Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More Boredom...

Peter is right. High schools are very, very boring. What most students end up doing there could be done in a couple of years, at most. High school students are in class way too much, and high school teachers are too. The teachers have no time to prepare for class, and they’re stuck with boring books that come with test banks that they don’t have time not to use. Most high-school teachers simply don’t have the time to do much reading, and many of them aren’t even allowed to let their students (outside of English class) read anything much but the dumb, boring textbook. (The fantastic lectures of our Tony described on the first boredom thread below are a mighty, mighty rare treat for high school students.) Most of them can’t fall back on something like Tony’s fine undergraduate or graduate liberal arts majors (thanks to schools of education). And various techno-innovations such as power point only make things worse; they insult the student’s intelligence and induce yawn after yawn. There are many exceptions to these broad generalizations (many or most of them in serious science and math classes), but the exceptions prove the rule.

Whenever a new student comes to me full of enthusiasm for learning--or turns in 14 pages for a 500-word assignment, I pretty much assume that the student was homeschooled. I’m not one who thinks most homeschooling is all that good. But one of the most positive things about it is that the homeschooled spent a lot less time on school, a lot less time with textbooks, etc. than the kids in public schools. School doesn’t rule their lives, and it’s not a contemptible source of boredom for them. They haven’t had the love of learning strangled out of them.

And, of course, most college classrooms aren’t that different. The "teaching style" fading quickly is the faculty member coming to class with nothing but the serious book the students have been assigned and talking BOTH to and with them about it. College professors don’t have the excuse of not having time to read and generally prepare for class. Even those with a "4-4" load are on a leisure cruise compared to 95% of high school teachers. They have to think up pedagogical theory and assessment mechanisms to avoid doing their real jobs. They convince themselves that they can "teach without talking," or by surrendering their privileged positon in the classroom and taking one place among many in an egalitarian community of learners, or by lazily boring themselves and the students to death with classes devoted to group presentations or "peer review" or (worst of all) breaking up into small groups to "dialogue" about some generic issue or another.

But I’m sure there are studies that show that boring schools prepare us for the boring jobs that we’ll be stuck with.
There really are studies that show that students are prepared for the business world through group projects. They don’t learn to cooperate or work together like a well-oiled machine or anything like that. The fact that one student ends up doing all the work and the others get by by taking credit allegedly is a key insight into way the "real world" works.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Question: has high school gotten worse? I was bored in a public high school in the late 50s (there were exceptional moments and a few special teachers), but I think in many respects the school would be unrecognizable today. So there’s a history to be traced of changing sources of boredom.

From the narrow perspective of "the educational environment," I think high school has gotten gradually more boring, but the causes of boredom have less changed than intensified. The portryal of the insufferable tedium of the high school classroom in movies and such hasn’t changed all that much. The main thing I remember about high school on the boring front was the huge amount of time sitting in desks killing time. Now killing time is an adventure, a war against boredom, but in it’s a war best not fought. I never hated school--liked the social aspect of it fine and liked what went on before and after school--but basically I would rather have been anywhere but in class. Many college classes were also plenty boring, but you didn’t have to go every time and they didn’t occupy nearly so much of the week. Even today, when I have to visit a college class for some reaosn and sit in the darn desk, I wonder how students put up with that stuff (and that includes class that objectively are pretty good).

The whole system seems designed to innoculate not just students but also teachers against painful boredom. The Thernstroms have written persuasively that educational programs, undergrad and grad, are so impossibly tedious and bereft of any intellectual content that it almost ensures that the worst candidates will be attracted (as well as the ones most capable of suffering through the insuffereable). The end result is experts in boredom either imparting their expertise or turning their students away from any genuine interest in learning.

Off topic, sorry, I’m deliberately keeping myself from going on about high school...to instead call attention to the a study that shows what we all know: lefty bloggers cuss way more than righties do. Let the justification-making commence!

Carl, I for one am not going to rush to judgment on whether that makes them better or worse human beings.

