Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Real World

Not only did I teach high school English here in Israel for the past eleven years, but my five children are all high school graduates.

I'm certainly not going to praise the educational system here nor support the most recent version of the English Bagrut (state tests.) That's not what's behind my criticism of David Herz's op-ed.

Like many, Herz's complaints and visions are rooted far from reality. Promoting the cancellation of the Bagrut tests will not inspire the youth to love learning for learning's sake or any other lofty ideals. There are two main problems, and an additional one which shouldn't be forgotten nor ignored, in his proposal:
  1. The students
  2. The teachers
  3. And the parents

Honestly, who really controls things?

Human nature and generations of breeding have produced students who expect rewards and they aren't "friyerim," suckers to work hard if they don't "have to." Honestly, it doesn't matter what tricks you try, the vast majority of students won't study unless there's a test which can't be avoided.

For the past few decades, the prevalent pre-school set-up here is pinot, "corners." The children are allowed to choose the toys they play with in various parts of the room, with very little requirements and instructions. The aim was to make them curious and not feel forced, but the result is that it's very easy for a kid to avoid anything difficult or challenging. He/she just does what's easy and fun.

The "hands off" approach of the pre-school teacher actually deprives the young students of learning skills. Most cannot figure things out by themselves, so they just do the simplest of things. During the eleven years I was in the English high school classroom, fewer and fewer students were capable of working independently, the opposite of the goal.

That brings us to the second problem. Teachers trained in recent decades do not know how to pass the skills needed by their students. Expecting your average, challenged and even many bright kids to just "figure things out" is totally unrealistic. Combine that with workbooks which require almost no writing and the fact that copying from the board is virtually unheard of put the students at a disadvantage. The workbook is a pre-planned lesson. That means that the teacher just presents and doesn't do the thorough planning once required. Pedagogic experts state that students acquire knowledge in different ways, but workbook lessons don't give a variety of methods.

Drills, the only way of really stimulating memory, are now forbidden in most school systems.

And where are parents in all this? They are concerned about two things. How the student feels and what are the test scores. Very few are involved in the nitty-gritty of curriculum.

I believe in serious reform for the testing system and the basic curriculum and teaching methods from the earliest ages, but I don't see the point of blaming it all on the Bagrut.

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