School Daze #13: The Hip Way to Learn

From The Adventures of Jerry Lewis #91 (Dec. 1965) 

This little public service comic book ad was published by the National Social Welfare Assembly.- which sounds like a Commie Socialist organization (so they changed their name in 2005 to the National Human Services Assembly), but it's actually a good non-profit group, representing the Red Cross, Boy and Girl Scouts, and Salvation Army).  But their ad certainly leaves room for comment from a 2013 vantage point.

First off, who is this creepy guy eavesdropping on the conversation of these kids?  I think it would've been more effective if Superman or Wonder Woman was giving the advice instead of this strange man.

The kids at the soda shop have a dilemma - they're studying their asses off and still flunking.  What to do?

The "hip" advice: study in a quiet environment and don't wait till the last day to study for a test.  Fair enough.
Here's some more sage advice:

Ask your teacher for help.  Gee, thanks.

I'm not knocking the advice - the creepy stranger makes a valid point.  However, what troubles me is that almost 50 years later, we still are operating on the same principles.  In other words, our educational system hasn't really changed in fifty years.  Sure, it's added some whistles and bells, a buzz word here, a Mac Book there... but it's still pretty much the same operating system.

Never mind the fact that we have found that human beings learn in a manner not consistent with this method. Sitting in a classroom for 7 hours every day listening to lectures, then continuing to grind it out at home may not be the best methodology.

Take a quick tip from me, stranger - - the problem is much deeper than this.  Stay out of it.

Have we (Americans) even defined the purpose for the educational system in the first place?  I mean, is it a focused career track or a path to a well rounded intelligence, or just cognitive growth?  If it's a combination, where's the focus? Is it a one size fits all system?  Or should there be some sort of track?

We always hear that other countries are leaving America in the dust.  Can we learn anything from these countries, or must we continue the same basic path that's been laid out for decades?

It seems to me that every time there's a debate it always sways toward the tired "kids these days" scapegoat, or teacher vilification.  I can't help but wonder if the problem is a tad more complex than this.... or perhaps so simple that our bloated and convoluted educational system can't deal with it.  Either way, I'd love to see things improve.

As it is, we spend way more on education than anywhere else in the world.  How sad is it, that we are consistently ranked near 500 (of 1,000 countries)?

 Do we emphasize athletics too much?  It's a fact that the highest public employees in nearly every state in the country are not college deans, but college football coaches.  But then, that's what funnels money to the college to support the stuff that matters.

But this isn't a post about how to solve our educational system.  That problem is too deep, too entrenched, too effed up to be addressed in a little post like this.

I guess, just seeing this public service message from 1965 made me realize how little things have changed.... which made me a bit sad and disappointed.

I don't know.  I'm just waiting for that big change that makes learning exciting again.  A big change that actually makes kids want to learn, which inspires them to even greater heights.  Within each school there's a potential Nick Tesla or Bill Shakespeare who could bring some sorely needed change the world.... but we just keep on with the same system that we had in '65.... but it's become even more bloated, more confused, and more inefficient over the years.

We've tried to come up with some "solutions" over the years: no failing grades, "no child left behind" (what a joke), year round schools, etc.  They've all been either band-aids or made the problem worse.

I'm done with buzz-words and stupid little innovations.  While other nations cruise to the finish line, we dawdle around in this confused state.

Should Johnny read Plato's Republic?  Or should Johnny concentrate on what gets him that engineering degree down the road?  Where does our focus lie? What is our ultimate goal?  While we twist and turn with every new fad, prior to college Johnny gets NEITHER - no Plato's Republic and no engineering prep.

It's a real quandary. No Plato's Republic and we cultivate a nation of senseless twats. No engineering prep and we allow other nations to crush our balls; they'll make all the innovations and drive the world's economy while we stand on the sidelines massaging our nuts.

We've got to get serious, dammit.

My parting words are simply this: There needs to be a public debate which results in real change.  Not pointless round-tables, but genuine discussion in the public forum that doesn't sound like this...