Ivan, You don’t need a study to show that people in ed programs are pretty stupid and perversely love boring things (like rubrics).

We homeschool our 13-year-old son. He spends about 4 hours a day on school work. He then has all the time in the world to do his other activities like practice his rodeo events, take care of his 4-H hogs, volunteer at Pet’s Mart Animal Adoption, do chores like paint fences, fix the tractor, fixes the farm trucks we have and has fun riding his quad, practicing his marksman skills both with firearms and archery. He reads, surfs the internet on things that interest him. Watches Discovery Channel. Goes on trips with his youth group. We take him on field trips to places like Yosemite, Hearst Castle, Museums, U.C.Davis Large Animal Teaching Hospital, Cal Poly. He goes to Cowboy camps, 4-H Camp. He snowboards, plays baseball and completes in rodeo events like team roping and steer wrestling. He knows more about history, math, science than any other 13 year that I know. He can diagram senteces, write book reports and essays. Both my husband and I work full time. Homeschooling may not be for everyone, but I can testify that it is the best thing that we have ever done for our child.

Thanks a. School, the point is, could be a lot less important in kids’ lives, and they could all be raising hogs, which would make the Crunchies happy. They might not be as happy about wrestling steers [which is surely better for boys than wrestling girls at school].

How to make high school less boring? 1. Get rid of NCLB. Most teachers have to take a month of valuable time teaching students to pass this or that Graduation Exam. If they are truly learning they should be able to pass any standardized exam. 2. Eliminate the U.S. Dept of Education -Didn’t President Reagan originally want to do this? In other words decentralize. 3. End High School after 10th grade. Students shold be placed in transition schools for two years in either vocational ed or advanced college prep.
4. Add two years at the other end. Many studies show that children who start earlier are more sucessful throughout...
If you want to see an interesting presentation of what we are potentially up against follow this link
Now you know! If you have speakers turn up the volume.

Here’s how to implement Tucker’s plan in the case of your own kid: Having the kid take the GED after the 10th grade and then enroll in a local (cheap or free) state school as a commuter.

Peter, that is a wonderful idea! Doing that would also give you the potential to eliminate much of the other garbage associated with high school during the last two years--and it’s certainly cheaper than paying for an exclusive and expensive private high schools that may (or may not) be better than the public counter-parts. We used to be able to enroll in some community college classes through our high-school if we achieved honor roll, and I was able to get some of my (at least to my mind) less interesting requirements out of the way before coming to college that way. But why couldn’t I take some of my high school requirements there too? Why couldn’t I have taken American history or English at the local community college if I could have handled it? I do remember being hopelessly bored the last two years of high school and longing to go to college where I could focus on learning the things that interested me. Maybe kids at that age just need to have a bit more flexibility in the curriculum? Why, for example, couldn’t I have skipped "Health" and "Phys. Ed" at that point and taken an additional advanced English or History elective instead? Why wasn’t two years of mathematics enough for me when it was obvious that I wasn’t going to pursue it beyond Geometry in anything I ever did? I suppose one could argue that 10th graders don’t know what they should study--and there’s some truth in that. I should have taken Latin instead of Spanish, for example. But if I had had an adviser who knew my strengths and interests, he or she might have been able to give me that advice instead of the generic advice they give to all kids who want to go to college.

Julie -Maybe we need to take a page from the Germans once again regarding education. If we are going to test our public school students to death it might as well be for a purpose. Why not utilize the information to show areas of student strength and direct them to smaller schools that specialize in mathmatics, science, or social science? We need to dispell the myth that all students need to excell in all subjects.

Sorry for lacking the details, but I recently saw an article attributed to the Yankee Institute (Hartford, CT, I think) that advocated leaving high school after 11th grade, and enrolling in the local community college as a route to saving money (community colleges are cheaper than high school) and increasing outcomes (high schools accomplish so little the longer one stays). Here’s a link to the report
at the Yankee Institute

That is understandable that money makes us autonomous. But how to act when someone has no cash? The only one way is to try to get the business loans or just consolidation loan.

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