Education

This is mostly going to be a train of thought post. Probably long, and i wouldn’t call it a “must read”.

It occurred to me that i just never post to this blog. I’ve been posting to my study abroad blog relatively consistently. I realized that i call this my personal blog, but i never post anything here. And why not? I’m not going to pretend like this blog is a platform for the spread of my ideas. It’s more a journal, i think. One that’s open to the public to read.

Today i want to talk about education. I’m in France right now, and though i’ve learned a lot about the French system (and thereby a few of the common philosophies and procedures in the European systems as a whole), i don’t feel i’m well-qualified enough to say anything definitive about how the system works. Still though, i will make a few comparisons. A lot of people from across the world never have exposure to those certain parts of culture that everyone takes for granted. What in America we call K-12, and what i think i might otherwise just call “school up to the end of secondary education”, is definitely something that doesn’t get talked about a lot when we engage in cross-cultural conversation. I think it’s because most people consider that part of their upbringing. It’s in the past; it’s their background. It’s how they expect things to be. So there’s a sort of lack of comparative discourse on the subject.

I was born in Texas in America. I moved to Georgia when i was 9. The majority of my schooling was done in an upper-middle class area. I was blessed with some really very high quality education. My schools weren’t necessarily at the forefront of technology, and you can definitely say that they weren’t at the cutting edge of teaching styles and what’s hip in the world of modern education today. No, i had many teachers that were very old, many teachers that didn’t know how to use technology half as well as their students. Many of my teachers had a thick Georgian accent, which is in many areas seen as an uneducated and stupid accent. The stereotypes of certain accents is another matter entirely, but suffice it to say that i’ve met many people with thick accents, and i’ve never met a stupid person. I didn’t always agree with all the different teaching styles; i definitely had favorites, but even despite certain misgivings that i had about certain teachers, i know that looking back, my favorites were the ones that cared.

That isn’t to say that i think a teacher has to care deeply about making every one of their students feel good. No, i think that too often in modern American culture we focus on trying to please people. Discomfort can be a powerful tool. In my literature classes we read many many books. A lot of them had controversial topics in them, and some of them were books that having read i would never recommend another person read. The Chocolate War, for example, is one that i read for school that i can say with the utmost certainty that i don’t think anyone ever needs to read it. (Having said that, i disagree with the idea of “banned” books on a governmental level. I think that’s something that should be what parents decides for their household.) We read Ayn Rand’s Anthem, which is not much more than her ultra-capitalist and egoist philosophy given a narrative. I think that’s perhaps one of the worst books for a 14 year old to read, and has great potential to cement selfish tendencies into young personalities. We read Shōgun, which has almost a whole chapter devoted to the sexual practices in feudal Japan before the Tokugawa shogunate.
I feel like i’m losing my point. Those were all three books that i didn’t like, and that i still don’t like. I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone else. If every teacher focused on each student’s likes and dislikes, though, then what would anyone learn? Sometimes learning is uncomfortable.
I had a teacher who focused so much on her students feeling welcomed and accepted. She taught so little. The next year i had a teacher who cared so much about us learning. He was a great example of a man who valued education, and he knew how useful it was sometimes to be uncomfortable and to use that. He told us about how in high school he tried out for theatre because he was shy and didn’t have many friends. He told us about how he majored in math in college because it was his worst subject in high school. He went on to work in some high level applications in some underground lab before becoming a teacher. He knew the value of an education.
So what i mean to say is that i was blessed with many great teachers that really cared about their students learning. That kind of teacher will be enthusiastic, not as a show, but because they love what they do.

