Teachers Are Boring, Irrelevant, and Not Necessarily Authoritative, Say Middle Schoolers

It's time to re-think the U.S. education system, blogs Tammy Erickson at the Harvard Business Review website.

If you can get past her cheesy nickname for kids born after 1995—they're the Re-Generation!—Erickson offers a tidy wrap-up of what's wrong with public education, including the prevalent notion that students should be discouraged from using their "kid" technology (e.g., texting) for educational communications because it will leave them unprepared for professional life. 

The most striking passage, on boredom:

The kids I've interviewed all say that they wish their classes were more entertaining, interesting and fun. They are living in the most stimulating period in the history of the earth — besieged with information that they multi-process through a wide variety of technologies. But most schools require them to put that all away and ask them to focus on one, often-not-that-engaging speaker. Then they penalize them for getting distracted. 

And this, on Google:

Kids have figured out that the adults in their world — whether teachers or parents — are not necessarily the most reliable source of knowledge. Adults can be wrong — or at least warrant double checking. Parents have told me that even very young children will ask a question, listen to the answer, then suggest that they Google it "just to be sure." Technology leads to a new role for teachers (and parents): that of a learning facilitator and coach, rather than of an authoritative source of information.

In short: If you're serving up boring sludge, kids will hate it. And, despite an "eat your peas" mentality, there's no reason you should force them to consume the non-authoritative information their teachers are offering in archaic formats. We can do better.

For a more promising model, check out these stories on the future of online education.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fluffy||

    It doesn't take many times of the kid seeing that Google knows the answer and you don't for them to make the adjustment.

  • BarryD||

    They're like dogs. A couple times, if they see that one thing works and another one doesn't, they'll do the thing that works.

    When I was a kid, I was bored. I had to use the Encyclopedia, not Google, but somehow I think that the song remains largely the same. The dumb kids probably don't go to Google, any more than they went to look at Britannica.

  • Fluffy||

    The other thing I find amazing is my kid's total confidence that the internet knows everything, no matter how obscure.

    The other day he was playing some stupid flash game on Nickelodeon's site and couldn't get through a level. So he stands up, leaving the game screen open, and comes over and asks to use my laptop.

    "Why?"

    "I want to go to YouTube and find the walkthrough."

    "I don't think that there will be a YouTube of a Spongebob flash game for kids, dude."

    I was wrong.

    There is no skill too obscure for YouTube to lack a video explaining exactly how to do it.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Not possible to use youtube on the same device as the flash game?

  • Fluffy||

    He is averse to opening a new window when he's playing a game.

    He probably gets it from hearing me tell his mother I don't want to "fix" her computer for her when she opens 27 windows at once, PLUS Spotify, PLUS Itunes, PLUS MS Access, PLUS Words with Friends, and then her machine locks up.

    So to him every additional window he opens constitutes an additional risk that his game will crash and he'll have to start over.

    It's life in a Windows household.

  • wareagle||

    he's figuring out cause and effect, which is more than a good deal of his cohort can say. He'll find the safe spot re: number of windows.

  • ||

    Sounds like you need more memory for her computer, because I have a shit-ton of windows open on my work box (Visual Studio, multiple SQL Management Studios, all the types of browsers with many tabs open in all of them, FileZilla, Excel, RDP, and more) and don't restart for months at a time and I never have a problem. It's on Windows 7.

  • ||

    So to him every additional window he opens constitutes an additional risk that his game will crash and he'll have to start over.

    Well TECHNICALLY, I think he's correct, but it's not a very big risk with only a few windows open.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The best kind of correct.

  • Paul.||

    We were beginning to say "everything is on the internet" back in the 90s when we were even back then finding obscure articles from Popular Mechanics in the 70s on some website somewhere.

  • SKR||

    And to think, I was using microfiche, but yeah.

  • SKR||

    Ahh but then the converse of placing too much trust in internet information crops up.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Heck, even in the dark ages of the seventies, we (or at least I) figured out that our teachers were often full of it. Also, it's a pity that she gives only a passing mention to challenging one of the most sacred cows of the American education establishment, the "Handicapper General" model of education.

