TED-ED Speech (draft)
The following draft was constructed over Preston’s senior year of highschool. Because Preston had a 2 year long obligation of service after graduation, he was unable to finish the project or deliver it to the proposed live audience. Ending abruptly and lacking solutions to presented short-comings in public education, here we have the speech which was to be delivered on May 19th, 2018. Please keep in mind it was designed to be read aloud from a charismatic 18 year-old.
First off let me just say that the only thing I can offer you today is my perspective, and my research. And I say this because education is one of those things that go deep with people, almost like religion. Partly because it’s our education that is going to take us into the future. And as Sir Ken Robinson observed: “If you think of it, children who begin school this year will retire in the year , and nobody even has a clue what the world will look like in 5 years, yet we are meant to be educating them for it.”
I’m almost done with my 12th year of school and I look at it a little differently then I used to. My original mindset was one of being the best student and doing whatever it takes to get the highest grade. You see I value high grades. I’ve never received any final grade lower than a B in my entire academic career. That’s because school is the great omniscient place that we all go to learn from and the distributor of the golden ticket once it’s all said and done. Right?
Wrong. My classmates and I are about to finish, and when we do there is no golden ticket. The only thing we get is what we learned and as I’ll explain in this talk, the vast majority of what we “learned” in school is inauthentic and unpractical. Now don’t get me wrong here, I know that this problem that I’m about to delve into is much, much bigger than the students, much bigger than the teachers and much bigger than the individual schools themselves. No, I fundamentally believe that at its core, the system of public education is broken. Allow me to explain my belief.
People are not the same. Nobody is the same as anybody else. Everybody is born differently. Yet when we get to school, everybody takes the same thing. Everybody in school learns the same thing at the same time as everybody else. Even if a person is born to be the best basketball player ever, instead of becoming tunnel vision on that and becoming great at it, they’re still required to put busy work into something they will never use in their life. You see, the system is like a cookie cutter and the children are the dough. Instead of forming beautiful, unique things they are all the same. Not every person needs to be at the same intelligence in the same subjects as everybody else. We’re ignoring their DNA and were not giving them a chance to be molded by experience into awesomely unique things. This is how a person would grow up constantly thinking about designing bikes and wind up as a lawyer, or someone who can’t go a day without jotting down their next poem majors in math because that’s where the straight A’s were.
This is horrible. Schools give kids pre-tests, to find out what they’re worst in… and then they give them more of that. Because teaching to interest, teaching to joy, teaching to curiosity does not matter. It’s all about making sure you don’t suck so much at the things you’re bad at. And why do we do this again? Because someone told us we had to? Because were gonna need it one day? Because it looks good on a college resume? One size does not fit all.
Let me explain to you why this is based on more than just my personal experience and emotion.
1. SCHOOLS OPERATE USING INDUSTRIAL AGE VALUES
Very few people know the actual history of school or why it was even made in the first place. The model of going to school to learn is relatively new. Before the Industrial Revolution children learned on their own or in religious schools. It was during the industrial period that schools as we know were formed. But how did it happen? Well a reformer named Horace Mann studied schools across Europe to find a system of education that he believed would serve the United States of America best. He concluded with the Prussian model. It was funded by taxes, attendance was mandatory, and it had specially trained teachers.
Now, many people don’t know the origins of this Prussian model. An important part of the Prussian system was that it defined for the child what was to be learned, what was to be thought about and when to think about it. It provided the skills for an industrial age such as reading, writing and arithmetic. The hierarchy of subjects was designed so that the most useful subjects for work were on the top. Children were steered away from things that they liked in school on the grounds that they would never get a job doing that. Children were also taught a strict education that taught duty, discipline, respect for authority and the ability to follow orders. You see, the Prussians created social obedience in the citizens through indoctrination. Every individual was taught that the king was always right. In truth the entire purpose of the system was to prepare the children for industrial factories and make them loyal to the crown.
To do this they removed all independent thinking. In fact, a Prussian philosopher by the name of Johann Fichte played a key role in forming their educational system and he is quoted with saying “Schools must do more than teach, they must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way, that he simply cannot will other than that which you wish him to will. Education should aim at destroying free-will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting other than what their schoolmasters will have wished.” With this said, it’s clear why the Prussian model is not well known today.
Now, the American reformer, Horace Mann, knew that this system was used for evil, but he believed that it could be used for good if it was put in the right hands. So he implemented the model, it was used across America, and quickly standardized.
I believe that at the time this standardized education was created, it was quite progressive and innovative. There are actually lots of benefits to a public and standardized education, such as; it’s free, it allows schools to operate more efficiently, it maintains a minimum level of quality, all people must be treated equally, and lastly, it acted as a powerful economic machine during industrial times allowing the middle class to grow.
But how could a system that did so much for our economy go so wrong? Well the answer is simple: It hasn’t changed. The year is 2018 and if you look at a school today, what do you see? Mass production and Mass control. Or in other words, the exact same thing.
“American Schools: A Critical Study of Our School System”
Which brings us to our second point:
2. LACK OF CONTROL
Schools send a dangerous message to children that life is out of their control. They just have to follow what is laid down for them and do what they’re told, day in and day out. Their days are governed by ringing bells and awards are given out for doing exactly what their told. In today’s world, you manage your own time, you make your own decisions regarding what to do and when to do it.
