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Learning methods

Published January 22. 2011 09:00AM

I had a discussion with a friend of mine a few weeks ago about schools and the state of the school systems in general. This led to a general discussion of classes and subjects we enjoyed in school as well as those which really made no sense or seemed to not have any practical application. I thought back over my education both in high school and college and realized that I did enjoy much of my formal schooling and in retrospect I think even classes that made no sense do have practical applications.

Having had two step children in the past who were in schools I also realized there were some differences that really make no sense to me. What I am sharing in this column is from things I have learned so far and is not meant to criticize any particular school system's methods but are just my opinion and I'm welcome to yours.

My earliest recollections in school were phonics drills and learning to read. I can remember learning those rules until I knew them by heart. Phonics in my experience seemed to be the basic building block to learning reading and eventually writing. I also remember my penmanship being checked and graded until I learned to both print and write legibly. Spelling was a properly learned skill and not taken lightly. We were graded on spelling and grammar in almost any subject that required writing whether the subject was spelling and grammar or science or history.

You can imagine my surprise when my stepson was in school in fourth or fifth grade and given writing assignments and he brought home A papers which were full of spelling and grammatical errors . The teacher's explanation was we wanted to encourage him to write and worry about correcting those issues later. Correcting them later? I wondered when later was. Perhaps they would cover it when he is defending a doctoral dissertation. That explanation was infuriating to me.

Almost as illogical was his primary educators who didn't believe in spelling and phonics and tried to teach him to read using the whole word concept. What in the world was that? I'm a mathematical and analytical person and learning words by osmosis to me is as dumb as sowing someone else's field and waiting for the crops to grow in yours.

Watching my daughter develop, I have found it fascinating that she as well as most children have an innate ability to use words and grammar without knowing the rules just from experience. She is able to memorize entire children's books from listening to them being read to her repeatedly. But does she read yet? No. Does teaching her what the word CAT is by simply having her memorize the word work? Maybe. But I think it puts her at a disadvantage when she doesn't understand phonics and how letters sound. How can you learn to pronounce new words if you don't understand the rules for sounding them out? I don't understand that.

I think there is too much emphasis on modernizing everything about education sometimes. I'm no expert in the field, but I have talked to friends with older children and they are frustrated by the fact that they find it almost incomprehensible sometimes when they try to understand the homework their kids bring home. There are new methods of math and reading and there seems to be no support given to parents to help them understand how these new techniques work.

Not everything needs to be modernized or updated. Mathematics and phonetics have tried and true rules that work every time. It makes no sense to upgrade something that already works just fine in my opinion. The rules of mathematics are tried and true and are the basis of everything. To get creative with them makes no sense in my opinion. We don't need new systems just so some company can make a buck.

Millions of students over hundreds of years learned things in a particular way for one reason, because those methods worked. We have enough problems in school. Why create more because someone wants to be creative?

Just my two cents.

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