November 30, 1999
By Linda Gorman
It has been an embarrassing fall for government schools in Colorado. Results from the state standards tests show that they continue to be unable to teach large numbers of children to read and write. They also seem to have a continuing problem making sensible judgements. In November, Sonya Golden, a 17-year-old honor student in Colorado Springs, was suspended when a random search found a pocket knife in the first-aid kit of her car.
Further embarrassment was provided by a Denver Rocky Mountain News article detailing life at ThunderRidge High School on November 7. ThunderRidge, a school in Highlands Ranch, showcases the therapeutic model of education currently popular in government schools.
The therapeutic model celebrates style, not substance. ThunderRidge is a school with a strict dress code that is blatantly ignored. A school where the principal tries to model kindness and respect and students treat both teachers and peers with gross incivility. A school in which the principal maintains that Students know that their teachers care too much about them to accept shoddy work, and some teachers believe that academic work comes a distant second to the hugger-mugger group-think of pop psychology and its second-rate goals of safety, security, comfort, and having fun.
A math teacher tries hard to make math fun because he wants students to be happy people, and if they learn a little math along the way, well, that#39;s cool, too. But that is so far down my priority list. Another math teacher tells her students I#39;m just a teacherI just want you to be safe and excited. She has her trigonometry students run an obstacle course. Favoring busywork about trigonometry to trigonometry itself, the assignment requires drawing one#39;s own obstacle course and relating each obstacle to a challenge one will face in trigonometry.
Her math students also keep journals. Spawned by the mistaken belief that blathering about one#39;s feelings in unreadable gibberish helps students learn to write, journals provide educators with an officially sanctioned method of elevating feelings to the status of scholarship. When a student writes I think you are a grait math person. And we slove a hole bunse of problems. It was fun and we had fun, and I like how you work me, this teacher is thrilled.
So much for celebrating efforts to scale the heights of knowledge, learning about the heroic gains made by the individual giants on whose shoulders we stand, or enjoying the intense satisfaction that comes from successfully meeting the worthy standards of an exacting taskmaster. So much for meeting the demands of the world.
The therapeutic high school celebrates, accepting responsibility, community, working together, safety, and comfort. It wants to be friend rather than taskmaster, coach rather than teacher, and to give points just for trying. At an age when young people yearn to do great deeds, the therapeutic school bathes its students in bathos.
Which, it should be said, suits many people just fine.
Others want more of life. Sick of the saccharine, openly contemptuous of the lack of content, and alienated by boredom, they often rebel by ignoring education. In an English class for underachievers, the teacher opens with the utterly stupid question Do people learn from their mistakes and devotes the class to student definitions of words.
A student named David mutters I know what biased means. I know what diligent means. I know what mediocre means. My parents tell me I do a lot of mediocre work. He defines bias as Like how some teachers favor football players. The teacher, apparently under the misimpression that having an informed opinion makes one biased, defines bias as leaning towards one belief or another. She finishes with the bromide see how good you guys are when you work together
Schools used to operate under the assumption that everyone could learn and stressed a mastery of basic facts. The Wooster Arithmetic Book II, a textbook used in the second and third grades in Kansas around the turn of the century, is filled with problems like If a merchant bought 95 yds. of carpet at $.75 cts. a yd., and sold it at $1.15 a yd.; how much did he make on the carpet
Knowing that some students dropped out of school after second grade, Lorraine Elizabeth Wooster designed her book to ensure that if students thoroughly master the work in this book they will be able to understandingly meet most of the little problems in every-day life. She also believed that No pupil will be idle or inattentive, or become troublesome if given sufficient and the proper kind of interesting work [emphasis in the original].
A hundred years later, Ms. Wooster’s book remains an excellent preparation for solving life#39;s little problems. One wonders what she would have thought of ThunderRidge.
- Student suspended over knife. 23 November 1999. The Denver Rocky Mountain News, p. 7A.
- Tina Griego, 7 November 1999. ThunderRidge: Real Life at a Suburban High School. The Denver Rocky Mountain News, p. 7R.
- Ibid., p. 23R.
- Ibid., p. 15R.
- Ibid., p. 18R.
- Lorraine Elizabeth Wooster. 1925. The Wooster Arithmetic Book II for Grades II and III. Topeka, Kansas: The State of Kansas State Printer, pp. 3-4. Problem on page 197, #18.
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org/. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.
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