A New Kind of Rote Learning

I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to write in and comment about my last article. As I said before and I’ll say it again, the education of our children is an issue too many people in Washington are ignoring. And the fact that you all took the time to write in and talk about it shows you really care.

Someone wrote in arguing that countries like China, India and Japan ought not to be used for role models in reforming America’s education system. The point is that the styles used in those nations focus on rote learning, and there’s also a very high-average standard.

Someone else wrote in lamenting the lack of self-control most public students have when they’re in the classroom…and the parents who endorse such behavior. This readers point was that, if students would be quiet, sit still and listen to their teachers (and if parents would enforce discipline at home), our country wouldn’t be facing the education deficit it is now.

And yet, another reader chimed in with the belief that all of the above suggestions, plus mine from my article, should be combined together to solve the problem.

So Here’s Where We Start

As I mentioned in my previous article, the United States has a long way to go in order to catch up with the educational standards of countries such as China, India and Japan. These three nations and others consistently rank ahead of our in terms of student tests results and overall readiness for working in the “real world” upon graduating high school. One of the things most Asian countries such as these are well known for is what’s known as “rote learning.” For those who don’t know, rote learning makes students learn various facts, figures, etc. through rapid repetition. The idea is to get Johnny and Janey Q. American, Jr. to memorize and memorize more…as some critics would point out, at the expense of understanding.

If all rote learning involves is rapid, intense memorization, then why teach our children that way? Some of you might be asking, “Why do we even want to be like China anyway?” The answer is this: Frankly, we can’t get much worse than what we are now! It’s sad to think, whenever I flick on the ion bombardment tube at home (otherwise known as a television) and I see these so-called “reality” game shows, the lack of common knowledge so many of these contestants have. It shames me to think how many of my fellow countrymen don’t know that George Washington is the first president of the United States, or what the Pythagorean Theorem is, or that the human heart is a muscle, or that the sun is a star.

It’s time we get back to the basics, so to speak, and get our students to actually have some kind of working knowledge of these and other facts and figures. And it’s also time we get Little Johnny and Janey American, Jr. some kind of appreciation for their natural sense of creativity…the kind of creativity which has allowed American ingenuity to lead the world for so long.

Package the Lessons, Not the Students

So with all that said, I’d like to take a few moments to expand on the American Renaissance. Or, at least the points I made about it in the last article. I stand by my points that we need a greater appreciation of the fine arts in American public education. There’s certainly not enough of it taught, and certainly no attempt to correlate it to math, science, history, etc.

On top of limited instruction of the visual and performing arts, one of the biggest problems with our education system is how our students are just moved through grades 1-12 as if they were manufactured goods in a factory. Little Johnny and Janey go through inspections at the end of each grade and receive either a “pass” or “fail” grade. If they receive the latter, they’re usually sent back to repeat that grade…or, sometimes, they factory just ships them out to the department stores of life, just hoping someone will buy them and overlook the students’ defaults. Most of the time, these shortcomings are not the factory workers’ (i.e., teachers) faults, but rather a broken down factory process that simply wouldn’t allow for some personal attention to make the final product better.

If you want a good product, you have to give it some individual attention. It requires catering to that products individual needs…perhaps taking some extra time with it…and even changing the process in the factory if enough manufactured products keeps coming out unprepared for the marketplace. Likewise, our education system’s negligence (sparked by Uncle Sam’s ineptitude) has pushed through many, many fine students who are not ready to compete in the global marketplace. Johnny and Janey American need an education that’ll tailor not only to their specific needs, but also their personal interests. And that’s how we can make the Renaissance practical…

No Place Like Home

I’ll concede my plans for the Renaissance are best utilized in a system where the students accept responsibility — and the parents enforce it. In any society, the schooling is only as good as the parents and guardians who get involved in their children’s education. I say, shame on the parents who don’t care about their kids’ futures. And some people might make the argument that parents can provide extracurricular activities in the fine arts if they wish to do so. But then again, they could also just shove Johnny and Janey American Jr. into some math camp, too.

My point is this: A lot of parents out there really do try hard to teach their kids right and wrong. Some are more successful at it than others. There are some kids out there that just flat out don’t want to learn, no matter how tough their parents are about getting an education, and these kids will just act up. And let’s be brutally honest about our media… They only report on the bad things — the sensational stories, the ones that drive up ratings and get people talking. The stories about Little Johnny becoming an Eagle Scout and Little Janey winning first place in the local science fair contest aren’t gonna cut it. But I digress…

So the American Renaissance is all about improving education in more areas than just one. An awakening to the visual and performing arts will be the central theme of it all, no question. This revival can only come with reforming our education system so that students can see just how different lessons in the academic subjects relate to their own lives…and inspire them to grow. It requires discipline on both the childrens’ and parents’ parts—and for Uncle Sam to just stop overburdening teachers with having to teach to ridiculous standards. But the Renaissance can be achieved. And so can Johnny and Janey American Jr.’s success.

Adam Hopkins

April 22, 2009