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The Royal Road to Knowledge

Forget the fads, writes Evan Keliher, a veteran teacher, in Newsweek.

When Ptolemy I, the king of Egypt, said he wanted to learn geometry, Euclid explained that he would have to study long hours and memorize the contents of a fat math book. The pharaoh complained that that would be unseemly and demanded a shortcut. Euclid replied, "There is no royal road to geometry."

There wasn’t a shortcut to the learning process then and there still isn’t. Reform movements like new math and whole language have left millions of damaged kids in their wake. We’ve wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and forced our teachers to spend countless hours in workshops learning to implement the latest fads. Every minute teachers have spent on misguided educational strategies (like building kids’ self-esteem by acting as "facilitators" who oversee group projects) is time they could have been teaching academics.

Keliher experienced team teaching, supervised peer tutoring, block scheduling and decentralization. He saw no change in student performance.

How to Overcome

At high-poverty schools with high test scores, teachers teach skills and knowledge in a structured, sequenced way, concludes "They Have Overcome: High-Poverty, High-Performing Schools in California," a new study by the Pacific Research Institute.

The eight schools studied all use a scripted, phonics-based reading program, Open Court. Most use Saxon, Excel and/or Harcourt-Brace math books. All pay close attention to the state's academic standards, and make sure lessons are linked to the standards. Teacher training is focused on subject matter. All use frequent testing to monitor students' progress.

Essentially, these schools forego fads. The teacher is in charge of teaching; students don't "construct" or "discover" knowledge for themselves. Creativity is confined mostly to science, social studies, art and music classes. While critics of structured, scripted lessons says it's just "drill and kill," principals say students now read enthusiastically -- because they can read.

Duh

When schools in Illinois (my home state) teach the state standards, their students earn higher test scores, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. But only 43 percent of Illinois schools are moving toward teaching what the state has decided all students should learn.

Japanese Schools Go American

The Japanese education system, once envied by Americans, is Americanizing, reports Education Week. Saturday school is gone. The national curriculum, which prescribes what should be studied at every grade level, has been cut back, giving local schools more autonomy. Students now spend three hours a week in "integrated" studies, working on projects. Teachers are urged to encourage creativity and to make school fun. In short, they're adopting progressive American ideas that Americans are rejecting.

Some U.S. experts are perplexed about why an academic powerhouse might look to American schools for clues to educational improvement. But Japanese leaders say the United States excels in several areas of education that Japan so far has neglected.

"As far as providing a standard minimum education,...we have a good compulsory education system," says Kakutaro Kitashiro, the president of the Tokyo-based Asia Pacific headquarters of the International Business Machines Corp. "But once we move students into creative [areas] and solving new problems or taking their own initiative, we are recognizing that this is a problem."

The Japanese are worried that children are no longer well-behaved, says this New York Times story on Japan's blackboard jungles. It sounds to me like a cultural and family problem, not a school issue.

How Columbus Discovered the Pilgrims

Who gave the Gettysburg Address? Who was Paul Revere warning Americans about? Who came first, the Pilgrims or Columbus? Jay Leno asked three teachers some basic history questions, reports Razib of Gene Expression. Let's hope he rejected clips of teachers answering correctly and picked the dummies.

Here’s more: These are recent college graduates -- courtesy of Curmudgeonly & Skeptical:

Leno: Who was the first U.S. President?

Graduate: Benjamin Franklin! Am I right?

Leno: What war did George Washington fight in?

Graduate: World War I?

Leno: When did he live?

Graduate: 18 something to 18 something.

Leno:What was the Gettysburg Address?

Graduate: (puzzled look)

Leno: Have you heard of the Gettysburg Address?

Graduate, defensively: Of course, I just don't know the exact address.

What's a Word That Means "Stupid Gimmick?"

American Heritage College Dictionary has come out with 100 words that every high school graduate should know. The list is a random collection of the esoteric ("ziggurat"), the mundane ("gauche") and the scientific ("gamete"), with no indication of why these particular words signify erudition. Surely, it's jejune, vacuous and unctuous to drop multisyllabic words into quotidian discourse when simpler words will convey meaning more clearly.

Meryl Yourish blames New York editors who are out of touch with reality.

