One Student’s View: “This all sounded too simple”

In many classrooms in many schools people have ideas on the way that schools should be run. Over generations our ancestors have developed ideas on what a good learning environment is. This idea is strange because it has never been questioned. And why not? Japan is leaving the U.S. behind in productivity as we speak. Why does this happen? Some people believe that we are focusing on the wrong thing in our educational system. What I have just stated is pretty generic. Most people have already heard about this problem, and we ask ourselves the question: “What do we need to do to make the U.S. educational system more competitive?” Well some people claim that smaller classrooms and different expectations of the student and teacher are necessary. This all sounded to me too simple.

At first glance these suggestions for a new educational system looked good on paper. I was a little skeptical about this. I would be much more willing to accept it if it were proven to me in actuality. I did not think this could be done easily. Because subjects like chemistry and aIgebra are so direct and straightforward it would be hard to carry out a different relationship between students and teachers, since classes like these cannot be taught any other way except by good explanations, examples, and hours of patient listening. English or history, on the other hand, I believed would not have the same kind of trouble. These classes seem to be a little more subjective. The teacher can give the students more freedom to mingle among themselves about questions, a book or story, or what should have been done or should be done about happenings in the world. But the other aspect to be considered was will the students use this freedom to their benefit.

This was all proven wrong to me when I saw the system work, and work well in a class of mine. It didn’t work well at first. It did take some time. The instructor took the attitude of the observer. “The less I do for the students in problem solving for their assignments, the better off they are. They need to talk to themselves and their friends because that is who they will always have in order to answer their questions in life to come.” When this was given to the kids it really confused them. They had no idea of what the teacher wanted. They couldn’t distinguish between what was relevant to English and what was not. l’hey just did not understand the system which was given to them. And, you can’t blame them. If Albert Einstein had been given a calculator nothing would have stopped him. But unless you taught him to use it, all it was was a $3 piece of plastic.

Because the plan had not been worked out it fell on its face. The instructor backed up and forgot about English for about six weeks. During this time he subliminally showed the class what his goals were. One by one everything started to fall in place. The role of the teacher and the role of the student and the role of the work became clear. Once this huge ball started rolIing nothing stopped it. It couldn’t stop. It could slow down, but never grind to a stop, which I feel happens quite often in other classrooms. Everyone takes such pride in what they are doing. Grades are exceptional.

The reason that so much pride is taken is because the subjects that are used matter. I’ll give an example. If someone asks you a question and you know the answer, you are no smarter than before. If you ask someone a question because you don’t know the answer and they give you an answer back, you probably won’t remember because you don’t care. If you cared, you would know the answer. But let’s say you thought up a question for yourself. The question must matter to you because you thought it up. So, no matter where you get your answer, whether someone gives it to you or you find it out yourself chances are you won’t forget it. This is the theory I think is used in this English class, and should be executed in more classes, where feasible.

–John Brunjes, eleventh grade, Whitfield School