Education: Then and Now
Copyright © March 1, 2018 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
Change is inevitable.
Therefore our world is constantly changing.
Some changes are beneficial, such as most new technologies.
Some changes are not beneficial, such as new flu bugs each year.
Since 1984 I have been teaching at a major state university and I have first-hand experience on how the educational process has changed during this time period at the university level. My children were in elementary school in 1984 so I also have first-hand experience on how the educational process has changed in the public school system over this same time period. At the current time my grandchildren are in school from the first grade up so I am still in touch with what is being done in the public and private school systems today.
The purpose of this article is to share my observations on what has happened over the years, and to make a few suggestions on what parents and grandparents can do today if they want their children and grandchildren to be educated in a manner that will help them to be successful for the rest of their lives.
Education in the Past
For thousands of years a person who could read, write, and do basic math was considered to be an educated person for the following reasons:
A person who had the above skills could learn other things, such as history, science, law, religion, medicine, politics, or almost anything if there was a written document the person could gain access to. In other words, if a person mastered the above three skill areas first, then that person could expand their knowledge into almost any other area in which they were interested, assuming they could afford to pursue that field of study.
- Reading: A person who could read could understand what was written by other people, such as personal letters, wills, farming advice, scientific theories, legal documents, and religious writings. A person who could read could continually expand his or her knowledge by reading new things, and that person could explain what they read to people who did not know how to read.
- Writing: A person who had legible handwriting could record historical information for future reference purposes, and they could write instructions on how to do something so that knowledge could be passed on to other people.
- Math: A person who understood basic math concepts was able to better plan and live his or her own life because that person understood the relative magnitude of the difference in the price of goods and services, and they could make better purchase decisions because they were able to clearly understand the "value" of things in relationship to other things. That person could understand how long a specific sum of money would last based on the current market values of the goods and services they purchased. That person could also make better investment decisions because that person could understand the mathematical concepts of differences in costs when compared to differences in profits.
The three most important skills that young people need to master today are the same skills that have been important for thousands of years: reading, writing, and math.
- Reading: If you are in a position where you have some influence on a young person, then may I suggest that you help the young person learn how to read well by doing the following:
- Have the person read out loud.
- Have the person focus on pronunciation.
- Have the person read slowly and intentionally pause very briefly at each period.
- After the person has read one page, have the person very briefly summarize and explain what was just read on that one page.
- Choice of Books: Almost any book the person is interested in will be fine. However, if you wish to make it a family activity, then purchase a Holy Bible for each person in your family (same translation and same printing so the words on every page are identical and everyone can follow along as the Bible is read and as pages are turned). May I suggest reading two pages per day, starting with Genesis and continuing to the end of the book of Revelation. If you have two or more readers then allow each person an opportunity to read and briefly summarize what they have read before the next person starts reading. For example if there are two people who need to practice reading then one person could read one page (stopping at the end of a sentence) and the next person could read the next page (stopping at the end of a sentence). Three people could each reach 2/3 of a page. Four people could each read 1/2 of a page. By limiting the total number of Bible pages to 2 pages per day, no one should become bored and each person should be able to learn and remember something important without being overwhelmed with too much information at one time. This would also allow each person some time to think about what was just read (or heard) before more information is added.
- Writing: When I was growing up we were taught how to print neatly, and how to write neatly in cursive. In my opinion, a young person today should focus on learning out to print very neatly because printed letters closely resemble the way information appears in books and on a digital screen. A person who has neat, legible handwriting is in the minority today. When I occasionally receive papers written by students during class it is sometimes very difficult to read what some students have written. In my opinion, only about 1 student in 20 has exceptional handwriting. If you have some influence over a young person, then I strongly recommend that you purchase some ruled paper for the person that is appropriate for the person's age. And then ask the person to write a very short fictional story about anything they want to but to intentionally focus on improving the shape of each printed letter in each word. A few simple guidelines for the fictional story are as follows:
When the person has finished writing the story then compliment the individual on their handwriting and on the content of their story. Then suggest how they could improve their handwriting skills and their storytelling skills when the write their next story (in a day or two). If necessary, show the person how to correctly form a specific letter. When you review their next story, repeat this process. And again, and again, and again. If a person learns good handwriting when they are young then they will normally retain that skill for the rest of their life. Handwriting is not one of those skills that gradually improves with the passing years. Instead, the handwriting of most people gradually becomes more challenging to read. But people who have mastered the skill of good handwriting when they are young will generally retain that skill for the rest of their lives and the people they interface with will immediately see that the person knows how to write exceptionally well.
