Conduits to the Past

Conduits to the Past

A commentary by Leane Roffey Line, PhD

William Lyon Phelps, American educator and author, made a radio address on April 6, 1933. It was all about something considered a major resource at the time — Books. I’m all for reading, in fact, I do a lot of it myself. But the time is coming in the not too distant future when the resources we need to produce hardbound books, mainly paper, might not be so available. Rather than books and bookshelves, we need good e-readers, devices like Amazon’s Kindle, and those cool pads everyone used in Star Trek Next Generation for their plays, scripts, and documents. Books, and I own more than my share, take up space, are very heavy to move, and wear out (some dismally) over time. (I can’t say the same for the old-time cassette player I have that still plays audio books very well, and that’s really old tech at this point).

I’ve never been a big one for novels. This brought some criticism from guests at a small gathering we just had. My guest remarked, “oh, you have books, well — they are on shelves and in neat piles. Don’t you have any novels?” Uh, no…math books, science, business, medical, my husband’s collection of language books, cookbooks, no novels, save for my dogeared copies of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children Series, which I never tire of reading. It’s because most of the time I feel like a cavewoman — and I do relate to the Geico Cavemen guys, trust me.

I’m a funny kind of educator, I suppose. When calculators came out, I applauded rewriting math texts to accomodate the new technology…however, I still find myself wandering back to old books I used in the 1960s and 1970s. I did get a TI, and learned to use it, and found that it really did make my life much easier — but I also discovered in teaching recently that many kids were not really sure what they were looking at. In some cases I found it useful to use models. Three-d seems to work with most kids. Let’s cut up the Quaker Oats box so we can see how to compute the surface area of a cylinder, and stuff like that. After several decades, too, spent writing educational test questions for math and science, it became painfully obvious that it’s “nobody’s fault”…the kids are plenty bright, there are plenty of willing and devoted teachers who aren’t paid near enough in my estimation, nor are there enough of them to go around. Modern kids need to be met on their own grounds as well, which is something no educational system I know of is really doing. I haven’t got any answers, just that what we are doing for our children, especially in the USA, isn’t enough. It’s not working. If your kid ever says to you “I haven’t had a break since third grade” believe him or her. Burn out at 20? I’ve seen it.

I went to a high school in the 1960s that was, for all intents and purposes, an experiment of the Ford Foundation. Perhaps one that failed, I don’t know — it freaked out the town so several years later after graduation the curriculum was altered to make it more “normal”, whatever that meant. What I do know is that I’d like to see the innovative principles used in creating the original Nova High (Ft. Lauderdale FL) back on the boards for reconsideration in today’s educational systems, except with modern touches, like electronic readers, use of net features like YouTube for educational lectures (yes, I know some are there already), creation of more and better shockwave and flash games for interactive exercises, way early typing (we need a better keyboard, better yet vocal speech recognition), and some direction into other than DRONE JOBS. In streamlining our processes, our workforce has now become interchangeable script-ridden zombified replaceable pieces, like working Flintlock rifles. This is not working. What are we educating our students for, anyway?

Again this is just my take on it. Next time we overhaul, we should call in the United Nations. Or at least Disney Studio Imagineers. I think they’d have a better take on what the world could use from future generations. We’ve managed in our infinite wisdom to saddle them with debt out the wazoo and meaningless Trapped In the Drive Thru lives (thanks, Weird Al, for being there). Have we given them tools? Uh, like no. They’ve built them all on their own, mostly.

The opinions of both teachers and students, world-wide, somehow need to be looked at. What’s working. What isn’t working. Are salaries commensurate to survival, or, like one teacher in Spain remarked “you try living on a teacher’s salary.” Sounds like friends of mine in the USA.

I’m all for books, but I think we need some major world-wide consensus on what kids need to learn these days to survive. In my world view, a traditional classical education is just not cutting it. Wherever I look, I think to myself “the system needs an overhaul or by the next decade we’re going to be in deep trouble”. This blog is all about cushioning future shock. My shockwave for today is that our schools are suffering, the teachers are suffering, and the students are knocked dumb in the process. Seriously, what subjects do we need? What subjects don’t we need? What subjects just need to be completely overhauled in light of recent discoveries? Are text books really the answer, or is what we need MODULES, ones that can keep up with the times. Everyone has opinions on all of it, the frontliners are the ones who need interviewing at this point. (Ex.  http://www.learner.org — I like what I see here, though it’s basically for teachers still ensconced in school physical plants).

I want to see some educational THINK TANKS. Not sure what those would look like, but you can bet I’d want them teleconferenced and on the internet for all to see.

As to the books, I say keep hardcopies as long as they last, but if you’ve got something cool going, use print-on-demand.

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