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Four Ideas To Revolutionize Education

As I see it, my generation (born roughly between 1955 and 1965) is the last generation for whom a high-school education was enough to get a decent job, and a college education was considered advanced. Children in school today face a more difficult problem: a high school education is simply not enough. In 2012 a BA or BS—from both a work and life perspective—is roughly equivalent to what a high school diploma was back in 1982.

The biggest problem I see in higher education is the cost and ability of students to not only pay that cost but to get involved in college in the first place. I have are four ideas which, used in conjunction, would reduce the problem considerably.

The first idea is to get publishers to produce books which meet a national standard

This does not happen today. The state of Texas buys 40% of all high school textbooks, so textbook authors and publishers are essentially forced to write books to Texas education standards rather than an objective set of standards. Thus we see such topics as evolution and American history given short shrift and/or biased accounts in the textbooks.

The second idea is to provide more incentives to reduce the cost of a college education

This I’m not sure how to do, or at least how to do it in a way conservatives would agree to, because college is still seen as a luxury by many politicians. The negative part of me sees this as an attempt to keep citizens dumb enough to uncritically swallow whatever drivel gets put forth on media such as Fox News or MSNBC. If not outright funding of public colleges (primarily community colleges) for all to attend, as we do for high school today, then at least expand grant and low-interest loan programs.

The third idea is to promote teaching kids how to learn, not simple facts

Up until ages 11 – 14 (it varies from child to child), children cannot think logically; around this age a spurt of brain growth occurs which continues until about age 17 or so. A great many studies show this time is critical to forming new pathways in the brain. Much like the first brain growth spurt (birth through age 4), if the neurons are stimulated they grow; connections are “ruthlessly” pruned if they’re not. Thus teaching students only factual knowledge from 7th grade onward does everyone a disservice. During this time, teachers should spend at least half their time teaching kids HOW to think rather than WHAT to think.

As an example, I believe three classes are necessary for all high schoolers: basic logic (including critical thinking), basic statistics, and historical geology. The reasons for the first two are obvious; the third, I believe, gives children both a better handle on where we fit in the world ecology and an appreciation for all sciences, particularly evolution but all others. If pressed one could skip the geology.

The fourth idea is to make schooling (from kindergarten through high school) a year-round proposition

Instead of giving everyone the entire summer off (from late June through August), set up a trimester system with two weeks off between each trimester and reducing the summer break to four weeks. In addition, the school day should be moved from 7:30 AM to 8:00 AM, moving dismissal times from 3:00 PM to 3:45 PM. My son’s school follows that schedule, and it seems more conducive to teenagers who need more sleep. In this way we can teach children more during the school year than we currently do.

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