"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

The Cave of Wonders: One Teacher’s Classroom and What It Can Tell Us About Sparking Passion In Students

There comes a point in a student’s education when they must pick a route to take in life. Some find difficulty in choosing a single major out of numerous appealing ones, while others struggle to find a major they find remotely interesting. So which is the better situation to be in? In my opinion, its better to have too many passions than none at all; after all, passion fuels success right?

I can’t help but find it concerning that there are students out there whose favorite subject is lunch. What does this say about our current education system? Perhaps we have taken the fun out of learning. As the pressure for straight A’s and competition for college admission increase, I think we can sometimes lose sight of what’s important: learning should be fun!

Kile Heilman, a passionate and popular middle school teacher has certainly embodied this concept. Heilman’s classroom is not your average classroom. Walking into the classroom is like walking into the cave of wonders–you’re engulfed by an abundance of treasures including artifacts, bones, models and displays. When I learned about Heilman’s classroom in the article Teacher Creates Museum Experience In Classroom I thought, “America needs more classrooms like this!”

This one-of-a-kind teacher’s innovative approach to learning invites exploration and allows children to dive deeper into subjects that that spark their interests. Holding, touching, and feeling real life objects from the past offers a learning experience that no textbook can provide; and it’s fun and interactive! If more classrooms were like Heilman’s I think we could instill greater passion for school subjects in young students. Then, when the time comes for them to choose a major in college, perhaps the only problem they will face is choosing a single major amongst many desirable ones.


Glorious Mud-Pies: How Is Early Education Impacting Childhood?

A recent conversation with a family friend about their daughter’s education sparked my concern over early education. Their daughter, only 7 years old, is already learning Spanish. Qué?! I didn’t learn a word of Spanish until high school, and when I was that age writing a complete sentence was my challenge. Needless to say, this information took me by surprise. I thought, “What is this world coming to? What is happening to childhood?”

These questions ran through my mind once again after reading the article Bill Passed to Make Kindergarten Mandatory for 5-Year-Olds . Due to the passing of this bill, all 5-year-olds in New York City will be required to attend kindergarten.

This is certainly a good thing, in my opinion. It means that no 5-year-old can be denied enrollment into kindergarten, which sometimes occurs due to overcrowding in schools. I think that it is great that some responsibility is being taken to ensure that children start their education on time and actually go through kindergarten. The skills obtained during the first year in school set a foundation down for future learning. The kindergarten experience also gives children the opportunity to adapt to the routine of a school environment, working, sharing, and interacting with other children.

The resurfacing of my concern about the loss of childhood, after having read this article, may seem over dramatic or even irrelevant. However, 5-year-olds attending school is not what’s troubling–it’s what’s in store for young children years from now. Will preschool someday be mandatory for all children? Will three-year-olds reading chapter books become a common sight? Although that may be impressive, there is something unsettling about it. I am torn on the subject of early education. I think early education is important to children’s development and performance in school, but I also think it’s important that kids enjoy their childhood. Mud-pies and wild running children are sights I hope to see for the rest of my life.

So here comes the big question: how soon is too soon and how much is too much for children’s early education?

The Crime in Handling Incidents of Sexual Misconduct

It is disappointing to know that there are students out there who attend school everyday in fear of being bullied, teased, taunted, or sexually harassed. Children are required to go school, and it is a shame that we have yet to make sure every student feels safe and capable of performing their best. We must take responsibility and end this now.

Just 15 months ago, The Office of Civil Rights began an investigation of Yale University’s handling of incidents of sexual misconduct after students and alumni filed a complaint. The investigation discovered that Yale kept some reports of sexual misconduct covered up and failed to effectively inform students of resources to turn to for help in cases of sexual harassment or assault.

After reading about this in the article Department of Education ends Title IX investigation, I felt like Yale’s handling of sexual misconduct was unethical. It may be superstitious thinking on my part, but it sounds like Yale may have responded the way that it did in order to maintain a positive school image and reputation. A university’s image is vital to its enrollment rates.  No one wants to attend a college with a reputation for being unsafe, so silencing incidents of sexual misconduct would have been to Yale’s advantage. If Yale was responding in this way, I fear that that other universities may be doing the same.