“The Journal of Human Resources” explains that since the time that ADHD has been diagnosable by doctors, parents of hyper-active children (the ones who typically receive lower grades) are given a medical opportunity to raise them. So what happens? A system is established in which the parents take their children to ADHD psychiatrists, and if they can diagnose the child with ADHD then the child will be put on medication to suppress it, which means that they indirectly won’t be penalized in school any longer. Many, many, many students are raised taking medication to avoid losing points in the school classroom. Can we see the problem with this? Pharmaceutical companies have massive stake in our American public education.
“Leaving boys behind: Gender disparities in high academic Achievement” “Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of behaviors and attitudes in American schools since 1975”
Let me tell you a story that demonstrates this issue beautifully of a girl named Gillian Lynne. She was a mess as a school girl, constantly distracting her classmates and failing classes. Finally the school wrote to her parents. They thought she had a learning disability of some sort. This was in the 30's so ADHD was not yet diagnosable. So her mother took her to a psychiatrist. Gillian sat on her hands for 20 minutes while the man talked to her mother about all the problems she was having at school. Eventually the man stood up and said “Gillian I need to speak to your mother in private, it will only be for a few minutes. Don’t worry, it won’t be very long.” But as they were leaving the room he reached over and turned on the radio. When they got out of the room he said to the mother “just stand and watch her.” The minute they left the room Gillian was on her feet moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to the mother and said “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school” So she did, and it was full of people like her. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think. There they did tap dance, jazz and ballet. She eventually auditioned for the royal ballet school, she became a soloist, and she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet school and founded her own company, the Gillian Lynne Dance Company. Went on to produce some of the most successful theatre productions in history including “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera” and she’s a multi-millionaire.
Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.
“The Element” by Ken Robinson
NO ROOM FOR PASSIONS OR INTERESTS
Now, I had passion, and this is what makes me so vocal about this, is I had passions when I was younger about space, math and art.
Whenever my 4th grade teacher passed out papers to the class about English or writing I would start drawing random objects and doodling on the side of my papers. I loved drawing but every. single. time that she saw me doing this she would yell at me to stop drawing on my papers and focus on the work. But I had a natural talent for art. My drawings were frequently displayed in local libraries and placed in art fairs and contests. They were quite good and it was something that I was proud of. Now, obviously I don’t remember a single thing I learned in the 4th grade, but what I do remember is getting bad grades on every paper that had drawings on it, until, finally… I stopped drawing. Because I was afraid to suffer consequences for practicing my talent and thinking creatively. But hey, at least I got an A in 4th grade English.
Most of the learning that happens in school is inauthentic as it relies on memorizing information. The system defines what knowledge all children must know and then every few weeks we measure how much has been retained by taking exams. We know that this system is inauthentic because most of it is gone the very next day. If I were to retake my final exam for Pre-calc, I would completely fail! And I just took it last year! You can’t collaborate with people during a test, if the teacher catches you it’s a 0%. No sharing ideas or learning from each other. That logic is not only non-applicable to anything in life but the use of it in school is hurting our youth.
So why do schools value these test scores so much? I asked myself that question, I asked, what is the point of this anyways? And what I discovered is that American public education is regulated on a state level of government. And each state sets educational standards measured through these standardized tests. Then those test scores are observed by a board to score on a standard manner. Along with school population, these test scores determine which schools get funded. So it becomes clear why they value it. This has created an extremely unhealthy culture between the students, parents, and teachers.
(Insert picture of failing student and angry parents)
In the current system, students are lectured for more than 6 hours a day. But there are huge problems with lecturing. Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy, calls lecturing “a fundamentally dehumanizing experience. 30 kids with fingers on their lips not allowed to interact with each other.” At any point in the classroom different students are at different levels of understanding. Whatever the teacher does, there will always be those who are bored because they’re ahead or confused because they’re behind.
Not only that but these classrooms are using limited resources. They still use textbooks to teach when they have unlimited resources to leverage. Anyone can learn anything about anything in today’s world. Khan Academy is a perfect example. Do schools use these resources in their curriculum? No. They fear loss of control.
Why is it still accepted for homework to be necessary? The answer is not the enormous benefits of homework but rather the clear educational deficiencies in the classroom. Homework becomes necessary because not enough learning happens during the school day.
Here’s the punchline: Children are predicating their self-worth and adults are predicating children’s capacity based on their ability to receive high markings in School. This system is old and outdated. It values the ability to follow orders over creativity. And yet when you look at the most successful people today, they left the system and took their own path. Quinton Terrintino, winner of both the Oscars and Golden Globes dropped out of high school at 15 years old. Bill Gates, Wrote the program used for the worlds first PC and CEO of Microsoft, he’s worth 77 billion and dropped out of college. Jay Z, aside from being a rapper he has his own record label and clothing line worth millions, never even got his high school diploma. And there are so many more, Mark Zuckerberg and my favorite, Albert Einstein. He was expelled because his attitude about school was affecting his classmates.
Fortunately these people were able to overcome these system failures. But not everyone can. We have no way of measuring how much talent, and how much potential goes unrecognized in our system.