Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Changing World of "the Basics".

This is a picture of the first real toy my parents gave me when I was a lad; around 1952 I think it was. Many toys have come and gone since that time but this, and a Dinky Ferrari that arrived a year later, are the only two that survive in my collection from those early days. It was red when new but I painted it green to match the color of the buses in Bristol, UK, where I grew up. If you look closely you'll see that it's broken in several places and there is a large nut and bolt right through the center from top to bottom. I remember my dad repairing it when it kept falling apart; such were the times.

Apart from being a wonderful nostalgia piece the double-decker bus reminds me of a different time; when production techniques were much more primitive than they are now, and when the value of something as simple as this toy meant that my dad had to repair it rather than just throw it away and get a new one.

There are those, in quite large numbers, who would have us return elementary school teaching methods to those in fashion in the 1950s and '60s. They would like to see desks in rows, memorization rather than understanding in math and the development of recitation rather than personal reading skills. This constant call for a "return to the basics" in Education is quite out of place in a culture where change and progress are welcomed and encouraged in almost every other field of human endeavor. I cannot imagine going back 60 years in medicine or technology.

The answer is a complex one that cannot be arrived at through a single explanation. For many successful people the "traditional" education they received as a child worked wonders and should be replicated today. Sadly, for each successful person there were probably a dozen or more for whom this type of education failed them. Today, we expect all students to succeed at some level rather than just the top 5% as identified on the bell curve. Today, we expect all children regardless of their ability or disability to succeed; no longer do we shut children with special needs away in institutions designed to keep them out of sight.

The elementary schools of today are places where children are taught to value and learn from their peers; to understand what they are learning and to develop a joy in learning that will last a life-time. Children are still taught the "basics". It's just that the basics are not the same as they were 60 years ago just like the double-decker bus probably would not be a hit with most 6 year-olds today.

No comments:

Post a Comment