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15 Ways the Traditional Classroom Fails Us


By Nadia Jones

Education exists as one of the greatest gifts anyone receives in their lifetime. Though a right that should be afforded to all people, schools unfortunately reveal many of the shortcomings present in both the system and the society surrounding it. No individual or institution will ever attain perfection, but that doesn't mean efforts cannot be made to constantly improve upon educational necessities. Many of the following issues form significant, severe challenges to establishing equal, fair, efficient and effective schooling for all children and teens. Please make an effort to understand them and ponder the possible solutions, as doing so can help build the future generations rather than find contentment in mediocrity.

  1. An unwillingness to experiment: Although education administrators, faculty and staff are generally aware of the problems plaguing today's tradition-bound classroom, many of them feel as if their constituents would protest any shifts in how their children are taught. Applying new models to old goals could easily incite outrage in parents concerned that the results will not pay off. Even professionals who see the benefits of transitioning and experimenting have their hands tied (figuratively, one would hope) by a concerned public. This leaves classrooms rigid and static rather than fluid and dynamic, thus preventing a goodly amount of necessary changes from ever taking place and necessary issues from ever being addressed. However, it's not only parents displaying a staunch opposition to education reform, either. Some professionals think the amount of time, energy and resources needed to implement new strategies would compromise quality and efficiency while all the essential components fell into place. While a legitimate concern, the lack of flexibility still completely stonewalls progress.

  2. Creativity squelching: Sir Ken Robinson carries an expertise in all things creative, and possesses some provocative (but compelling) insights into the best methods for imbuing students with the "right-brained" skills they need for success. He recognizes and lauds the imagination and innovation inherent in children, but finds today's classroom settings completely counterproductive to their growth. Today's obsession with finding "right" and "wrong" answers with little room for shades of gray trains the creativity right out of them, argues Robinson in his illuminating TED Talk. Almost every country in the world treats the arts as a largely unnecessary component of education. Without classes that encourage abstract thought, creativity withers. Considering the professional sphere needs individuals capable of the improvisation and insight that comes largely from studying the visual and performing arts alike, schools do their students a great disservice by placing all their emphasis on math and science.

  3. Abstinence-only sex education: Depending on the state and the school in question, many public school students across the country fail to receive adequate education on caring for their sexual health. While it's understandable that many parents want their children to hold off on engaging in sexual activity because of the heightened risk of STDs, STIs and unwanted pregnancies and the rarely discussed emotional component, the reality is that many teenagers will still engage their hormones anyways. A proper education in birth control options and health issues that may result from irresponsible sexual activity makes for the only way to prevent a crisis. Abstinence-only programs fail to take adolescent psychology into consideration, and deny them the knowledge necessary to make responsible choices in adulthood. It's a short-sighted solution to a long-term public health problem.

  4. Emphasizing teacher opinions: Education expert Peter Pappas points out that one of the most common obstacles in the traditional classroom is also one of the easiest to rectify. Poor student engagement leads to isolation, boredom and an aversion to all things learning. Many of them feel forced to write papers and find answers based more on what the teacher wants to see rather than proffering any real challenges. This strategy does absolutely nothing to encourage critical or creative thinking skills, instead training kids to unrelentingly kowtow to the will of their superiors. Fortunately, a few tweaks to assignments are all it takes to improve upon this unfortunate educational misstep. Pappas suggests encouraging students to write for audiences other than the teacher and forming their own ideas regarding the subject matter rather than parroting back opinions. He also believes that the grading system could benefit from expanding beyond merely assigning a number or a letter. Teachers hoping to better engage kids would do well to request they reflect upon their academic growth and set goals to help them improve in areas where they lag behind.