I think that it is a crime to silence incidents of sexual misconduct and silence organizations working to combat sexual harassment and assault. Rather than radiating a poor image, I think speaking openly about these issues and actively working to prevent them is a demonstration of responsibility. If anything, I think a school possessing abundant resources and groups fighting this problem are a reflection of the caring and compassion the university has for its students—that is certainly the type of college I would want to attend!


Choosing a Major—Students Shy Away from STEM Degrees

If you are a freshmen about to start your first year of college, your biggest question might be, “What should I major in?” In thinking about your future, you may want to consider a degree that will lead to careers expected to be in high demand after you graduate. According to the article STEM Education Is the Key to the U.S.’s Economic Future, Bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math lead to careers that are becoming increasingly in high demand and offer pay even higher than those who receive Master’s degrees in non-STEM areas. Despite the positives, these careers are left vacant. Why do people shy away from such promising careers? The article presented the notion that perhaps these positions are left unfilled due to a lack of education and skills required to work in these fields.

Drawing on this notion, I wondered why students tend to choose majors in non-STEM areas over STEM areas. I took a step back and reflected on why I did just that. The first thing that came to mind was the lack of confidence I had in my math and science skills. I never felt like I had a natural ability for math or science. In fact, building these skills took above-average effort, often leading me to seek help outside of school hours from teachers and tutors. I think the fact that these subjects never came naturally deterred me from STEM fields and pushed me toward a field I had a natural talent for. After all, many people find comfort and feel better about themselves when doing something they are good at.

America is looking to build up its workforce in STEM fields so that it can compete globally. In this pursuit, I think a thorough analysis of student’s choices of majors and careers should be done. The reasons for my shying away from STEM fields are just one example, and other students may have made their choices for very different reasons. No matter what, all factors should be taken into account, and tactics to fill STEM positions can be devised based off of these findings. If we find that students lack interest or knowledge of STEM areas, we can try to instill passion for these fields by introducing the topics in fun and interesting ways to young children. If a lack of confidence in scientific and mathematical abilities is at fault, we could direct our efforts toward better preparing children for higher education in these fields. We could always “cheat the system” by offering extra scholarships for individuals in those fields. Offering scholarships is definitely a way to draw people to the field; however, I think we need to be sure that students are entering the field for intrinsic reasons and not solely due to financial assistance. Personally, I believe that people perform their best when they have a genuine interest and passion for what they do. Is this not the kind of STEM workforce we want to build?

Certification: The Underestimated Route to Career Success

Should certificates be considered post-secondary education just as associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are? The article Certification Opens Path to Gainful Employment, Middle Class Earnings explores this very question.  If you had asked me this question years ago in high school I would have made a snap judgment and said no. Shamefully, as a high school student, I would have scoffed at the idea of a fellow classmate pursuing an education in cosmetology or culinary arts. Some how I thought that such an educational route was unlikely to meet with a successful future. I suppose that my opinions were largely affected by the importance that society places on obtaining degrees and how society devalues the earning of certificates for post high school education. Plus, pursuing a vocational route after high school wasn’t the norm, and, being in the minority, it led me to believe it was not a wise course to take in life.

My judgments in high school are unfounded. I learned from the article that those who earn certificates frequently earn more than those who have earned associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. In fact, the earning of a certificate often paves way to obtaining these degrees.

The information in this article is more in line with the opinions I hold about higher education now. I believe that society has become so preoccupied with sending their kids to four-year universities to earn degrees that they have failed to consider other alternatives that can produce equal if not more desirable effects. Going to a university is not the only route to success and I do not think that obtaining such degrees guarantees the highest paying jobs. In holding these opinions, I think the earning of certificates should be considered post-secondary education.

If society could shift its gears and recognize other routes to successful employment and income, I think we’d see a lot more high school graduates pursuing education in fields they are passionate about.

The Combat Against Cheating: Forever a Game of Cat and Mouse

I recently heard from a friend that students occasionally pay someone to walk into their lecture hall and take their finals for them. For starters, I can’t imagine anyone willing to take such risks, getting away with the crime, and that the faculty administering the tests fail to take precautions. Secondly, it’s astonishing that students can become so desperate as to rise to such dishonest conduct.

