Every semester over several years, I set my students the task of writing an “education journal,” a series of short responses about their experience of and opinions about high school and college education and how well they felt they had been prepared for university studies. Many of these journals were deeply moving and powerful documents owing in part to their invigorating candor—no jargon here—and in part to their often passionate ineptitude. One is chastened by the spectacle of young minds striving to break free from a condition of galloping agraphia caused by inadequate schooling, lack of reading, media overdose, and systematic neglect at the hands of just about everybody involved in their upbringing and education.
From such instances we learn what we have done wrong and how the pillar institutions of family and school have collapsed upon our children, rendering them largely unfit for the brave new world we are so busily and blindly preparing for them. The following passages are the concluding paragraphs culled from a handful of typical productions which, for all their touching bathos and occasional inarticulateness, identify a number of important truths we tend to dismiss as professionally inconvenient. I give them in their uncorrected form. As Wittgenstein said in his Tractatus, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
–To conclude this journal, if this is what you call a journal. I know I have stated that the education that I have taken in is not up to standards to what most teachers would think as great academic work. But I believe that I am a reflection of what the education system has provided. It is not only the system that has failed but it is all of the western world. My mother always said, “Back in my days, we learned algebra in elementary school.”
–It is quite apparent that I am quite unhappy with the state of our education system. I do not feel it is giving me the tools I need to succeed in the world, it is giving me what they think I need to succeed. By they I mean the hundreds of bureaucrats working in the educational system. I have been pretty hard on the teachers but ultimately it is they [i.e., the bureaucrats] who should receive the blame. They cram more kids in a class and do this without ever setting foot inside the schools. They wonder why there are so many drop outs or why their standards are not being met. But instead of solving the problem they simply lower the standards or take the difficult material out of the course. As long as they are running the system it will most likely get worse. They have had their change and they haven’t done a very good job, it is time for a new way to educate.
–If we want our children to progress as individuals, I think it is reasonable to depend on the trial and error method, personal experience, as well as preaching a love of wisdom, philosophy, rather then solely our conventional and industrialized, formal schooling we hve today. I believe that along with learning the ability to read, write and communicate in a fashionably and respectful way, we are forgetting to teach our children simply how to think and make decisions on their own.
–I think that the level of education is weak because we are so worried about getting the bottom percentage of the students to read and write that we dont have enough time to push the top percentage of students to excel. We try to make sure that everyone is mediocre rather than have certain students excel and others be weaned out. There seems to be more funding for special education than for talented and gifted programs.
–Why do things get worse and worse when all the bigshots keep telling us their going to get better and better? Why can’t we just have smaller classes and unburnt teachers and maybe a couple of cheaper books to study from?
–Today educational system doen’t allow people to move a head.
These kids are evidently in serious trouble and I sometimes fear that it may be too late to do much about it. Although my respondents tend unanimously to indict the educational system for their malaise, I am tempted to lay the principal blame on a generation of parents who have given little intellectual attention to their offspring during their formative years. What does not begin well often does not end well. As Cicero put it in the Brutus, “It makes a great deal of difference whom one hears at home on a daily basis, with whom one speaks from childhood on, and also in what manner one’s father, teachers, and mother speak.”