Here in France in my university courses, the predominant teaching method is the pure lecture, which is very similar to how it used to be in the United States. Some places in the US still use this method, but it’s becoming increasingly rarer. For the most part, it is just the professor speaking, and the students taking notes. Occasionally, a student might ask a question. That question might be “May i go to the restroom”. Occasionally the professor might ask a question to the class. Similar to my experience in the United States, language classes have much more interaction between the students and professors. But still, i notice much less interaction here than back home.
Is that good or bad though? Studies show that the US is doing just about average in terms of test scores, and has been doing just about average for a while. Many people think it’s due to a lack of national education standards. Maybe. I think that a baseline of minimum standards across the US could really help. More than that, though, i think teacher education itself is a huge issue. A teaching certification is so easy to get in my state. It’s one of the easiest degree programs at my school. So many do it with no real love of education, either. Starry-eyed youths have unrealistic dreams of what teaching is like, and then get beaten down by their jobs within a few years. That’s not how it should be. A teacher needs to be prepared for their jobs.
When i was young and a teacher didn’t know the answer, i was so taken aback. Now it’s so easy to see why. It is too easy to become a teacher, and too hard to stay one. There needs to be more emphasis on the services that teachers provide, and there needs to be more focus put on training teachers in the first place.

I’m very grateful for my education back in the States. There were moments when it was difficult, but i’m glad for those moments.

I don’t know a lot about the education here. I help some of my friends learn English for fun (that is, it’s fun to me), and they say that i teach them more in an hour than they learn in five at the university. How can that be, though? I’m not in a teaching program, i’ve never been certified, and i’m on the young end of being a young adult. I would never say i’m an exceptional teacher. So what is the failure of the system here? Why do they feel like they learn so little?
If it’s anything like my Italian class at the university, then maybe i know why. I sit in the classroom for two hours and the professor, kind as she is, does little to engage the students. I’ve learned more from Duolingo than from that class.

My favorite language professor i’ve had was a man named Reginaldo from Brazil. He was my Portuguese professor for a year back in the States. He made the language personal. It wasn’t separated from the people that spoke it. Better than that, though, he told the whole story. He talked about the oppression of peoples in Brazil. He talked about droughts and famines and the migrations of peoples as a result of that. He told us about the negative stereotypes of certain regional accents and dialects, specifically his own. He came from a region in Brazil that was looked down on as a backwater rural place of uneducated rednecks, much like what many people think of the southeastern United States. All of this, he told us in Portuguese. There were many Spanish speakers in class, but i didn’t speak Spanish; i had a background in French, instead. So there were many people in that class who had a clear advantage over me in terms of vocabulary, since Portuguese and Spanish are very close in their lexicon. Still, i don’t recall having much of an issue understanding him. If ever we had trouble, he explained. He showed us songs from both Brazil and Portugal, and used those to illustrate the culture of both countries, and made comparisons between the two. I can’t speak to my classmates, but i felt like he made me care about the Portuguese language and the people that spoke it. Never have i felt like i learned so much from one single professor.

What more can i say about education?

I think that America’s system is in danger of collapsing in on itself unless more rigid structures and standards can be put in place. It is good to have a minimum standard.

French students are in school for more hours per day than Americans on average. Is that a good or a bad thing? What are their homework loads like when they get home?

One of the biggest arguments against more rigorous standards in the US is that students will then be required to do more homework. Is that really necessary, though? Could we lengthen the school day? Would that be okay? How would that affect so many things that are timed against when the schools let out? Or do we need to lengthen the day or give more homework at all? Could we just improve the quality of our teaching? Can you just improve that? Is it that simple? Probably not.

How do you “fix” education? Is it broken? So many students come from a “broken” system and do well. Would they do well regardless? How should you construct the system then? Aim at those who fit the description as least likely to do well, right? But then you run the risk of leaving the others behind to feel apathetic about an education system that doesn’t fit their needs.

It’s not easy, and it’s not easy to talk about. That’s why i think that different societies should discuss the differences in their systems. Surely the Americans have strengths that cover the Germans’ weaknesses, and the French might have something to add that would help the Brazilians. Could Japanese procedures be of use to the Mexican education system? We live in a world where communication is not only easier than ever, it’s also cheaper than ever. Is it then national pride? Why are the studies always framed like we’re in competition? Why not, “Look what the British have done with education, we could use some of their methods to help us”?

I think education is very important. I was blessed with a good education. I can’t take credit for that. It’s given me great opportunity. Perhaps least obvious is the opportunity to learn. I have a stepping stone to new knowledge because of what i have learned previously. I can see an article about vaccines and read it and be interested in it because i have a basic background in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. I take that for granted too often. I didn’t just always know that. Someone taught that to me. I’m grateful for that. I want that for other people. I don’t know that i can recognize how many opportunities i have because of something that seems so basic as my education. It’s in the past, part of my background.