Jejune? I've always taken that to be a word affected by those fond of affectations, not a word for common English usage. Moiety? Ah—huh? How many times am I going to use that in conversation? "May I have a moiety of your cake, please?

Over at Amish Tech Support, the tempestuous Laurence Simon narrows the list down to 14 useful words and suggests additional words that should be mastered by everyone.

Hi Skul Dipplomuh

David Janes says Nova Scotia has pulled ahead in the Most Moronic Province Contest with a plan to award "lite" diplomas to illiterate students. The "lite" diploma will indicate the graduate flunked the 12th grade literacy test.

Well, it’s less moronic than giving the same diploma to literate and illiterate students, which happens all too often in the U.S.

No Longer Blind

In Afghanistan, illiterates say they are "blind." Women who were banned from school during the Taliban era are flocking to adult literacy classes, the New York Times reports.

Letters

Neil Morrill, New Hampshire:

I enjoyed reading your account of Katie Sierra's encounter with both the privilege and responsibility of free speech.

After reviewing Court TV's description of the events, I must say that I tend to agree with the verdict of the jury. Her actions were appropriately handled by the school administrator up until the point where he did not give her club a fair hearing, and the jury recognized that.

Ms. Sierra should be chided for false advertising. Anarchy does not equal pacifism, pure and simple. I would encourage her to change the name of her club to correctly reflect the English language definitions...

I was most struck by her reaction to the response to her free speech by fellow students, faculty and school board members. She has every right to her opinion, but so do those who take a view in opposition to hers! We are told how she reacted tearfully to the expression of free speech by those in the community who albeit being harsh, were well within their rights. She didn't seem to understand that she caused pain to others while lawfully exercising her rights.

Our Constitution allows her to express her views, but they do not guarantee her that she will be coddled. Taking a bold stand for one's beliefs has consequences. I can applaud her courage to take an unpopular stand, even though I vigorously disagree with her opinions. I cannot abide her insistence that she be allowed to take these positions without granting others the right to vigorously respond in kind. That's the nature of debate in a free society.

Matthew Hussey:

I'm a little confused. This girl wants to start an anarchy club and drafts a manifesto AND a constitution?! Doesn't anarchy mean absence of government or established order? So what is she doing drafting a constitution?

Robert E. Bleier:

As a former public school teacher with five years under my belt, I can tell you that schools need to have strict rules. Kids are not shrunken down adults, as many would have us believe. They need structure and discipline. They need an environment in which to learn. They need to conform to dress codes and other school rules. Giving them free rein over the schools not only disrupts the learning environment, its sets them up to have problems in the workplace when they become adults.

Kudos to the school for trying to maintain discipline and structure. We need more schools like that.

Jayne Harrelson, Missouri:

I'd be glad to chip in for some airfare to move Miss Anarchy to China since she's so disgusted by the United States. I just shake my head at people who despise the ideals of the U.S., yet take advantage of them to promote their agenda, which they would NOT be allowed to do in many other places.

Micah DiSabato, Ohio

I applaud Katie Sierra and her pacifist-anarchy club. She should be commended for having the courage to openly question her government and our current administration. Rather than having the blind patriotism that most of our nation ignorantly fell victim to after Sept. 11 -- where questioning the war with Afghanistan, or the Palestinians, or Iraq, or any of the president's actions was frowned upon and viewed as anti-American and people simply waved the flag without opening their eyes or looking for reasons -- Katie has the courage to ask if our actions are justified and right.

In a time where I have awaited for the press in our society to have the courage to question our government I am amazed that it took a 15 year old to do so.

Are we not to teach children to think for themselves, have the courage to stand up for their beliefs, and take up political cause with peaceful solutions? Regardless of your political stance, she must be applauded.

Marina Anna Baker, Washington:

I couldn't agree more with Donna Harrington-Luker. I have a very good job, and I know I received it because of my communication (written and verbally) skills. It is so sad to see kids (my son included) unable to write complete sentences, spell simple words, have a decent vocabulary, etc. He says he's going to have a great job some day, but sadly I think his future is more certain at McDonald's than at McDonald-Douglas. We need to teach more writing and reading, even at the risk of sometimes needing to exclude fun.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.  

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