Teaching the Three Rs -- or Not

Horror stories abound about the state of education, or miseducation, in the United States. These types of problems have existed within the system for decades now and the supposed solutions consistently involve dumbing down the curriculum even more.  The weaknesses have been there for all to see and Common Core is just a new name for an old problem.

One very important form of thinking that has been removed from teaching, is that of lateral thinking. Supposedly that ability does not develop naturally until puberty, so why force it on children who are not "ready" for it? Lateral thinking is the ability to see connections between different areas of knowledge. Apparently people are not born with this ability and tend to compartmentalize their thinking. 

As an example, students are given vocabulary words for spelling, but until they learn lateral thinking they don't recognize that those spelling words can and should be used in writing.  So -- it's Thanksgiving and the teacher gives out holiday-related words such as pilgrim, turkey, pumpkin, feast, etc.  A child might get 100% on the spelling test, but when asked to write a paper about Thanksgiving almost all those words used will be misspelled. Teachers, as a general rule, seldom suggest that spelling lists be consulted because the children don't think that way. Doesn't that seem like a teaching tool being lost? 

Educators gave up on spelling and went ga-ga over creative writing for the very youngest grades. This is precisely when the children should be learning to spell. If teachers fail to teach correct spelling, aren't they really teaching poor or incorrect spelling? At about the same time spelling was dropped from the curriculum, legible handwriting practice also became passé, and now teaching cursive has been abandoned in most schools. Many educators think all students should learn early computer skills and so have no need of handwriting, and they can also always use spell-check. Is it possible that the physical act of writing is one method of teaching both spelling and thinking?

There are always some children who teach themselves to read and write at a very early age, and there are teachers who work well with those students. But there are other teachers who don't enjoy such bright students or may even feel threatened by them. The point here is that if educators embark on a bad program and then add poor teachers to the mix, you may wind up with kids who are actively being taught not to spell or write, or even think.

So what about lateral thinking? If schools fail to teach it at all, what makes educators think it will appear by magic when the children are in 5th or 6th grade? Maybe some of them will never get it unless they are constantly reminded how all knowledge ties together. If a kindergartner may be "doing" it at age five without any instruction, mightn't there be other children at any age along the way who might need only minimal coaching to "get it"?  Right now the only hope they have is osmosis. Are we turning out whole generations of people with no logical or critical thinking skills because the educators have steered us wrong yet again?

Yes, Common Core must go, but so must the Department of Education and the stranglehold unions have over local school boards.  Mark Twain said God created idiots for practice and then created school boards, so those folks on the boards need all possible help to get rid of educational garbage.  Get the politics and unions out of the schools and put parents back in charge of their own children.

We should assume our children are a lot smarter than educators and psychologists give them credit for.  Some of them may be smarter than the educators and psychologists themselves.  But if we do not begin again to teach our children, where on earth are tomorrow's leaders, thinkers, scientists, and inventors going to come from?  How will they learn to care about any search for truth or even how to recognize it?

If we fail to teach, aren't we really teaching to fail?

Anniel Winters writes from Anchorage, Alaska. She can be followed at stubbornthings.org and blogs at homespunhomilies.com

Horror stories abound about the state of education, or miseducation, in the United States. These types of problems have existed within the system for decades now and the supposed solutions consistently involve dumbing down the curriculum even more.  The weaknesses have been there for all to see and Common Core is just a new name for an old problem.

One very important form of thinking that has been removed from teaching, is that of lateral thinking. Supposedly that ability does not develop naturally until puberty, so why force it on children who are not "ready" for it? Lateral thinking is the ability to see connections between different areas of knowledge. Apparently people are not born with this ability and tend to compartmentalize their thinking. 

As an example, students are given vocabulary words for spelling, but until they learn lateral thinking they don't recognize that those spelling words can and should be used in writing.  So -- it's Thanksgiving and the teacher gives out holiday-related words such as pilgrim, turkey, pumpkin, feast, etc.  A child might get 100% on the spelling test, but when asked to write a paper about Thanksgiving almost all those words used will be misspelled. Teachers, as a general rule, seldom suggest that spelling lists be consulted because the children don't think that way. Doesn't that seem like a teaching tool being lost? 

Educators gave up on spelling and went ga-ga over creative writing for the very youngest grades. This is precisely when the children should be learning to spell. If teachers fail to teach correct spelling, aren't they really teaching poor or incorrect spelling? At about the same time spelling was dropped from the curriculum, legible handwriting practice also became passé, and now teaching cursive has been abandoned in most schools. Many educators think all students should learn early computer skills and so have no need of handwriting, and they can also always use spell-check. Is it possible that the physical act of writing is one method of teaching both spelling and thinking?

There are always some children who teach themselves to read and write at a very early age, and there are teachers who work well with those students. But there are other teachers who don't enjoy such bright students or may even feel threatened by them. The point here is that if educators embark on a bad program and then add poor teachers to the mix, you may wind up with kids who are actively being taught not to spell or write, or even think.

So what about lateral thinking? If schools fail to teach it at all, what makes educators think it will appear by magic when the children are in 5th or 6th grade? Maybe some of them will never get it unless they are constantly reminded how all knowledge ties together. If a kindergartner may be "doing" it at age five without any instruction, mightn't there be other children at any age along the way who might need only minimal coaching to "get it"?  Right now the only hope they have is osmosis. Are we turning out whole generations of people with no logical or critical thinking skills because the educators have steered us wrong yet again?

Yes, Common Core must go, but so must the Department of Education and the stranglehold unions have over local school boards.  Mark Twain said God created idiots for practice and then created school boards, so those folks on the boards need all possible help to get rid of educational garbage.  Get the politics and unions out of the schools and put parents back in charge of their own children.

We should assume our children are a lot smarter than educators and psychologists give them credit for.  Some of them may be smarter than the educators and psychologists themselves.  But if we do not begin again to teach our children, where on earth are tomorrow's leaders, thinkers, scientists, and inventors going to come from?  How will they learn to care about any search for truth or even how to recognize it?

If we fail to teach, aren't we really teaching to fail?

Anniel Winters writes from Anchorage, Alaska. She can be followed at stubbornthings.org and blogs at homespunhomilies.com

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