This was a school assignment entitled Educational Learning Injustice in American Schools.
Educational Learning Injustice in American Schools
There is a serious problem in the American learning institutions today. Since the dawning of the American public (and private in most cases) school system, there is a standardized mode of learning: sit still, soak up information, and regurgitate it a few weeks later on a standardized test. That is it. That is the standardized American system of learning. We are currently in the information age. We have cars that come in an infinite amount of colors and coffee that goes from the standard normal cup all the way to a double, non-fat, triple soy, ultra-light decaffeinated Sumatran extra-bold cup.
Starbucks, a Seattle based coffee company who has only been around since the early 1970’s, has figured out a way to bring 21 different kinds of coffees to America. Yet our government-controlled educational system, which was established in the 1840’s, has only figured out how to boil water.
How is it that in 2009 we have more ways to get a cup of coffee than we have ways to learn? According to American psychologist Howard Gardner, there are seven types of [learning] intelligences: Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. If Dr. Gardner is correct, out of all the seven learning types, only the Linguistic children are actually given a fair shake through the current learning regime we have in place in America.
A Brief History of the American Public School System.
First let us examine the problem. As I stated before, there is currently one learning system in our public school system. A teacher stands up in front of a class and “teaches” his or her lesson for the day. The student sits in a chair, soaks up the information from the teacher, then regurgitates the information back to the teacher on a standardized test. This is the standard way of teaching and has been since the opening of the first public school, Boston Latin School, during the start of the Industrial Age of 1635. After the American Revolution then President Thomas Jefferson, under the direction of the former Secretary of Education Horace Mann, established that if America was to grow as a country (which is also indented in our Constitution), it must have a standardized system of learning. If America was to be the premier standard of the world, it must have a well educated generation of children to enter into the workforce. Since only elementary school was required, and there were a very limited number of people who could actually teach, a standardized way of teaching had to be put in place. This worked well for children who were good at memorization, but was totally unfair to a young Michelangelo who thinks in pictures, or the young Wolfgang Mozart whose mind thinks musically.
This style of teaching is the equivalent to famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) linguist Noam Chomsky giving a U.S. foreign policy speech to an audience of 100. What I failed to mention is that this audience consisted of the current U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi; and 98 four-year-old pre-school children. As good as Professor Chomsky is, at this particular meeting his effective rate of interest, understandability, and “teaching” was two percent.
I know this particular example would be considered satire at best, but this is the exact same thing that is happening within our school systems each and every day, and has been over the past 150 years!
How have we missed the boat by having only one standardized way of teaching students both young and old? If this system was effective, then we would have a nation of people who could only do one thing and only one thing well. How can we encourage individuality but not individualized teaching? Could a truck driver teach a chef how to be a better chef? If so, would the chef even be interested in culinary tips from a truck driver? Would an artist be able to teach a musician how to play the piano? The answer is no. Yet in 2009, we allow one educational shovel to dig seven different types of educational ditches. Ineffective would be an understatement.
A Graphical Chart
When trying to evaluate an actual plausible solution to this problem, there are a few things I took into account. While there are seven different types of learning, I am sure you will agree that one person is not just one type of learner. In reality, a particular person may be a multi-typed learner; so for the sake of simplicity, I’m working under the theory that no one person is just one type of learner. Without going into an infinite amount of numbers, theories, and what ifs; I used a box chart to simplify the numbers under the assumption that any one individual has at least two different learning styles.
In the chart below, I used actual students in a local elementary school. The numbers one (1) through seven (7) represent a different learning type. Number one is Verbal, number two is Linguistic, and number three is Bodily-Kinesthetic, and so on.
|1||Good||Good||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||Good||¾ learning|
|2||Good||Good||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||Good||¾ learning|
|3||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning|
|4||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning|
|5||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning|
|6||Good||Good||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||Good||¾ learning|
|7||¾ learning||¾ learning||½ learning||½ learning||½ learning||¾ learning||Good|
Graphical Chart Legend:
1=Linguistic, 2= Logical, 3= Spatial, 4=Musical, 5= Bodily, 6= Interpersonal, 7=Intrapersonal
Good = the current educational system can be used and the student can be taught 100% effectively
¾ Learning = the current educational system can be taught to the student at a ¾ or 75% effective rate.
½ Learning = the current educational system can be taught to the students at a ½ or 50% effective rate.
‘Blank square’ = the current educational system cannot be not taught to the students and is at a 0% effective rate.
I then laid the numbers out on a chart as shown above and numbered them one through seven across the top of the page and down the left side of the page. If you analyze this chart, there are 49 different possible learning styles or 7 X 7 (2 for each student). Of these different learning styles, only 10 would be effective in a classroom of 20 students.
