Monday, March 30, 2009

Just a Twitter Away From an Education


From the 'What could possibly go wrong?' department, we have a story from the folks across the pond at The Guardian which tells us that school children will no longer have to study the Victorians or World War II in a proposal under which the primary school curriculum will be overhauled. Ok, then. I can see not studying the Victorians, perhaps. But that's really based on the fact that I don't know who the Victorians are and I turned out OK. (Not great, but who did?) But not studying World War II seems like a mistake (though I suppose that watching a few Tom Hanks or Matt Damon movies about World War II might suffice enough to get you through just about anything except for Jeopardy! and World War III). But what really seems like a mistake is for the kids to study Twitter and Wikipedia instead. Wait. What?

Are you kidding me? Twitter and Wikipedia? They're hardly substitutes for World War II. (Again, not knowing much about the Victorians, it's really hard to compare.) But according to the proposed curriculum, schools will be able to "...strip away hundreds of specifications about the scientific, geographical and historical knowledge pupils must accumulate before they are 11" in order to "allow schools greater flexibility in what they teach." Greater flexibility? I'd say. To go from teaching something useful and factual (which Wikipedia is not always) to teaching crap seems like the ultimate in flexibility (as long as you're not counting Pamela Anderson, because I've seen that video of her and Tommy Lee and she is definitely the epitome of flexibility).

This new curriculum was created by a one Sir Jim Rose who is the former Ofsted chief (Ofsted = OFfice for STandards in EDucation). He wants to take the 13 current "subject areas" and whittle them down to a concise 6 "learning areas". So, instead of "things you need to know" I guess they'll be taught "there are things in here that you need to know". Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?

These are the basics of some of the "learning areas". Try not to scream.
  • They will become "familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication " as well as becoming fluent in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learning how to use a "spellchecker alongside how to spell".

I can't do it. I can't make it to the end of this list without commenting. Learn how to use a spellchecker? Are you kidding me? Um, Control-S. Do I graduate? With honors?

  • "...be able to place historical events within a chronology; to place the periods, events and changes they have studied within a chronological framework, and to understand some of the links between them."
OK, so first there was the Internet. Then bloggers or Wikipedia. I don't know which one figured out that they could just make up crap and have people believe it, no questions asked, first. Then came the podcast, because what's better than making up crap and writing it down than making up crap and talking about it? And finally, Twitter, where you can take all you've made up and broadcast it for the world to see all the live long day.
  • Then there's the stuff about "...children's health, diet and physical activity, as well as their relationships with family and friends. They will be taught about peer pressure, how to deal with bullying and how to negotiate in their relationships." For some reason, colorful paper airplanes are very important in the art of negotiating. Go figure.

How to negotiate? Guys learn that one sooner than girls. ("C'mon, baby. I'll tell you I love you if you have sex with me.") But girls do catch on. ("If you'll pay me the amount of alimony I'm asking for and give me the house and give me the car, I might think about sleeping with you again during this lifetime.")

  • I found this one to be odd: "Less emphasis on the use of calculators than in the current curriculum." (OK, so they'll be sending in their English assignments that they researched on Wikipedia in 140 characters or less via Twitter and they'll be using their trusty abacus for math homework and carving their answers into a rock.)

This move "away from education" is perplexing to me. There are enough idiots out there who (technically) have been educated with a real curriculum. Can you imagine the dough heads that say, Flori-duh, for example, could churn out with a schedule like this? Look, I'm all for research skills and effective communication, but why Wikipedia? If you want to instill some web-based knowledge in their unmolded little brains, what say you start with Google? If you know how to use Google in the most effective and efficient way possible, you're going to be able to kick Wikipedia's ass with the (accurate) information that you'll be able to find. This plan does not thrill me and I'm a bit worried about the education system in general over there. (I'm also a bit worried that something like this will begin to take hold over here in the US. Sadly however, in some schools, teaching crap would be better than what they're currently teaching, which is nothing.)

It would seem that part of the rationale is that kids know about Wikipedia and Twitter and they don't know about World War II, so it's better to teach them about something they know. I thought the whole point of "teaching" something was so that people who didn't know about the subject would learn about it? But now, if they don't know about something then they are going to not be interested in learning about it at all? That seems...what's the word...oh yeah, effing ridiculous. (So it's two words. I misplaced my abacus when I was Twittering.) I hope that someone mentions this to Sir Jim Rose, but I don't know if they will because he's pretty darned scary looking over there. Yipes.

