A few weeks ago, I posted about rhetoric and its effects on understanding. I’m fascinated by this – that belief can actually be so strong that it can prevent a person from seeing what is actually happening in front of them.
A related phenomenon is how the mind refuses to process information that doesn’t seem to fit. “It does not compute” as the robot in Lost in Space used to say.
What do you make of this? That academic levels have been declining in Japan is beyond dispute, although it is only relatively recently that it has been permitted to speak openly of the most obvious cause, namely the Japanese Ministry of Education’s yutori kyouiku plan. What are your reactions to this?
“Typical bureaucratic ballsup”?
“Too many underqualified/undertrained teachers”?
“Nanny state: let private enterprise handle it”?
“Government gift to the cram school industry”?
The idea that this might be quite simply deliberate boggles the mind so much it refuses to compute. That this might be a very logical extension of the existing system, a way of dealing with overproduction? Ludicrous! Who on earth would want to hold back children’s education? That simply doesn’t make any sense! It benefits no-one! So it can’t be true!
Today I went to class to find just one student. While waiting for others to arrive, we just chatted. I asked him about school. He said he was bored, all the classes are boring. So why don’t you leave, I asked him? He said he just needed the credits, just wants to graduate. He’s a smart kid in many ways. Why is this kid, in university bored? Why has he given up? This is a well-respected private university, one of the few in the area (in the country?) where applications are going up.
At a different school, a student whose English is well above the average, applied for a “Level 3” English class, and was told she had to start with Level 1, because that’s the rule. You can’t skip levels. Some teachers on the full-time staff there were ready to make an exception in her case, bend the rules (she’s a 3rd-year transfer student, so she only has 2 years left, not enough time to take Levels 1, 2 and 3). The student herself, however, after privately expressing strong frustration and disappointment and disbelief, decided to accept her fate: she asked the teachers not to intervene on her behalf, not to push for her to be allowed to take the class.
Which is sadder, that such as system is in place, or that she acquiesced to it?
At yet another school, I discovered 2 students in a class of over 30 whose English ability levels were more than 3 times higher than those of their classmates. Feeling that it was a waste of their time to do what everyone else was doing, I offered them an alternative study plan. They gave it a try for one week, working together as a pair. The following week, one of them was absent, and her partner opted not to use the materials I had prepared, but to do what everyone else was doing. The week after that, she returned, but they both decided to just sit with the rest of the class and do what the rest was doing.
Of course, there may be lots of reasons for that: they didn’t like my alternative study plan, didn’t like the materials, they felt embarrassed about sitting together and doing something completely different from the others. Still, I felt disappointed, like they’d given up; like they’d yielded to group pressure to conform, not to stand out, and accepted to be bored out of their minds. Because I can see that they are not in fact working very hard. But then, neither is the rest of the class.
What is in fact going on in my (and so many similar) classrooms? Is any meaningful learning taking place? Or do we assume it must be because the alternative is too painful or too ludicrous to contemplate seriously?