This means that the only four (4) out of the twenty 20 students would receive true educational justice (the student learning fully what the teacher is teaching).
For the remaining students in this classroom of 20, the current mode of teaching would only be three quarters (3/4) percent effective for six (6) students’ learning styles, or 12%. For two (2) students, it would be only three quarters (3/4) percent effective.
Twenty-four (24) learning styles would be one half (1/2) percent effective, or approximately 49%. For ten (10) of the students, it would only be one half (1/2) percent effective.
In a classroom of 20 students, about four (4), or 18%, have one or more of the nine (9) learning styles that are 100% incompatible with the current mode of teaching. In other words, the students are almost better off not being there.
In using the chart above, and if you consider that the United States is considered a democracy style of government, there is absolutely no part of our current educational system that is truly democratic. Currently, in its purest form, our educational system would be considered a communist or socialist form of teaching: That is where only the top 20% are truly given educational justice. The bottom 80% are left hung out to dry, or left hanging on for dear life.
How can we as a nation allow educational communism to infiltrate our system and do nothing about it? Talk about ignoring the pink elephant in the living room. We have left this system in place for far too long and now is the time to do something about it.
If it’s not broke don’t fix it. How do we know our current system does not work?
Now I know there are doubters out there who are perfectly satisfied with our current system. Some would argue that we are not in such bad shape now since we have survived the last several hundred years with the current system in place.
The easiest way to address this is to look back into history; the old saying goes “History is bound to repeat itself.” The most well known example in history is the story of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein was a German-born American who was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1921 and Time Magazine’s person of the Century. There was a common misconception that Einstein was ignorant when he was a child. However, it is often said that he frequently received failing or mediocre grades in mathematics because he hated the authoritarian style of teaching, which still exists today. How many Einstein’s do we have today who feel and think the same way?
Another example is the Gifted Development Center in Colorado. This is a school that specializes in teaching children with so called “learning disabilities” how to learn.
Educational Learning Injustice in American Schools
A third example is a fellow classmate who had a very difficult time learning how to read, and did not learn how to read until the fourth grade. But a one month-long trip to Sylvan Learning Center and this same student learned how to read at a college level in one month using building blocks. Sylvan Learning Centers are located in nine different countries with hundred of schools worldwide. Places like Sylvan would not exist if everybody learned the same way. Kumon is also a learning center a lot like Sylvan.
So to answer the question of “if it’s not broke why fix it?” I would not say that our system is completely broke and we need to fix it. I will say that it is far below optimal and, in some cases, the current system is just barely satisfying the minimum; even by 1840’s standards.
Howard Gardner created what is called the seven learning intelligences. It is not hard to figure out that if there are seven different learning languages, and only one learning language is currently being taught, that there is definitely a very large need not being met. The information was further outlined and expanded on in So Each May Learn.
How could Sylvan’s or Kumon’s learning centers exist if there is not a market for their services? Why are these learning centers use the techniques and learning strategies outlined by Dr. Gardner if the current system is not seriously flawed? Junior High level economics tells us that a service cannot exist if there is no market for said service. The answer to this question is simple. Sit still, soak up information, and regurgitate it a few weeks later on a standardized test is NOT how everybody learns; not even by a majority vote.
Possible Solutions for Students
The Different Learning Types
As previously mentioned, according to psychologist Howard Gardner, there are seven different learning types: Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. Although sme may argue about the exact wording of the different learning types or “Multiple Intelligences” (MI), we can all agree that all people don’t all learn the same way. Outlined below are nine different learning types and a brief description of how that particular type of individual learns.
According to Dr. Gardner, Verbal-Linguistic people tend to learn by discussions, essays, stories, poems and storytelling. This style of learning is great with our current mode of education, so the learning needs of this type of person are being met; no problem here.
Logical-Mathematical people solve problems through patterns and categories. This style of learning is also benefited under our current schooling system since this is how they are currently being taught.
Bodily-Kinesthetic people gain understanding through bodily sensations. These are the people who are good athletes and craftsmen. In our current schooling system, there are very few opportunities for this type of person to excel with their style of learning.
Spatial people tend to be very visual people. Getting a teacher in front of this type of person and lecturing and writing letters and numbers on a board in front of them does not help them at all if they cannot picture in their mind what is being said. Spatial people tend to be the daydreamers and entrepreneurs of our country.
Musical people learn if there is a rhythm behind the teaching. Very rarely is there any sort of music involved in our classrooms; therefore, we are not currently giving musical people a fair opportunity to learn to their highest potential.