Academic dishonesty was brought to my attention once again when I read Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech, which quite frankly, spurred some feelings of resentment. The fact there are students who have cheated their way through school and get to bask in the glory of claiming a degree makes me furious. I’m going to be completely honest–I’ve worked very hard in my academics in hopes that one day I’d get the job of my dreams. But if I am up against someone for a job who has falsified their education, and they get the position over me—that is messed up!

So I was pleased to hear from the article that there are people out there who have recognized this problem and are coming together to combat academic cheating. Programs have been designed to catch plagiarism and are continuously being refined. Additionally, efforts are currently being made to advance the security of online courses. Innovations such as requiring students to login by taking a photo of themselves via web-cam and the development of programs that analyze typing styles are also being explored.

It’s great that people are working to fight this problem, however, I have concerns over whether their efforts will yield positive, sustaining results. Students are smart, share cheating techniques with one another, and can become desperate enough to put in time and effort to crack anti-cheating technology. I fear that the clash between cheaters and those who attempt to combat against them may forever be a game of cat and mouse.

Pressures of Education—Contributing to Mental Disorders?

As an avid psychology student, stumbling upon Prozac Campus: the Next Generation was like finding that the last piece of chocolate cake in the back of my fridge (score!). Well you must think I have much to say about what appears to be a current epidemic in the deterioration of student’s mental health—I do! As a student myself I can concede that academic pressure is on the rise. I’ve worked my tail off since day one in kindergarten, and yes, I was always the student in intro to art who stayed afterschool to finish their color wheel. Why strive for such perfection? I suppose that I always felt like I needed to give myself a competitive edge so that I could get into the college of my choice. According to the article, my feelings may not be unrealistic, where students are met with more rejection by colleges today than they have in years past, alluding to the fact that college admission involves fierce competition.

This competition and academic pressure to get into college is only just the beginning; it spills over into our college experience and us students struggle to maintain perfection. So what does this all mean for college students? For me, as I am sure it is for most other students it means emotional difficulties—wait, no, that is far too simple and hardly captures what really goes on behind the scenes. My attempt to adjust to college life as a freshman constituted of tears, feelings that my efforts never paid off, homesickness, test anxiety, not to mention the weekly rounds of therapy with Häagen-Dazs.

Today, it is all too common for students to pathologize symptoms such as stress, feelings of loneliness, and anxiety that are nothing more than natural consequences of the challenges and pressures they face in life. The author of the article makes the point that students fail to openly discuss their feelings which leads them to believe that they are alone in what they are experiencing. Such beliefs may lead them to think they are suffering from a mental disorder.

If students openly discussed their feelings and confided in others, perhaps it would reduce this supposed rise in mental disorders. To help students communicate these feelings it may be beneficial for colleges to offer and encourage students to actively participate in groups where they can learn that their feelings are mutual among others. What are some other ways in which we can assist students’ psychological well-being?

Societal Beliefs on Education and Success: Harming Student’s Futures?

“Graduating from college makes one successful.” Society holds such an assumption, but is it true?  The article Why We Need Vocational Education explores this common belief.  Mark Phillips claims that today people in America place great importance on graduating from high school and getting into college, seeing it as sign of success and the guarantee of a bright future. I’ve been influenced by this belief myself, though I may have been unaware of it at the time. It was always assumed that I’d go to college; it was just what everybody around me strived to do and I did the same without much thought to alternative routes. Any decisions other than going to a four-year university seemed risky.

College no doubt has benefitted me. I may not remember J.B Watson’s impact on the field of psychology or what role serotonin plays in certain mental disorders. These are facts that may be long forgotten years from now. But what will always stay with me are the skills that I have acquired from my experiences. Through college I’ve enhanced my ability to communicate effectively, developed an awareness of multiculturalism and diversity, and honed my ability to think critically. Such skills will contribute to my success in my future career but will they entirely account for my success? This is where I disagree with society’s assumption that college makes one successful.

I’ve realized that my education has provided me opportunities but shut out others. College has stuck me in the corner of the library, put my nose in a textbook, and shielded me from the real world. This is somewhat ironic when I consider that I’m learning about the “world”, and this notion concerns me. Since my education is supposed to prepare me for the real world, I wonder why I’m not out in the real world gaining experience and applying what I’ve learned. Does anyone else share this concern and if so what should we do about it?

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