I WAS at an event of a certain school where there were parents and other guests around. There were kids arranged in different “stations” in their classrooms. They were behind a small desk and there were a couple of chairs where you could sit in front of them. On the desk was an exhibit and a label about that exhibit.
Once you sat on a station, the student would automatically extend his hand and say, “Good morning parent. I will now show you X” where X would be whatever they were supposed to demonstrate.
There was this boy who said he would explain the difference between two types of leaves, parallel and some other name I forgot. But he showed me one that looked like a giant blade of grass where the veins were all parallel, and another leaf that was more rounded and had veins going all over with no particular direction. After his explanation, I asked him if he knew what the word “parallel” meant and he shook his head. So I explained to him a bit what it was and pointed to other patterns around the room asking him if this or that was parallel or not, until he got it.
Then there was this girl who said she would show me how to add a series of large numbers. She had a paper with small boxes grouped into place values for ten thousands, thousands, hundreds, tens and ones. And she showed me the numbers she was going to add, and for each number, she would fill the place values with x’s, then start counting them.
It was quite a long and tedious process. I watched as she filled boxes, then drew a line across them when a row of 10 was filled, and so on, and I asked, “Do you know why you’re doing that?” She looked at me and shook her head, so I again explained it a bit but I wasn’t sure if she understood or just said she did, and then proceeded with the box-filling and counting until she got her answer.
I smiled at her and said, “Do you know how to use a calculator?” She shook her head. “Do you want me to teach you? It’s a bit faster, you know.” She just looked at me with a bewildered expression, perhaps inwardly hoping this guy would go away and stop bothering her because she was done with her presentation and there was no script to follow anymore.
I left that school quite disturbed because this was supposed to be a non-traditional school yet it engaged in the same sort of theatrics to show parents that the kids know their stuff -- only they didn’t, and that is not their fault because the kids were obviously assigned certain topics to talk about, and had certain scripts to memorize and follow, never mind that they didn’t fully understand or were interested in them.
The sad part was that the parents seemed to love the stuff, but then again I cannot blame them as well as this is what they grew up thinking education was all about. That, to me, is the greater danger -- that we have been so acclimated to the malpractices of the system that we ourselves encourage and perpetuate it. As I have said before, it is very difficult for those who have lived inside a box to think outside of it.
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