Interpersonal people are the natural leaders. They are very effective at communicating with others. Our current schooling system works for interpersonal people because they can easily communicate to the teacher what does and does not make sense in the current lesson topics.
Intrapersonal people are the shy types. They have a hard time communicating their feelings with others. The intrapersonal person learns most effectively through personal instruction and independent study. In some instances, our current system of learning is effective and in some instances it is unacceptable. This is purely dependent on the student and what other learning methods they currently have.
Browning, Bill. “2001 Cartoons Learning Styles.gif” 2001 Cartoons By Bill Browning
Different learning modes
According to Chris Long, the first suggestion is to figure out what type of learner or Multiple Intelligence (MI) the student is. Chris pointed out that learning and processing are two separate things. The above-mentioned Intelligences are only processes by which the student processes information. To take this one step further, there are four different types of learning modes.
In Chris Long’s article he indicates that there are “aural” learners; people who learn by “absorb[ing] information best by listening.” There are “verbal” learners; people who “learn best by reading.” There are “visual” learners; “student[s], absorb information best by seeing something. This type of student needs to see visual relationships through pictures, diagrams, graphs, charts, etc.” And finally there are “‘tactile’ learners; “these students’ learn best by touching something and working with it.”
A diagram is not necessary here. While most people are a combination of at least two different learning processes, there is usually one dominating learning mode. If you are not a verbal or aural learner, again you drop into the other 50% of people who do not learn via these modes. Again we witness the injustice we inflict upon at least 50% of our students.
Sometimes when a star high school student enters post-secondary education, often times he or she is no longer the star student on campus, and things are not quite as easy for the student as they used to be. Chris Long of Indiana’s University School of Law, elaborates on this interesting phenomena:
“It’s your first year. First semester. Not much to read for tomorrow’s class, only about forty pages. So why has it taken you six hours to do it? Everyone else seems to be getting it, so why can’t you? You read, you re-read, you take notes, you highlight, you listen to tapes of the lectures, you study with other people in your class. You end up more confused than enlightened. You have never worked so hard. You have never felt so stupid. Maybe you are not cut out for this after all.”(Long, 1998)
As Americans, we publically relish in our diversity and how we are the melting pot of the world. However, for some unknown reason, if you don’t fall into a certain category of learning modes and/or processes your diversity becomes a hindrance and you are treated like a second-class citizen.
Now that I have identified the history of our American educational system, the different learning types and modes, and have identified through other learning schools and centers that there is a problem, I am now going to discuss the different possible solutions for students with these learning types.
Chris Long also pointed out in his article that if a student is having trouble in the classroom, there are evaluation tests to determine the specific learning type of that student. One such test he recommends is the very popular “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.” The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a questionnaire that was made by the Myers-Biggs Foundation. “The purpose of the Myers-Biggs Type Indicator personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C.G. Jung understandable and useful in peoples’ lives.” In other words, it uses a questionnaire to determine what type of learner the student is.
The second type of test Mr. Long indicates is the “Learning Styles Questionnaire developed by Honey and Mumford (The Manual of Learning Styles, 1992)”. The Honey and Mumford test is exactly what the name indicates; it is a self-administered questionnaire that determines your learning style. These questionnaires are used if a student’s learning style is unknown or misjudged and the student, teacher or other person wants an accurate reading of which learning styles the student possesses.
By no means am I indicating this is a quick 6 month process where the whole current system is thrown out in favor of a system that is unverified on a grand scale.
There are schools currently in place within the United States where students can go and be taught in the particular learning language in which he or she is adept.
For example, the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, caters to students who are deemed everything from “underachievers” to “perfectionists.” The odd thing about this group of students is that “An overwhelming majority of the gifted prefer a visual-spatial learning style.” As mentioned before these are the exact same students who by traditional schools standards are perceived to have learning disabilities, introversion, and “out-of-sync” problems. We have a classroom full of the other 50% who by my chart above are truly the most gifted but do not follow the same learning pattern that is traditionally taught in our school system. These students are labeled outcast when potential genius is more possible.
The solution is simple. If all these development centers cater to children with “learning disabilities,” why don’t we make the training at these learning institutions a part of the teachers’ academic and teaching credentials? Not only will the teacher be better equipped to deal with multiple intelligences, the students will actually learn to love education because the teacher actually “speaks their language.”
The best solution and most ideal solution is to break students down into four different schools based on the students learning mode.
I’m not proposing that we stop what we are currently doing in our public education system, but I am proposing that if we keep the current mantra of: Sit still, soak up information, and regurgitate it a few weeks later on a standardized test, the very least we could do is to provide a comfortable chair and give the student at least more than one type of sponge to soak up the information.
This concludes my post on Educational Learning Injustice in American Schools.