School ain’t what it used to be?

I’m angry.  And that’s not all that easy to accomplish.

This morning I accompanied our grade 11 & 12’s on an experience college day. It should have been an excellent morning, and it was.  Until Sociology 100.  The topic the professor chose to speak on was the sociology of higher education.

He began by outlining that 100 years ago, only 3% of the population attended university.  Now about 40% of young adults attend university, during their early 20’s.  40 years ago only about 7% of students received A’s, now it’s about 40%. The average mark in the 60’s was a C, now it’s a B+. It’s not that students have gotten smarter.  It’s that marks are inflated by teachers, and they don’t mean anything anymore. That if you’re an A student, you’re probably actually not.  And then he drew the bell curve.  I’m serious.  He then recommended that students recalculate their marks, if they have A’s, based on C being the average.

Furthermore, for those students planning to go to university, it’s not guaranteed that this will help them think better or learn much either.  Most professor’s don’t really care about their students education.  Instead, most professor’s get paid because of their research and publishing, rather than their teaching.

So you can understand the mess that I have to straighten out with my students tomorrow.

The moment he stated that my student’s grades were meaningless, one of my students spun around and looked at me with alarm.  I mouthed the words, “you’re fine” to her, but every once in awhile she would turn around and look at me.  As soon as the professor was done, she got up, walked across the aisle, and sat down right beside me.

I looked at her and said, “What was the mark on the first essay you ever wrote for me?”  It was 60.  She remembers because it’s the only mark she’s ever gotten like that. And it was shocking.  After that mark she worked incredibly hard, drafting, editing, and rewriting, using the feedback that she’s been given.  She’s become a proficient, fluid writer over the past three years, who can critically evaluate a text.  The last mark she received from me was a 90.

I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I became angrier and angrier. The bottom-line of this class was your teachers are lying to you, you’re not nearly as smart as you think, in fact, most people are only capable of C’s.  And today’s system doesn’t require much hard work, like it did during the 1960’s.

Maybe I missed the memo, but I wasn’t aware that the 1960’s were the golden age of teaching.

Everything this professor said flies in the face of what I believe and how I teach.

I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with our current educational system.  There are.  We’re in the beginning of an educational revolution.  And revolutions tend to break more things than they fix right away.  We have an educational system predicated on the industrial revolution; instead, we need one that addresses the knowledge and innovation age that we’re in.

He stated facts like 40% of university students are disengaged from their learning.  I don’t doubt that, but it’s not because they’re not “cut out” to learn, it’s likely because their listening to a lecture that is teaching them content they can find on Google in 3.5 seconds, for the purpose of an exam, rather than engaging them in authentic learning.

Additionally, I don’t lie to my students.  I don’t pretend they have skills that they don’t.  I’m pretty upfront with what they can, and can’t do, and what they’ll need to be able to do when they graduate, which is why I teach my students about 21st century skills, and what the world they’re graduating into really looks like, so that they realize how much they need to learn.  And they do learn.

Maybe this professor isn’t aware of inquiry, collaborative and project-based learning and the deep, authentic learning experiences it creates, which tend to result in students being better than “average”. Maybe he isn’t aware of the work of Michael Wesch:


Or Ken Robinson:

And if I missed the memo on the 60’s being the golden age of education, somebody, please, let me know.

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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12 Responses to School ain’t what it used to be?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention School ain’t what it used to be? | Wright'sRoom --

  2. I went to elementary school during the 60’s. Back then, students could leave honourably in grade 8 and find employment. 300 of us started in grade 9 at my high school, but only 175 graduated from grade 12.

    Rumour has it there were 16 year olds driving to my elementary school to attend grade six. Students either passed their grades or repeated them and dropped out in frustration when they could.

    My high school was rigidly streamed. I was in the “A” form; it was assumed if you were in this class you were smart and you were going to university someday or at least some kind of post – secondary. My husband was in the “F” form. He went through high school under the assumption that, if you finished grade 12 at all, you would immediately get a job on graduation. (One year, there was even a K form; we called it “Special K.” Interestingly enough, no matter what form you were in, the course contents and evaluation standards were the same.

    In elementary school, we had classes in excess of 30 students. We sat in our desks all the time. We studied Dick and Jane in grade one. I remember being bored out of my skull most of the time. (Don’t get me started on hand writing class if you happened to be left-handed.

    I hope these details help give you and your students some perspective on the “golden age” of the 1960’s from someone who lived through them.

  3. gerry hawke says:

    Actually, it was great to be in the “F” form. Our text books contained pictures only. The teachers knew that books without pictures made us sleepy.

  4. If you believe the purpose of grading is to sort and rank, he may have a point. That was the intent of grading back then and still to many today. Find out who your very best and brightest are according to whatever measure you choose, which was either a standardized test or an arbitrary measure designed by individual teachers. Of course as you know there are all kinds of problems with both those approaches.

    Today I hope we see that first of all grades, no matter how great the evaluation tool or measure is, do not tell the whole story of learning. Once we agree to that then at best we can use grading to help students achieve and learn. Even then using a 100 point scale is almost arrogant. To think you can honestly assess the difference between a 77 and a 78 is ludicrous. 3 or 4 point scales that help students understand if they are proficient, above, below is really all we need. In fact, if we’re really doing our job, we wouldn’t need to grade at all. Our students would know clearly how well they are learning and achieving.

  5. Jamie says:

    Wow. That’s all I have to say… Let us know how it went with your students…

  6. Margaret says:

    Oh dear – how discouraging for you and for your students. Even if he has a point, what does he hope to achieve by dumping his cynicism on students who really have no alternative but to be participants in the system that he is knocking.

    I went to school in the 60’s – we had classes with 30+ students – virtually all passed. Occasionally a student would repeat a year, and I never knew any who weren’t successful second time through.

    I hate the idea of learning consisting solely of rote learning and “chalk and talk “teaching”, and agree that education is currently reinventing itself for the better. But when I regularly meet 15 year-olds who think that 3.25 is bigger than 3.6 (because 25 is a bigger number than 6) and that 1/2 + 1/4 = 2/6, it seems that the current system is failing somewhere between 25%-33% of students.

    I suspect that no-one wants to believe it, but back in the 60’s I doubt that anyone finished primary school (ie the end of grade 8 – QLD Australia) without this basic knowledge. Then along came New Maths, and it seems to have gone downhill from there. Better students thrive on authentic learning experiences, but often the assumption is that an authentic learning experience lasts a lifetime, so no revision required. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case with slower students who may not quite “get it”, first time through, or lose the newly acquired knowledge if it’s not revised. These students then become unwilling participants in an ongoing losing battle trying to learn more math without the prerequisite skills for the task. Bring on the education revolution – it’s long overdue, but any revolution which proclaims that everything that is not modern thinking must be bad and eliminated is usually an unhealthy revolution.

    As for university – I got my first degree in 1970, and I’m back at university doing a post-graduate diploma (in education) now, so I can compare the two. I’m sorry to say that the bar is a lot lower than it used to be. I doubt that that will change, as universities have a financial incentive to keep passing students to raise more revenue.

    • I’ve heard the same about math from teachers in our school. We have grade 5 students who don’t know there times tables. While I think there is lots of room in our schools for inquiry learning, there are basic skills that aren’t negotiable. Reading, writing, basic math. It’s hard to google something, if you can’t do the basics.

  7. dancecookie says:

    Striking post! All I have to say is that you should not feel attacked, because you are a “good guy”! You know the value of grades and 21st Century skills. You are an inspiration to many (especially your students). Your students will be great!

  8. Pingback: Top 100 High School Teacher Blogs

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