  • ||

    I'm pretty concerned about this, with a two year old and infant, both boys. I was bored as hell in school, and I hate to think they'll suffer the same fate.

  • ||

    Thornton Melon: Boy, what a great-looking place. When I used to dream about going to college, this is the way I always pictured it.

    Jason Melon: Wait a minute. When did you dream about going to college?

    Thornton Melon: When I used to fall asleep in high school.

  • Mainer2||

    "If you're serving up boring sludge, kids will hate it."

    And the sun rises in the east. Somewhere around 3rd grade I realized that teachers, as a group, were not the sharpest tacks in the box. But as some comedian once said, the quickest way to get in trouble when you're in school...."acting smart".

  • Generic Stranger||

    In eighth grade we did a "role playing" thing where we all pretended we were on the Oregon Trail (not the video game, unfortunately). The teacher had one of us "die" from a scorpion bite. I got in trouble for pointing out that scorpions sting, they don't bite, and she refused to believe me. Good thing I also didn't point out that there aren't any scorpions in NA that can kill an adult, and there are none on the Oregon Trail that could kill a child. I'd have probably been sent to the principal's office.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    "In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the... Anyone? Anyone?... the Great Depression, passed the... Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered?... raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone seen this before? The Laffer Curve. Anyone know what this says? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial. Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something-d-o-o economics. "Voodoo" economics."

  • wareagle||

    Erickson's discovery is along the lines of water is wet and sugar is sweet. Educrats have tried to enliven the system with all sorts of gimmicks for as long as I've been an adult. The only thing they have changed is results - test scores get lower and lower.

    It's the system that is antiquated. A structure that is geared toward protectionism of teachers first and force-feeding everyone toward a single end-of-year test second is not going to "educate" any one. All you have to do is consider the number of remedial courses that exist at the college level.

  • Sidd Finch||

    test scores get lower and lower

    Test scores among all demographics have been improving for decades. It's an example of Simpson's paradox.

    All you have to do is consider the number of remedial courses that exist at the college level.

    That's because more, thus dumber, people are going to college instead of doing something useful.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Test scores among all demographics have been improving for decades. It's an example of Simpson's paradox.

    You got a cite for that, because everything I've seen suggests test scores have been almost completely flat for 40 years.

  • Sidd Finch||

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    So overall scores are almost completely flat. Despite 3x the spending in real dollars since 1970.

  • Sidd Finch||

    yes

  • wareagle||

    test scores being flat is NOT the same as test scores "improving for decades." And at 3x the spending, it screams volumes about an inefficient and antiquated system.

  • Sidd Finch||

    "Test scores among all demographics have been improving for decades." Read the link.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    We're just not spending enough! If we just raise education funding to world war 3 like levels, we could improve learning AND fix the economy at the same time!! /Krugman

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    I don't have the time but as I recall the test scores for each ethic group has gone up but the percentage of lower performing ethnic groups make up a larger part of the whole percentage than they used to thus the trendlines for the whole population is flat.

  • wareagle||

    Test scores among all demographics have been improving for decades.

    that explains why American kids seem to do increasingly worse vs. other kids. That, and this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....story.html
    And this: http://www.stamfordadvocate.co.....743448.php
    But you go on believing things are on the upswing.

    That's because more, thus dumber, people are going to college instead of doing something useful.

    I'll go on a limb and ask what useful things the dumb should do? Not sure I want the stupid doing things that are useful, which sounds a lot like necessary.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Perhaps he was just mistaken about what "improving" means.

    An argument that the more widespread taking of the SAT is the root of the SAT decline wouldn't strike me as absurd on its face. It may be wrong when you look at the facts but it at least passes the laugh test.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I'll go on a limb and ask what useful things the dumb should do?

    Lapdances in the champagne room?

  • ||

    Do you really want a lap dance from Hugh?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I'll go on a limb and ask what useful things the dumb should do?

    The world needs ditch diggers, too.

  • Sidd Finch||

    that explains why American kids seem to do increasingly worse vs. other kids.

