My Not-So-Mainstream Position about (High School) Education

Nobo Komagata

March 25, 2018 (minor correction/revision on August 23, 2018)

Goal

I would like to live in a peaceful world. I guess (almost) everyone, including children, would like too. Unfortunately, we, adults, have failed to build such a world (need evidence?). No wonder, many children and young adults do not aspire to live in our world. There are signs everywhere: drug addiction, suicide, violence, etc. They are victims. What can we do? Our best bet might still be “education.” But it must be a kind of education that would enable them to actually build a peaceful world by themselves. They are the ones who need to tackle all future problems ... when the time comes.

Problems

Adults’ failure in world building is tightly coupled with the failing state of the current mainstream education. The current mainstream education is not at all useful for students to build a peaceful world. So, it is a mistake to force adults’ failing agenda on students, e.g., curricula based on state requirements, absurd school rule, etc. However, it is the act of forcing that is even more damaging. Forcing and excessive control by adults deprive students of practicing creativity and decision-making skills. The terrible consequences are blatantly clear these days. Forcing also kills students’ intrinsic motivation, the most important but fragile component in learning. For example, it can be easily killed by extrinsic motivators, such as fear of punishment, attraction to prizes/honors, and winning a competition. The underlying theme here seems to be adults’ mistrust for students. Would students trust adults then?

Homework and Standardized Tests

Both homework and high-stake standardized tests can permanently damage students’ intrinsic motivation by forcing students to do the work when they are not willing. I occasionally say to my daughter, “If you don’t feel like doing homework or taking tests, you don’t need to.” Of course, we are willing to accept whatever consequences (e.g., lower grades or even harsher ones); that is not at all our concern. It seems to be more important to save students’ genuine interest in subjects so that when (or if) the time comes, they are still willing to learn those subjects with interest and on their own.

College

I don’t think that a college degree or experience by itself is essential for the above-stated goal. But still anticipating successful college admission, many parents are preoccupied with their own children’s academic and other “achievements.” The resulting pressure is toxic for students and society. At the same time, I’m not categorically against college. If (a big if) students really understand what it is and how they are going to use that experience (for the same goal), they could certainly benefit from it.

Meaningful Questions

Are we really taking students seriously? Who are they? What do they want? What are their problems? How can we help them address their problems on their own? We, adults, should at least ask these often-ignored questions (http://komagata.net/nobo/pub/Komagata17-StudentsProblems.html).

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