When we talk about what is wrong with our education system and seek classroom management strategies to try to compensate for them we don’t have to look far for things with which we disagree. Chances are the person sitting across from us in the teacher’s lounge has a different list that is equally long.  We have already discussed several ways that teachers contribute to problems in the classroom.  Let’s look at some others.

When I hear people say that thirty is the new twenty, or that sixty is the new fifty I find it difficult to reconcile. There is abundant anecdotal evidence to support the first statement, the second I will have to reserve judgment on. (I’m not sure that having my mid-life crisis and getting my little red convertible sports car at sixty will be the same.)

Why are our children maturing more slowly? What were you doing when you were ten? If you are a child of the fifties or sixties at ten you were probably outside playing football or baseball, riding your bike, or playing hide and seek until past dark and your mother started yelling for you to come home. If you are in your twenties what were you doing as the twentieth century came to an end? Doing any of the above but also worrying about your computer crashing and loosing all your games as Y2K approached?

At ten when you and I were probably in a fifth grade classroom David Farragut (America’s first Admiral) was a midshipman on the warship Essex sent around the Horn to fight the British fleet in the Pacific. In battle as he was being sent below to get more primers a man was hit and had his head blown off. David and the decapitated body fell down the stairs together. Anything like that happen to you at ten?

The Essex was successful and took many ships and seamen captive. Officers with skeleton crews (not like in Pirates of the Caribbean) were sent aboard these ships to sail them back to the United States.  At twelve years of age David Farragut was one of those officers captaining a ship. Take a look around your classroom. How many of your twelve year olds have the management skills to handle that? Why is there such a difference in the maturity level of individuals today?

Early in life Thomas Edison left school because his teachers labelled him as feeble minded. (We still make such judgments but we force our students to stay with us until they are eighteen). At twelve he convinced his mother to let him be a “train boy”.  Shortly after that he was given an old set of “type” by a printer. He spent his spare time on the trains printing a four page newspaper about the lives of the passengers and what he saw in his travels. Within a few months he had more than five hundred subscribers and was making more money than the teachers who had written him off.  During the Civil War with his access to the railroad telegraph he was able to provide the latest news about the war faster than the newspapers and he was able to sell his paper for twenty-five cents a copy, selling over a thousand copies of some editions.  At this early age he had to management strategies that enabled him to become a successful entrepreneur.   Even a century and a half later you have to be older than Edison to work at McDonalds for a fraction of what he was earning. (And Edison never had to ask if his customers would like a TV guide with their paper.)

Where do you and I as classroom teachers fit into this picture? What role do we play in this “brave new world”?

The Education Testing Service in an attempt to help us understand what is wrong with education in North America today published a follow-up report on factors related to academic performance. (Notably absent from the list is the amount of testing in our schools and the role ETS has played in this issue.)

Next time we will take a look at this list and what role teachers play in the problems with schooling today, at least according to ETS.

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