    The Amazing Truth About PISA Scores: USA Beats Western Europe, Ties with Asia

    I'll go on a limb and ask what useful things the dumb should do?

    Whatever it is that they do 6 years later when they still don't have a degree.

  • wareagle||

    if all they have six years later is a high school diploma, the closest they'll come to useful is being able to drain the fry vat without burning themselves. Vocational ed went out of vogue a long time ago, so the only folks in such professions are making a killing because they have no competition.

    And, the headline of the PISA story is a bit misleading: 7th of 28 is not exactly beating the rest of the world. Then you have the second chart and this nugget: the US spends 50% more per pupil than Western Europe and 40% than Asia, making the outcomes seem far less than they should be.

  • Sidd Finch||

    if all they have six years later is a high school diploma, the closest they'll come to useful is being able to drain the fry vat without burning themselves.

    The six year graduation rate is around 50%. I don't think all these people are fry cooks.

    And, the headline of the PISA story is a bit misleading

    Agreed. The blog post that spawned the article didn't include the stuff after the colon.

  • RickC||

    I'll tell you why I find that claim laughable. Go back to the 60s or even early 70s and check out the standardized tests. Saying that tests have been dumbed down is an understatement.

    I worked in several Florida schools with an outside program for two years in the mid-90s, spent much of my work day inside classrooms observing and helping the teachers and tutoring struggling students. About a month out from the next standardized test, both the state and Feds required one, all other subjects went by the wayside to prep for the tests; and the scores were still terrible across the board. I was so fascinated by what I observed I started researching and came across a test I remember taking in the third grade in the mid 60s. My conclusion after comparing the levels of difficulty between the 60s tests and the contemporary tests was that things are much worse than people outside the system could ever guess.

  • Sidd Finch||

    On one hand, I have the trends from SAT norm studies, the NAEP, the Iowa Basic Skills Test, and the AFQT -- all at least three decades long.

    On the other hand, RickC tutored some dumb kids one time and had a super hard 3rd grade test.

    College freshmen throughout the nation reveal a striking ignorance of
    even the most elementary aspects of United States history, and know
    almost nothing about many important phases of this country's growth and
    development, a survey completed by the New York Times has shown.
    "Ignorance of History Shown By College Freshman" NYT 1943

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    On one hand, I have the trends from SAT norm studies, the NAEP, the Iowa Basic Skills Test, and the AFQT -- all at least three decades long.

    Are the difficulties of those tests consistent across those three decades?

    I am sympathetic toward your deaggregated results on the NAEP -- that's the same method that showed Texas beats the stuffing out of Wisconsin in almost every student demographic yet doesn't do so in the aggregate -- but I don't think it completely addresses the amount of improvement per dollar spent on education. It would be really interesting to see the changes in test scores in relation to demographic changes in relation to how education money has been spent,

  • Sidd Finch||

    Yes and no. The NAEP was designed as, among other things, a longitudinal study. There's a lot of effort put into making sure the tests are comparable. OTOH the military instituted IQ testing after WW1 when someone realized that low IQ soldiers are more trouble than they're worth. IQ tests are famously more difficult now, the "Flynn Effect," but if you know that then you can compare answer rates for comparable questions, which is what James Flynn did.

    Here's an attempt the data you're looking for.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That's not a salute, that's a fist pump.

  • OldMexican||

    Kids have figured out that the adults in their world — whether teachers or parents — are not necessarily the most reliable source of knowledge.


    Fuck teachers: I will be the only source of reliable information for my kids - and they better get used to it!

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I was never a fan of teachers, now I are one.

    A nice bonus is having my kids tutor their private school ex-classmates while telling their parents that the materials are costing me almost nothing.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Kids have figured out that the adults in their world — whether teachers or parents — are not necessarily the most reliable source of knowledge.

    But Wikipedia is holy writ!