I wish the issue were easier to approach. Something that affects so many lives is difficult to deal with, though. If the federal government of America enacts a federal standard of education, that affects at least 70 million people under the age of 18. Education will always be a hard topic, because it affects people on such a fundamental level. So often with difficult issues, people cry “Think of the children!” to draw attention away from the real matter, but with education, that is the main focus. Education is hard to talk about, in part because once you start, it’s hard to draw attention away from it. You start talking about education, and everyone has an opinion. They have to. They’re thinking of the children.

I want to thank the teachers that care. I want to thank the ones that don’t give up on the apathetic students who feel like the system fails them. I want to thank the teachers that suffer poor conditions and pay to teach students who might be completely ungrateful. I have learned so much from these people. I hope to continue to learn more from them as the years go by.

PSA

My whole “exchange student in France” thing will now be posted on my new blog (gabeinfrance). So check that out!

I was doing some Google Maps tourism for the city i’m going to be staying in (Chambéry), and everything looks so… French. Like, how movies and stuff look, almost. So different from America! Maybe i will begin my 5-step process of culture shock with being enamored by everything.

Also i’m leaving to the airport in 6.5 hours so i should sleep. Big old adult things to do tomorrow, like going through customs!

I’m going to France in three weeks.

That’s pretty weird.

It’s been a long time since i’ve written anything on this blog. I’ve done some reblogging and sharing of things i thought were important, but i haven’t really used my own words.

This started out as a fairly typical blog (but still not really a typical tumblr blog, to be fair). I then started using it more as a platform for teaching and sharing my own views and opinions. I did some posts centered around certain topics, sometimes around certain passages from the Bible. I’ve always shared or reblogged things i felt were poignant. I’m not the beginning or the end of theology by any means, and even what i write is just a very small and unauthoritative thread in the great big ribbon of Christianity. Eventually i only rarely checked in on my tumblr homepage, and sometimes reblogged things others posted, and even then, the last post was three months ago.

Some of my friends have suggested having a blog when i’m in France, and i’ve heard that it’s a good idea to have a journal when you’re doing a new thing. I think i’ll probably do both.

So i’m going to France in three weeks. Here’s the deal with that. Last summer i suddenly really wanted a motorcycle. Since my last set of Big Plans went down the chute, i decided that i’d get a motorcycle. So i got my first “real” job and saved up for a motorcycle. I then got a motorcycle and it was super sweet.

Look at that sweet bike. That’s my bike. It’s sweet.

Then i went back to school. I had previously been at my university as a dual-enrolled high school student. I took about a year and a half off after i graduated high school. I was trying to do all sorts of other things, but nothing really worked out. So back to school i was, resigned to the plan B i had of a bachelor’s degree in French. About a week after the deadline, i learned about a program called ISEP. It’s an exchange program, basically. So i went full-throttle through the application process, and got accepted to the program, then i was accepted to my university, then i was approved at my home institution, and then i got a big fat student loan to pay for it.

So look at that. Going to spend a year in France.

I’ve wanted this for so long.

I’m kind of scared, to be honest. There is so much new. I’m nervous. People are still people, but there’s so much i don’t know. I’m competent enough in the language, but language is truthfully so little. I don’t even know if it’s okay to burp in France. Is that so stereotypically brash and crude of me as an American to even consider?

But there is so much out there that is new, and maybe i can explore it and be excited by the fullness of life and culture and language and people.

I’m going to France in three weeks. I’ll post pictures.

When I was young, I wanted to be a cowboy,
and then I wanted to be Superman.
And then I wanted to wear my cowboy boots over my Superman costume,
and be Cowman…


Well I am a cow, man,
all of my fantasies about my wife to be are based upon things I should have never seen
(said all our fantasies about our wives to be are based on positions that should have never been…)
Idolized by our eyes – worshipped as though they gave us life,
but that’s the nature of the beast,
and he still squirms next to wisdom as she screams,
clawing for me on the streets.

In your hearts do not think evil of each other.
Zechariah 7:7b
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:6-8

I love the poetry of these verses.