The article in The Guardian states that the "...reforms requiring schoolchildren to study Twitter and blogs would not apply in Wales. The changes would affect primary schools in England only." So there you have it. If you live in England, get your kids into school in Wales. You know, while I'm really curious as to how this is going to turn out, I have a hard time getting excited about social experiments where the end result could be of great detriment to society. Put that in your pipe and Twitter it.

And while you're at it, feel free to follow me on Twitter. (Dear God, I can't believe I just Follow me on Twitter!said that.) You can click on the link in the Twitter section of the sidebar over there on the right, or you can just go to the Twitter website and follow me under my Twitter name (can't believe I just said that either) OpusP. If you don't know what in the hell Twitter is, you're not alone. I still don't think I know what it is. Happy tweeting.

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6 comments:

Grannyann said...

Where do people come up with these things? Wikipedia is put together by whoever wants to say something. Now isn't that just a wonderful way to teach?

Ruth@VS said...

Sometimes I am ashamed to be British.

No need to wait for the results of this experiment, we already have the effects of the tinkering with education over the last 20 years - poor literacy, numeracy and feral kids with the attention span of a gnat, while at the same time the exam results get better and better. Some schools are now opting out of what used to be the national qualifications saying they are "not stretching".

So the choice for concerned parents is either private school or homeschooling - the latter is becoming increasingly popular as the internet has put vast amounts of knowledge within reach. I don't have kids, but have come to the conclusion that if I did, I would homeschool. I couldn't do any worse than the so-called teachers!

Mare said...

Very interesting. So, these "feral children" (another wonderfully descriptive term which I will likely pilfer at some point in the future) are dumber than grass, yet their test scores indicate that they're geniuses. (Geniuii?)

The University of California system is heading down a similar path (which is likely to produce some unintended consequences) as they are now eliminating SAT subject tests from eligibility requirements and giving more weight to the reasoning SAT. The reason? There is a disproportionate number of Asian students admitted as freshmen than there are white, black and Hispanic students. Asian students tends to do well on the SAT subject tests. Black and Hispanic students tend to do well on the SAT reasoning tests. Thus, this move may increase the number of other ethnic groups while at the same time possibly decreasing the number of Asian students.

The other problem they cite with the subject tests is that "Many students — especially low-income and/or minority students — become ineligible to apply because they do not take the subject matter tests."

Why "Take the subject matter that's on those tests" isn't a reasonable solution is beyond me. But what they will effectively accomplish is decreasing the value of a degree from a UC school by seeming to make it easier to get in. That's part of the prestige of a degree from a school like UC-Berkeley - It's supposed to be hard to get in! People are only impressed by the name "Berkeley" because of it's high standards and course difficulty. Get rid of those and Berkeley loses merit.

I'm beginning to think that those islands that I'd like to use for the exile of morons and criminals are starting to look pretty attractive for ME to relocate to. Let the morons and those in charge of educating them stay on the mainland and I'll go find a nice palm to recline beneath. I enjoy a nice island.

Ruth@VS said...

Quite right!

We have also crashed our higher education at the same time as our schools, all in the name of being more "inclusive" and ensuring that over 50% of our kids go to university. Some thought that this would mean the quality of education would necessarily be reduced, but the powers that be reassured us it would not be so. Of course, that was rubbish. Degrees in strange subjects proliferated and their value is definitely less than it was in the 1980s. From being one of the best educated nations we are now plummeting down the table of nations like a stone. Truly shocking.

Mare said...

Degrees in strange subjects? Oh, you can't just leave it at that and expect me to not wonder! Do tell! Like how strange? Underwater basket weaving strange? Or like a 2-yr. Ph.D. program strange?

I just don't understand why the number of people going to college is more important than having the people who go to college a) qualify for it and b) actually learn something from it (and WANT to learn something from it).

I just don't see the point in pretending like everyone is qualified to be there even if they're not just to meet some sort of quota.

I think we're going to need a bigger island.

~ M

Ruth@VS said...

OK, have wandered round the web:

First here is the view of academics on the state of our education at present:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article5864546.ece

As for stupid degrees, here are a few I culled:
Hospitality and Recreation - or how to make a cup of tea and go for a walk in a park
Film Studies - an excuse to spend lots of time in the cinema
Interactive Media - ?
Knowledge Management - ?
Play and Playwork - sounds like fun!

I'm sure there are more, extreme examples, but I can't think of them just now. How useful these degrees are I do wonder!