One of my pet peeves is when people–be they veteran teachers, adults who remember their own schooling, or pundits on the airwaves–bemoan the low state of American public education. When they hear that I am a teacher, many strangers start off the conversation with some statement about how hard my job must be. This is usually followed by some version of “I can’t believe how little kids learn in school these days.”
I just smile and nod and change the subject because there’s really no polite, non-confrontational way to tell them that I disagree. Don’t get me wrong: I know that there plenty of aspects of the education system in this country that need fixing, from funding sources to high-stakes assessments to curriculum alignment. But, despite these failings, I have great confidence in the potential of our schools to make a difference for the children for this country.
More importantly, I have yet to see any evidence that our schools are academically behind where they once were. There were no “good old days”, just different times with different standards. Need proof? Check out this excerpt from an eighth grade exam from 1895:
Now, at first glance, it may seem like the bar was much higher over a hundred years ago. In fact, the title of the article that reprinted the exam above was “Are You Smarter Than An Eighth Grader from 1895?” But, look a little closer, and maybe you’ll see what I see.
Take, for example, just the verbs from each of the questions above: give, name, define, illustrate, write, show. What do these words have in common? They all come from the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. These are not higher order thinking skills. These are not creative or collaborative skills. These are not even career-relevant skills. These are minutiae that do not contribute to a responsible citizenry or develop critical thinking.
So, the next time someone complains to you about how much kids used to learn in schools, remind them of the creative, collaborative, engaging, brain-based, constructivist, differentiated things happening in our schools today. Point out that today’s generation of teachers dig deeper and reach further than any generation before. Our students today are learning skills, like teamwork and problem solving, that were important a hundred years ago, but weren’t taught then. They weren’t the good old days.
These are the good new days. Let’s make ’em even better.