Lyon Keating:

While in the midst of my public school San Francisco Unified School District subbing career, I ran into a teacher the other day who was doing a review of the school.  She was involved in observing how schools could be reformed in order to work more efficiently for teachers and most importantly students.  Such a heavy assignment I know, considering it might actually be a good idea to scrap most of the public school education system to start anew.  The woman realized I was a sub and asked what I thought of the school and my opinion on what could be reformed about the school district.  Uhhhh, where do I start?  I was a little intimidated because really where do I start with such a crappy system as the one in place in San Francisco.

The biggest problem with schools is that they have this overarching ability to be boring and un-relatable to the needs of people (students) in a modern day society.  Our twenty first century school system caters to a twentieth century or, unfortunately, even a nineteenth century mindset and standards.  It is a stretch for most kids in school to take what they’ve learned and able to apply it to their lives.  For all they know and care, they could be learning about the tooth fairy.  In the end, it just doesn’t matter because if you can’t see a connection between what you’re learning in the classroom to your life, people will become uninterested, perform poorly, or drop out altogether.  A lack of interest is the worst mindset for anybody as they just get through tasks to simply get through them.   Nothing else is involved and people aren’t invested in their pursuits.

I asked the women to look around the classroom.  I was subbing for a math class and on the board was the famous quadratic equation that students yearn to learn and memorize.  However, as much as some people believe students want and need to learn the quadratic equation this is a classic example of something stupid that is a standard in the public school system that is useless and irrelevant in the development of young people and really 99.9% of the population.  Unless you have aspirations to become an engineer or major in math in college or something very specific that most people will never have anything to do with, the quadratic equation is pointless.  I am a college grad and now a teacher and I, nor anyone I’ve ever known, have used the quadratic equation or anything remotely similar in their lives.  The woman mentioned that although it was probably not the most useful thing to learn at least it was building a talent and/or a skill to compute information which could be built off of later.  I figured an appropriate analogy to attach to what she was saying would be someone who hated lifting weights but did so because it was good for them and would lead to performing better in sports later.  The point is well taken but are not there other things that could be a bit more interesting and useful for kids to learn that could directly relate to their lives and also satisfy this “mental workout” that will create connections and skills to lead to better thought processes in the future?  The quadratic equation will only grab the most remote of students.   When will the system cater to the idea of most instead of remote?

Can you imagine a math class that was set up that used calculations to figure out how your APR financing worked and was calculated or one dedicated to the uses and budgeting of money and credit?  The idea of learning about money is a million times more interesting than the quadratic equation.  Teaching fiscal responsibility through forming budgets, handling credit cards, using online banking, etc. is all math related, uses numbers in a more relevant way than say algebra and is something kids can take home and even teach their parents or others.  Most importantly, though, it shows students in school that, yes, school relates to your life and will help you out if you pay attention.  Why else would kids pay attention if they feel what they are learning is useless.  Gone are the ideals that we should just learn things because it is good for us too.  If this were the case, why aren’t we still taking Latin?  Kids, and this will even be more extreme with younger generations, will need to see direct results for what they are doing.  Kids are smart and usually have the most ADD and will not do well in school unless their needs are met.  Our society teaches us to be individuals and to question authority while maintaining enlightenment ideals that prioritize not involving ourselves in things that don’t make sense.  Why should school be any different?

There are a million other examples to use for creating a better education for American’s children.  Having classes dedicated to organization and networking through the use of technology (internet, phones, texting, facebooking, etc.) would prove useful and interesting.  This would be in stark contrast to most schools now as they ban technology.  Exactly the type of backwards thinking that will continue to hold us back.  We need to push forth with technology and involve it fully in the lives of kids and schools.  That will keep their interest and only help them.  Why are we still using books in libraries over search engines on the internet?  Nobody uses books anymore.  C’mon schools, get with it.

No matter what you learn if you’re not organized than you don’t have shit.  How do people organize information and how does that help them in every profession and hobby and interest in life?  Classes pertaining to ethnic studies through the investigation of different minorities and how their outlooks changed and where are they today would be immensely useful.  How did Africa end up with such a huge population of people with AIDS?  Why are certain countries more economically advanced than others?  Why are people poor, what are the commonalities that all poor communities share?  What do drugs do to you?  Why do people do them?  How have wars benefited and proven to be negative on the world?  Why are people racist?  Comparing and contrasting religions and religious thought and government theories?  Who benefits from the implementation of a major belief system?  The record of human rights practiced in other countries and in our own country?  What groups of people control religion, government, etc. and how does that relate to minorities?  Peer pressure, social norms of men and women.  Holistic health, Eastern medicine vs. popping pills (western medicine)…The list can go on and on and with help from others could end up being an awesome list of subjects that would generate a resounding level of interest vs. that of U.S. History, Psychology, Economics, Government, Math, Science, P.E., blah, blah, blah….BORING!!!

In 2009 Obama claims that the educational system needs to be massively reformed in order to keep kids in school and equipped with the skills to succeed tomorrow.  He is oh so right and this is but one example of how it needs to happen.  Kids are smarter than people give them credit for and they are no different than anyone else.  They want to be involved in something that has meaning, is applicable to their lives, and able to build on itself to be more capable of learning in the future.  Gone are the days of the boring classrooms where going to school was similar to the self-punishment people put themselves through with western religion.  If education remains this way more and more kids will drop out or become mis-educated.  Schools and the subjects in them need to generate a similar level of interest, stimulation, interaction, use of technology, etc. that we see in their favorite TV shows, technological interests, and other recreational activities.  If school is ever viewed at least slightly as recreational then astounding interest will result, enrollment will be up, better grades will result, and we will have all won an astounding victory in regards to our society bettering itself from within.


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