    --Kids

  • The Late P Brooks||

    So what do you suggest? Run the schools as if the benefit of the students is your number one priority?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • SKR||

    Once I learned how to do some actual research in a university library, HS was so flippin easy it was a little sad. This was before the WWW existed btw and we had to use microfilm, fiche and dead trees. IMNSHO, the most important lesson you can teach a child is how to find the answer on their own and enjoy doing it.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Yep. In 9th grade (1984 yikes!), my Speech/Debate coach took us to a college library, and gave us a six hour lesson on how to do research. It was invaluable info. I used to drive to Ball State University in my junior and senior year of HS, and studied and used the library for homework. I destroyed all my assignments, and have been pretty good at researching and writing ever since.

  • SKR||

    Ah another HS debater. LD or CX?

  • widget||

    I have a 4yo boy. I am starting to notice some overconfidence he has in his assertions. He attends what seems to be good private Montessori school, by LA standards anyway. On simple matters, like the earth revolves around the sun or correctly spelling his name, the teachers seem to be more forgiving of mistakes than we (his parents) are.

    I may be wrong about this, it could be just a phase in his life that I should let pass, but I have become a bit suspicious of the teachers' reward schedule for self-esteem vs. being correct.

  • SKR||

    he's 4. I would think it's better to get him to like figuring out the right answer then always being precisely right. If he gets too much negative reinforcement for not entirely correct answers, answering questions might become a chore. The data on conditioned reinforcers and the amygdala are pretty interesting. The short of it is reward for trying to get the right answer or further along (when trying to shape the response to the reward) getting close to the right answer and ignore wrong answers (no reward no punishment). Just think progressive refinement.

    But I don't have kids and I've just done a little research so what do i know.

  • SKR||

    oh I should point out that the conditioned reinforcer data and the amygdala show that correction and praise bypass the cognitive parts of the brain.

  • widget||

    Thanks for information, SKR. It's worth paying attention to. But for now, I'd rather his mind be tamed and trained by the Jesuits than half-baked science.

  • SKR||

    The Jesuits have been known to do a pretty good job.

  • Alice Bowie||

    Did u guys get a load of the black/white picture ?

    Is that the "Pledge of Allegiance" or a "Hail Hitler" ?

  • Generic Stranger||

    Can you not read alt text?

  • RickC||

    Look up the history of the pledge. Short version, it coincided with the rise of Progressivism. Francis Bellamy, self described Christian Socialist, and first cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of the socialist utopian novels, penned the pledge in 1892. Also his sermons were often more political than religious. He advocated strongly for a planned economy with social, economic and political equality for all. The form he had in mind was for the government to run the peacetime economy similar to the present day military-industrial complex. Source: http://oldtimeislands.org/pledge/pledge.htm

    What's the difference between socialists and fascists again?

  • Acosmist||

    Most students are dumb as a post. They aren't bookish, because, you know, people don't usually like things they are terrible at. So of course school is boring. You know how schools try to make school more exciting? By dumbing it down, of course.

    Dumb people will be bored in school. Nothing's going to change that.

  • Copernicus||

    "But most schools require them to put that all away and ask them to focus on one, often-not-that-engaging speaker."

    God forbid kids should learn to focus.

  • Lord Peter Wimsey||

    It would be nice if middle school (MS) angst held the key to reforming education, but it doesn't. There are certain things built into the system of brick and mortar schooling (as opposed to home-schooling or online schooling) that make it dull at times. But the idea that adding technology and other bells and whistles will bring out the artists or intellectuals in the class is laughable.

    Many classes have added all sorts of of technology, coupled it with new, "cool" forms of pedagogy (all aimed at making it less dull) and the results are...middle schoolers are still bored. Why?

    Because they don't want better school, they want to avoid school. They are often middle class, entitled brats (or lazy, hostile, lower-class savages) who regard both work and thinking as impositions. What do many of my MS students complain about the most? That I make them think and reinforce what we learn through a variety of means, including videos, games, and puzzles. One student told me point blank: "Just give us the answers to the test on a sheet so we can memorize them."

    Honestly, MS is where we begin to separate the productive from the parasitic. You can see the motivated ones working out the problems, dealing with the boredom, and making the most of the situation. For them, technology is both a joy and a tool. The others are looking for a handout, or a way to get someone else to do their work.

    A trend that will continue for the rest of their lives.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement