There is a common belief among the education community that education theory is evolving. Ph.D.s and school administrators keep thinking up new ways to ‘improve’ our education system, for example ‘common core’ and ‘standardized testing’. Problem with that theory is we are graduating more children from the K-12 system now who do not have the basic skill set to get a job, live on their own, or function in the post-secondary education environment.
I have a thought about that: we have abandoned some of the tried-and-true methods that worked in the 50s, 60s, and 70s for the sake of ‘experimenting’ with our children’s education. My suggestion is to resurrect some of those ‘old school’ methodologies. Here are some techniques that studies have proven to be effective:
1. Bring back music and the arts into our school systems as mandatory courses
Studies have repeatedly shown that music and art trigger portions of the brain that ‘core subjects’ do not and help the brain process other subjects better, for example math.
One study showed that listening to music reduces distraction when doing schoolwork.
“We seem to have two attention systems: a conscious one that enables us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on and an unconscious one that shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant. The unconscious one is simpler, more fundamental, and linked to emotional processing rather than higher reasoning. It also operates faster.”
“Music is a very useful tool in such situations. It provides non-invasive noise and pleasurable feelings, to effectively neutralise the unconscious attention system’s ability to distract us.”
Other studies have concluded the same, indicating that our ability to concentrate during studying is enhanced by music.
The same is true with art, but for different reasons.
“Almost as soon as motor skills are developed, children communicate through artistic expression. The arts challenge us with different points of view, compel us to empathize with “others,” and give us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition. Empirical evidence supports these claims: Among adults, arts participation is related to behaviors that contribute to the health of civil society, such as increased civic engagement, greater social tolerance, and reductions in other-regarding behavior. Yet, while we recognize art’s transformative impacts, its place in K-12 education has become increasingly tenuous.”
“We find that a substantial increase in arts educational experiences has remarkable impacts on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes.”
2. Return vocational training to K-12 education
An article in Forbes magazine a few years ago observed:
“Throughout most of U.S. history, American high school students were routinely taught vocational and job-ready skills along with the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.”
“[T]he focus shifted to preparing all students for college, and college prep is still the center of the U.S. high school curriculum.”
“Not everyone is good at math, biology, history and other traditional subjects that characterize college-level work. Not everyone is fascinated by Greek mythology, or enamored with Victorian literature, or enraptured by classical music. Some students are mechanical; others are artistic. Some focus best in a lecture hall or classroom; still others learn best by doing, and would thrive in the studio, workshop or shop floor.”
“The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today, and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers.”
The reality for most school-age children is that they will only be exposed to college-centered curriculum in public school and those who don’t have that interest will suffer. It was exacerbated when President Obama “called for every American to pursue some form of education beyond high school ” during an address to a joint session of Congress in 2009.
However, it is well-established that not every kid should or can afford to go to college. What is perhaps worse is that the drive for every child to go to college has resulted in student loan debt skyrocketing and nearly impossible to elminate due to a lack of jobs in those sectors.
“Now that the Department of Education has made this data available, it appears that, in fact, the average student loan borrower takes longer than ten years to repay his/her loans.”
“Because more than half of defaults [on student loans] occur outside the [time] window covered by current federal default statistics, overall default rates are much higher than previously thought.”
“These data suggest that whether a degree is completed, and what type of degree is completed, may be more important factors related to the increasing default rate than the amount students borrow.”
The data is pretty clear – jobs that graduates get can’t keep up with repayments of student loans. This argues in favor of a trade education, where the student debt is likely to be much lower, but job security is much higher.
3. Teach cursive handwriting
The benefits of learning cursive go way beyond the ability to sign checks. Article after article touts this curriculum, but schools have abandoned it because it is the “computer age”. That’s not an excuse.
A New York Times article from 2013 discussed how learning cursive stimulates the brain.
“Putting pen to paper stimulates the brain like nothing else, even in this age of e-mails, texts and tweets.”
“As a result, the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension and participation.”
“Regardless of the age we are in or the technological resources at one’s disposal, success is measured by thought formation, and the speed and efficiency in which it is communicated. Because of this, students need a variety of technologies, including cursive handwriting, to succeed.”
William Klemm, Ph.D., Senior Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, offers numerous biological and psychological benefits of learning cursive.
Still another author provides 10 reasons to learn cursive, not least of which are:
- Improved neural connections
- Improved fine motor skills
- Increased retention
- Ease of learning – “Cursive is of particular value to children with learning challenges such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and difficulties with attention.”
While this may not cure all of our education woes, it certainly is worth trying. We are failing our kids right now. Why not go back to methods that worked in the past instead of experimenting with the new? It is my opinion if we accept the basic premises that (a) not every child is cut out for college; (b) that providing alternative skill set training expands the opportunities for our kids; and (c) returning to proven-successful teaching methodologies, such as inclusion of music and the arts and teaching cursive, will improve their academic progress and cognitive abilities, then we are likely to see a brighter future for our children.