  5. Lackadaisical attitude towards bullying: Many education professionals tiptoe around the not-so-delicate subject of bullying, probably owing to a fear of provoking the ire of taxpaying parents whose little hellions are responsible. In the event of physical altercations, some schools adapt a policy where both the perpetrator and the victim receive equal punishment — a mindset that only makes life more miserable and unjust for the poor kids only trying to defend themselves. It's understandable how so many teachers feel that bullying is a no-win situation for them, but experts offer up numerous strategies for addressing the issue in a manner that does not shame the individuals on the receiving end. Along with counselors, they need to take an active role in observing the signs of a bullied child and coax the truth out of them in a gentle, nonthreatening manner. The bullies themselves need intervention as well, especially in the event abuse at home is spilling over into school time. Regardless of whether or not such situations are the reality outside the classroom, it is essential for educators to include parents in any investigations. Yes, regardless of whether or not they insist that their little Muffy or Aiden are perfect angels completely incapable of uttering a mild, hurtful curse, much less drive a peer to suicide by pretending to be a new boy in school who thinks she's totally hot and subsequently launching a barrage of abuses.

  6. The marginalization of those with learning and/or developmental disabilities: One of the most common criticisms levied against today's education climate involves the witch hunts against children who don't conform and subsequent pressure to diagnose him or her with a learning disability. While there are most certainly kids who struggle with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia and more, these medical conditions are not nearly as widespread as most people assume. A disconcerting amount of diagnoses end up foisted on children who find themselves distracted out of boredom and disengagement. Many schools lacking the resources or understanding of learning disabilities such as dyslexia oftentimes plop students with otherwise average (even above-average) cognitive functioning in with poor performers or the mentally handicapped — programs which typically do not meet their academic needs. Fortunately, parents, doctors, interest groups and patients themselves have banded together to provide plenty of fantastic resources that dispel many myths, stereotypes and questionable practices. Teachers, administrators and other school staff members should research their valuable suggestions and see how they can best apply them.

  7. Curricula revolves around standardized tests: Arguments against standardized tests have raged for years, and The Vancouver Sun recently reported how they've caused considerable unrest for teachers' unions. Rather than guiding students towards forging the skills necessary to grow and succeed, they're required to spend their time memorizing facts and formulas for when test time rolls around. Factor in many of these exam's inherent biases, failure to account for natural variances in intelligence and aptitude, time requirement and other shortcomings and these professionals have some very legitimate arguments for their dissolution. Though educators in British Columbia cannot speak for their international peers, their call for more diverse strategies and more well-rounded syllabi can easily benefit most schools.

  8. Schools don't teach emotional intelligence: Education institutions around the world tend to emphasize memorization and academic intelligence above all else. Andrew McCluskey thinks this approach to teaching actively stifles one of the most important elements of sustained success — emotional intelligence. To some extent, schools cannot entirely nurture these skills. But there are strategies to help promote at least some degree of self-awareness and maturity. As mentioned earlier in the article, involving students in the grading process makes for one particularly excellent route towards teaching them how to analyze their academic strengths and weaknesses. Exercises in communication, conflict resolution and cooperation help build the empathy, compassion, analytical and problem solving abilities needed to develop emotional intelligence.

  9. Too much structure: Obviously, school requires some structure. Nobody here is advocating the complete dismantling of the entire education institution, but McCluskey does voice concern over whether or not the current system is yielding the best results possible. Confining learning to "a specific place and a specific time" compromises a child's willingness to discover lessons far outside the walls of the classroom. Students grow conditioned to rely too much on specific readings, writings, procedures and formulas picked up in class, putting them at risk of ignoring valuable skills picked up elsewhere. Utilizing the internet and other technologies as well as encouraging children to explore the world around them both help break this rather limiting cycle.

  10. Misunderstanding how ESL students learn: Myths abound regarding the language acquisition abilities of non-native students. While some with a natural knack for picking up English succeed, others struggle with vocabulary, grammar and idioms that make it incredibly difficult to catch up to their peers. These students are just as capable as the English speakers with whom they share classes, but they may end up with lower grades simply because of the language barrier. Regardless of whether or not a school possesses the resources to grant their ESL students a boon, the faculty and staff alike need to make an effort to understand how they learn. Doing so will greatly help them meet their needs and ensure the most comprehensive, rewarding education possible.

  11. Not enough funding: Especially at the university level, public schools have been forced to slice-and-dice everything from after school programs to canceled classes. In 2010, for example, California schools had seen an increase in student fees by 182%. As one can probably assume, the real victims here are the individuals hoping to attend school in the first place. Many earnestly wanting to attend cannot afford it, and Financial Aid and scholarships are never guaranteed — and even when one does manage to land them, there's still crippling future debt with which to contend. Beneath colleges, high, middle and elementary schools alike grapple against the No Child Left Behind Act. Critics of former American President George W. Bush's controversial bill say its emphasis on standardized testing and allocating funding accordingly penalize those needing money the most. Poorer institutions with few resources and personnel run the risk of lagging far behind their wealthier counterparts, whose students receive more intensive training on test materials. Serious reform is needed to ensure that children across the United States (and the world) all have access to the tools and teachers necessary for future success.

  12. Too much distinction between art and science: Astronaut, dancer and educator Mae Jemison sees parallels in her seemingly separate passions all the time. By this point, nearly every student, parent and educator has heard viable, legitimate complaints launched against public schools' appalling treatment of the performing and visual arts. Re-thinking this sadly common paradigm means analyzing how the two disciplines feed off one another rather than exist as stark opposites. When Jemison flew into outer space, she brought along a number of relics meant to inspire her and symbolize the boundless nature of human innovation. To her, science and technology hinge in the very same creativity that fuels the arts. They nurture one another — dance, for example, is but an artistic application of physics principles. Building a space shuttle is an amazing feat of sculpture and design. If schools ever hope to churn out a generation of keen, productive minds that will propel humanity forward, they need to focus on both sides of the same coin instead of the merely scientific.

  13. Inadequate outreach for homeless students: One positive component of No Child Left Behind is how it built upon 1987's McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act. The bill made sure to redefine "homelessness" in order to address the needs of children living outside the homes of their legal guardians and parents, banned any sort of segregation based on socioeconomic status, provided adequate transportation to and from school and plenty more. A step in the right direction, to be sure, but it still fails to address some of the other major drawbacks associated with homelessness. Such traumatic situations can easily result in compromised academics, even in gifted children. They can also derail mental, emotional and physical health to the point it interferes with their classes as well. Now that the American schools have figured out ways to address logistical setbacks, it's time to turn attention towards molding them into healthy, happy and stable individuals who get as much out of their education as their comparatively privileged peers.

  14. Inadequate suicide prevention: Most schools with the money to afford a counselor keep one on staff for students to consult when life grows too overwhelming. Even then, though, mental health stigmas unfairly, annoyingly persisting in America today prevent many youths from seeking the help they need. Every state provides guidelines for its education system to follow when it comes to recognizing the signs of suicidal behavior, depression and other conditions — but these are provided for the faculty and staff only. Students themselves also need empowering. Educating them on the reality of suicide rather than glossing over the issue will help alleviate some of the negative attitudes levied onto the sufferers, not to mention encourage them to reach out towards any endangered peers. No one strategy for entirely eradicating the act exists, unfortunately. However, frank, open discussions, efforts to dissolve misunderstandings and marginalization and involving students in the intervention process certainly do absolutely nothing but help.

  15. Unhealthy lunches: Everyone is probably sick of hearing all about the exceptionally unhealthy meals dished out to school children, and for good reason. However, change can't happen unless people grow aware of the issue at hand and strive towards providing students the most nutritious, budget-friendly food possible. Considering health classes routinely educate kids on how to make responsible choices come mealtime, it does seem a bit jarring that their lunches would come laden with too many fats, cholesterol, calories and salts. Fortunately, many districts around the nation have started implementing various options to keep bodies as sharp as minds; including forming relationships with local farmers and selling nutritious snacks alongside the greasier ones.

February 6th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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