- When: Sometime in the past, or sometime this year, or sometime in the future.
- Main Character: Male or female, name and age. The main character can be a person or an animal, and if desired the animal can talk.
- Real or Imaginary: The story may be based on reality, or it may include magic or science fiction (devices that don't currently exist).
- Basic Plot: A problem that must be overcome, or a skill that must be learned, or a puzzle that must be solved, or an important life lesson that must be learned.
- Ending: Happy or sad. No cliffhanger endings that leave the story unfinished.
- Math: It is sad, but some students today are graduating from high school and college without knowing their basic multiplication tables from 1 to 10. These students cannot do very simple math without a handheld calculator. Fortunately, no one is too young or too old to learn basic addition and subtraction. Is is never too soon or too late to memorize the addition of numbers from 1 to 10, and the multiplication tables from 1 to 10 (without having to rely on your fingers and toes). Any person of any age who has not mastered these basic math concepts should begin immediately to memorize these basic math concepts. If appropriate, you can help a younger person learn these math concepts by emphasizing how important they are, and how they are of practical use every day of our lives, and then practice these concepts with the young person until the person can answer very simply math questions on the numbers from 1 to 10 without hesitating. Once these basic math skills are learned then the person can more easily understand other math concepts that are more challenging.
Cheating has been a problem in education for thousands of years. However, there has been a steady increase in the amount of cheating over the past twenty years for the following reasons:
In the 1980s student cheating may have involved a few students cheating on one or two assignments in two or three courses during their entire four-years in college.
- Digital technology makes more information instantly available and it is easy to access.
- It is easier for students to share and compare solutions electronically.
- It is easier for students to justify cheating because "everyone is doing it."
- For many students there is no clear standard on what is right, what is wrong, and what is okay as long as you don't get caught.
- Cheating has become a game that some students play and if they get caught then they already have a plan for how they are going to minimize the consequences.
Today a lot of students cheat on every assignment in every course during their entire four-years in college.
Student's cheat because they have been lead to believe by their parents that the only thing that is important is the grade they receive in a class because the grade accurately measures how well they learned the concepts being taught in that class.
Employers has contributed to the problem by only interviewing students who have a 3.3 or 3.5 or 3.7 GPA (Grade Point Average) or higher.
However, employers are now discovering that a student's GPA does not correlate with how well the student can do the job the student may be hired to do. The reason is because the student may not have learned anything in college except how to cheat and how to "talk-the-talk" of someone with a college degree. The student may not have learned how to do the work he or she will be asked to do for the rest of his or her life. Some companies are now hiring new college graduates for a "trial period of three months." If the graduate is not capable of doing the work assigned to the graduate then the graduate is let go and replaced with someone else on a "trial period." Companies are also now interviewing graduates with a 2.3 or 2.6 or 2.9 GPA, because in many cases that student worked a part-time or full-time job, and was supporting a family, and the company suspects that the student earned their GPA honestly and that the student can do the job for which the student will be hired, and that the student will commit to honestly doing their very best in their new job. Companies are also now asking job specific questions during the job interview with a prospective applicant and if the person provides a really great "politically correct answer with no substance" then the person is not offered a job. But if the person answers the question with details that specifically applies to the question then the person is offered a job.
If some of the people you care about are still in school then I encourage you to have a private talk with the individual and explain the true consequences that cheating will have on the rest of their lives.
If you are a parent or grandparent then I encourage you to stop placing too much emphasis on getting an "A" in every class. Instead you should encourage your children and grandchildren to try and learn the information in each class and let them know that you will be satisfied with any passing grade that allows them to successfully complete each class. Don't put so much "grade" pressure on your children that they are forced into cheating at an early age just to satisfy your grade demands.
In the year 2018 some of the students in my college classes are extremely intelligent and they can quickly answer the questions I ask in class without having to refer to anything. On the other hand, many of the students in my classes in the year 2018 struggle with simple concepts that most students in the 1990s clearly understood.
If your children or grandchildren are still in school then it may not be too late for you to assist them in learning how to learn, and in learning what is really important (math) as compared to what is only of transient importance (history of the ancient world).
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