) is largely false, and frankly, sickening.

I am a veteran high school history teacher whose students do very well on standardized tests - AP, CAPT, SAT. I never to teach to tests. I demand that students go beyond their limited frame of reference and learn something, which inlcudes memorization. My students acquire lots knowledge.

That Stanford University Professor who told her daughter to tell her teacher that she only needs to know the Amazon river - not the other rivers of South America - is a perfect example of the Educrat mentality. On the contrary, the mere act of learning something and memorizing it is a useful activity. Moreover, to understand more about the estuaries of the Amazon can lead to other sociological and anthropological awarenesses, even if they are not realized immediately. Memorization builds brain power and makes higher-level thinking possible. How can one think at a higher level when they know very little? How can we ask our young people to depend on Google? Do we not want to help young people think on their feet? Knowledge begets knowledge. More knowledge will not hurt young people, instead it will help them intellectually, psychologically and physiologically.

This "crisis" in education has come before, as far back as the nineteen twenties. In 1925 William Heard Kilpatrick of Columbia Teachers College said that instead of teaching facts and figures, schools should teach students "critical thinking." Students need to learn how to "look-up" information in the modern world - the 1920s! In his "Child Centered School," Harold Rugg urged in 1928 a shifting of the focus to a child-centered environment. (Heather MacDonald) These so-called cutting-edge progressive education theories are old. Moreover, they have never worked with most students.

We thought the human condition was somehow evolving by 1914 and then we had WWI. The human condition is what it is. Students are what they are; much of the time they are reluctent learners. The Rousseauian theory of the naturally inquistitve young person is largely false. Some students are sometimes deeply engaged. Yes, the very best and brightest are often self-directed learners. But what about the big middle? No matter how the educrats twist it, turn it and re-package it, their wares are the same, and so are the results. And they are poor results.

And what are the wares of education schools? Theories. Of course educrats will say that knowledge is not important because content - history, math, science, literature etcera - is outside their area of theories. More often than not, student-centered, group work is inefficient and less effective in helping students attain the kind of education that is going to help them succeed. Constructivist education is in the end obsurd. There has been a proliforation of Kaplan study centers and the like, because the recent upsurge of progressive education practices over the last 15 years has forced students to get direct, teacher-centered instruction elsewhere.

I am deeply, deeply concerned about the future of our young people. Their counterparts from India and China are learning much more than our young people, and, yes, they do a lot of memorizing and withstand lectures and obsorb lots of information. But they are also very creative.

Education should not be expected to be fun and immediately relevant. It should better than fun. It should be fulfilling and mind expanding. It requires lots of work and intensity. We do not need longer school days or schools years, we need more intensity and content oriented education. For fun we can have more team sports available to more students at all ability levels; they can learn "cooperative" skills, while bringing more blood to their brains and building self-esteem through hard work.

The directives from the education establishment are forcing a loss of discipline and rigor at a time when we need more of it.

We need to impart lots of knowledge and information to the millions of reluctant learners so that they have in their heads an educated mind even when the computer is down. The late Neil Postman said that computers have not solved any problems in education that were there before. Instead, computers and the internet have created new ones.

I would like to write a full length piece on this subject for Time.


David Topitzer

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