Writing Center
Fall 2007 Edition

Preparing Future Generations

Kyle Bodily
Argumentative 1010 1st place
Professor: Dr. Kurt Harris

Have you ever studied the night before a test, taken the test, and then forgotten all of it? What was the point? What was gained? How were you better after the test than you were before? How do we change this erroneous process? What students learn early in their lives in school has a very strong influence on the lifelong path they will follow, and, therefore, schools should be laboratories to mold the students’ minds and solidify strengths and life interests. Education is the foundation for our prosperity individually and globally, and public education should be designed with the successful future of those being taught as the goal. Our education system should mold students to be well-rounded while it teaches them to think for themselves and be allowed to choose classes of their interest. They should be taught by teachers capable of adapting to the needs and interests of the students in ways that allow challenge, satisfaction, and growth.

Students should be knowledgeable in all the basic areas of study such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science. In these required areas of study, there should be many different classes that would fill required expectations and allow the students to learn in class settings that develop their individual aptitudes. This would allow them to actually enjoy their time in school, and, more importantly, their time learning. Of course, there must be a foundation of basic classes before moving on to more advanced classes. Students will progress a little at a time until they reach a level where they can comprehend and use what is being taught in different situations. One objective of these required fundamental areas of study is to provide a broad spectrum of possibilities from which knowledge can be gleaned and put together, creating a far superior individual than otherwise would be expected. It is a well-rounded person who knows something about many areas of study, and not everything about only one or two particular areas of study.

If students are allowed to choose the classes they want to take to fulfill a required area, they must be more proactive in their learning and cannot use an excuse that they “have to” do something because they chose to take the class. They will be more involved in something that they chose to do than in something that someone else decided for them. As was previously stated, there must be fundamental skills instilled from previous years in school. Age must also be taken into account since most eighth grade students cannot handle advanced calculus. There must be time and preparation to handle these classes, which will teach the students to plan for their own futures, make their own goals, and be accountable for their own successes or failures; these skills are essential for success in any sphere of life.

I remember being in sixth grade and being told that each student would meet with a teacher and talk about future careers plans. I wanted to be a computer programmer. Although I knew almost nothing about the job at the time, making games sounded fun to me, and I wanted to pursue it. For the next three years, I was still determined that I was going to be a computer programmer. I did not have any classes about it or really any instruction about what it involved. I wandered blindly through the subsequent three years, without a plan or preparation, and there was nothing else to dissuade me from my course. Finally, in my sophomore year of high school, I enrolled in a computer programming class. Although I enjoyed it, I started questioning whether or not I really wanted to do that for the rest of my life. It was not until I had taken a drafting and architecture class that I realized where my true interests lie. Had I had the opportunity earlier in my schooling to become familiar with these different opportunities, I would have been more prepared and had better goals in place concerning where to go in my schooling. If students are allowed more class options, they will be able to experiment until they find what they really enjoy and will gain many other skills along the way to broaden their knowledge of the world and how things work.

In each of these classes the students must be guided by a teacher capable of adapting to the students' needs and interests. Doing this provides more incentive for students to actually learn. Many times this presents a problem because of the large number of students in the class and the students’ levels of ability. Some will learn faster, and some will learn slower. Many teachers just are not ready to cope with such differences. Dr. Ray Thompson of BYU Hawaii suggests that "The easiest solution would be to cut our classroom numbers down . . . . That would free up the teacher a lot more to seek out that kid that is having trouble learning." The difficulty with this idea is the necessity to hire more teachers, which means more money. If this money cannot be found, increased training for the teachers on how to deal effectively with both high and low level learners in a large class should be considered. When teachers cannot teach effectively to all students, and they therefore focus on the average students, the higher level learners may become bored and create difficulties for the rest of the class, while the lower level learners will just fall behind.

Paulo Freire, speaking of thoughtless learning, stated, "The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world" (320). The time a student has in the public school system is a time to shape how that student will see and interact with the world. If the student is not applying things that are being taught, they are of no use. It will be dead information. Without the ability to think critically and come to conclusions about how to make the world a better place, the student may as well have been asleep in class, for the knowledge will be of no use to him or the world. But how does a teacher teach critical thinking to a student? The answer lies in how the problems are presented in the classroom. Is the student being taught two plus two is four? Or is the student being taught two dollars plus two dollars is four dollars? The difference is real life application. When students can see how the things they are learning pertain to their lives, they make more connections and will not just shut off their brain. The workforce into which these students will enter needs this type of application. The world needs critical thinkers. Gordon Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, warns that "The attainment of basic skills in math and language is no longer sufficient for productive employment" (qtd. in Clark). There must be a change in the way students learn if the rising generations are to continue the progress we presently experience.

At BYU Hawaii, many teachers use a grading rubric instead of the standard letter grades. This grading rubric has three areas: unacceptable, acceptable, and exemplary (Thompson). Using this method, the students are not subjected to comparison with other students, but a comparison with the students’ own efforts. This approach allows the students to see where they are and to improve at their own pace without worrying about how the other students are doing and how they may be looked at as a slower learner. Thus they learn to progress, not just accept their current state, but to better themselves bit by bit until they achieve acceptable or even exemplary status. This also eliminates much of the anxiety that students feel before tests or major assignments by knowing that the only person to beat is themselves, for this is the true measure of a successful education: being better today than they were yesterday.

Another necessity is a change in the evaluation process, or testing. Monty Neill, executive director of Fair Test, points out that "Looking at the actual work that kids do in school ought to be the central part of an accountability measure" (Jost). Cramming the night before a test and then forgetting everything after the test is taken is of no use to anyone. The test scores will inaccurately represent what students are learning because if they were to be tested again after two weeks, they most likely would not remember any of what they had supposedly learned. Dr. Thompson proposes the use of cooperative learning. Instead of just sitting at a desk "regurgitating facts," the students form groups in which they will do a project based on what they are learning in the class, and applying those things in a real-life model. This project would be a summary of all that was learned and would take the place of the final exam. All members of the group will receive the same grade and therefore must participate or the other members of the group will drop them. This not only overcomes the fear and anxiety of taking a test, but also teaches other important life skills of leadership, communication, teamwork, accountability to the group, work, and many others. Not only are they learning the material in a way that is more involved, they are also teaching each other. Those students who are higher level learners will help the lower level learners. The need for night-before-the-test cram sessions are also done away with because these projects will require much more thought, time, planning, and preparation.

The question is, "How will this change come about?" For a start, each individual teacher can apply these principles in the classroom. Students and parents can petition their local and state representatives for a change in teaching methods. School administrators can make changes in their schools and talk to superiors about talking to government representatives. As those in power see the desire of those truly involved in education, and see answers to the problems, new methods and practices will be implemented. The public school system will be strengthened. The rising generations will be stronger and more prepared for the world that they are entering, and they will become valuable assets in the workplace and in furthering the greatness of our society.

Works Cited:

Clark, Charles S. "Education Standards." CQ Researcher 4.10 (1994): 217-40. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Gerald R. Sherratt Library, Cedar City, UT. 4 Oct. 2007 .

Freire, Paulo. “The Banking Concept of Education.” A World of Ideas . 7th ed. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford-St. Martins, 2006. 318-31.

Jost, Kenneth. "Testing in Schools." CQ Researcher 11.15 (2001): 321-344. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Gerald R. Sherratt Library, Cedar City, UT. 4 Oct. 2007 <http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2001042000>.

Thompson, Ray. Personal interview. 26 Sept. 2007.