Educated Fools — or Foolish Educators?

Educated Fools — or Foolish Educators?

One of my great-aunts, Annie Mae Randall, is as devoted to higher education as any Southern sister. She used to take the bus from Mississippi to Los Angeles every summer to accumulate three to six credits toward her master’s degree, slowly and painstakingly adding a few dollars each year to her annual salary and moving toward her goal. Yet, at family gatherings she used to make me the target of her ire because she thought I’d completed my own education far too rapidly.
After undergraduate school, she strongly urged a year off. After graduate school she told me to find a “real job” instead of jumping right into university teaching. She had a running monologue that would go something like this:
“What did you get your bachelor’s degree in?”
I’d reply, “Economics.”
“And your master’s?”
“Economics.”
“Your doctorate?”
“Economics.”
“Economics,” she’d repeat. “Hmm. Imagine all the money you would have saved if you learned it right the first time and got yourself a real job.”
I was, in my aunt’s opinion, one of the educated fools of the world, one who was replete with book knowledge and deficient in common sense. I used to retort that I’d rather be an educated fool than an uneducated one.
But with students thronging back to school and my aunt pushing 100, her teasing comes to mind. What kind of educational system creates “educated fools” — folks who have little or no practical knowledge of the workplace? Aren’t there really corps of foolish educators who have failed to adjust their methods with the times?
Foolish educators are so accustomed to the benefits of the status quo that they haven’t bothered to consider alternate ways that education should be offered. Our school calendars are based on an agrarian system with crop harvesting happening in summers. Now, less than 1 percent of all households are involved in food production.
Yet young people have few organized educational activities in the summer months, and working parents scramble to make childcare arrangements. Teenagers seek jobs and perhaps gain practical experience from their endeavors.
But recent collisions with high school students behind cash registers convinced me that some young people need more exposure to books than to work.
During my few days of vacation in Destin, Fla., I encountered a young woman who had to be coached to give me change for a $41 purchase. I gave her a $50 bill and a $1 bill, and she looked at me as if I had walked off a spaceship. It took about three minutes and a pencil for me to get this young woman to understand that the appropriate change was $10.
That same day, the local newspaper talked about the school year being moved up a week, to the second week in August, so that the 14-week semester could be over by Christmas.
A chance remark to a local teacher about the inadequacy of the school year led to a debate about what teachers would give up if semesters were longer and students were in school for more than the scant 180 days they spend in school now.
Educated fools or foolish educators?
Japanese students have about a 220-day school year. Is it any wonder our technological capability sometimes lags behind Japan’s? Researchers in schools of education ought to be tackling issues of educational organization and school calendars.
Instead, research reveals that some schools of education are part of the problem, teaching people to teach without teaching them content. Some studies show that graduates of schools of education are less capable teachers than liberal arts college graduates who take a half-year or full-year teacher training course.
Is it any wonder, then, that most proposed educational reforms, such as vouchers and charter schools, come from populists, politicians and conservatives, not educators?
I don’t support the voucher-school privatization movement at all, but I understand people’s frustration with the efficacy of K-12 education. If educators can’t come up with ways to make schools effective, parents and populists will!
Flaws in K-12 education trickle up to higher education. The same little dingbat who had to be walked through simple arithmetic at a boutique will have to be walked through more complicated mathematics in a college class.
The structure of our educational system bears examining and alteration. Schools of education ought to lead the way in talking about reforms and alterations, about a longer school calendar and more effective methods of teaching.
While the educated fools who pass as politicians chip away at our nation’s educational structure with talk of vouchers and tax cuts, foolish educators piddle with a lack of innovation.
In the middle of this, students are the losers. And so is our nation when issues of world competition are considered.           



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