... which is all we hear nowadays.  A cacophony of soundbites getting us nowhere.

The real question is this: Fifty years from now - in 2063, do you see any evidence that our educational system will be improved?  I know you want to be optimistic - so do I.  But do you see any genuine evidence that gives you confidence?

If not.  then it may be time for you (yes YOU) to take steps in that direction. Take a "hip" tip from Mr. Weatherbee - be a part of the positive change.


  1. Everything you say about our education system is correct. It's really fu--er, messed up.

  2. Better a creepy stranger than Jerry Lewis giving advice...

  3. My wife is a public school teacher in inner city Philadelphia. Oh, the stories and comments I could give you!

  4. I'm going to use a few of these panels in my Freshman Experience classes I teach in the university library.

  5. My school is a 1-1 Mac school- all kids have laptops and/or ipads. As a result they are easily sidetracked and can't focus on one task without checking their messages, googling something irrelevant, etc. I'm speaking from experience. They have no attention span, are unprepared to write five essays in 4 hours as the final exam requires, google quotes and copy/paste out of context without understanding the meaning, forget necessary facts, can't process information in class... Things are so much worse with a generation that communicates in smileys and 140 character tweets when they are being examined by adults.

  6. Great and thoughtful post. A few suggestions.
    US elementary and high schools have WAY too many holidays, snow days, and a ridiculously long summer vacation.

    The words “nerd, geek, dweeb” for students who are great at science, math and computers need to go the way of the “N. word” . If heard in the school hallways, it should be treated just as if the student had used a racist epithet. Like the N. words, in a hundred years people will look back in disbelief that a society so dependent on technology allowed its smartest kids to be referred to in this way.

    Main stream media: For decades you’ve been showing special features on top local high school athletes. How about at least equal time for the top local scholars , science fair winners etc. ? Also news reports should routinely feature science and technology news. Those who make important advances in this field should be given the kinds of honors and celebrity status that are currently afforded to those who score touchdowns and home runs.

    Agree that the old model of sitting for hours listening to lectures needs to go. A lot of it can be replaced by educational excellent software which does a much better job – especially at the college level where many professors’ teaching skills are so abysmal that students are cutting classes anyway.

  7. You are so right. I've been a public school teacher for almost 30 years and the system is so backward and convoluted that it reminds me of an old road in the northeast- cracked, patched, caulked, and bloated. Nothing is really new. Pundits abound with what we should do and should not do, lest we ruin little minds. Technology and 21st century learning skills are the buzzwords right now, but all one really has to do is look back five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty five years and so on and I can recite for you the previous ed slang and latest trend - it's almost as bad as pop culture fads. And none of it is all that scientific. Lots of new ed trends are based on pseudoscientific bs, and they shove it down our throats as n on negotiable ways to teach kids. It may be worth our while to check out what countries like Finland do, but no one wants to go down that road. Rah rah, 'Merica knows best, and all that rubbish.

  8. It's a bit from the outside-looking-in for me today, but maybe it's not the worst perspective at all. While being right in what you say, I miss specific points that need to change, instead of a general "let's be less backward". Having spent my youth in European schools and learning the differences of the American system much, much later, there are some points that still strike me as having formed (or supported) my learning environment better.
    I could go into a lot of detail here, but let's just take the most superficial items I'd list:
    - Overregulation. From hall passes to cafeteria permits and "off limits" areas - is that still exists, it always reminded me more of military camps than schools. Instead of herding kids, give them a sense of responsibility for their school, let them loiter where they like, and assign the care for this place. Sure, there'll be incidents - and great learning opportunities.
    - Useless Competition. Kids like to decide who to compete against, and on what level to accept a challenge. Being pushed into school-wide trials, competing for prizes and trophies sets the wrong mindset -in kids as well as in deans. Stop the medals and ceremonies, make learning a personal experience. I learned reading and writing not because I was good in spelling bees, but I loved the world it opened for me.
    - Societies and clubs. They only serve to separate kids into ideological camps, and force them to make decisions they are often too young to sustain. Societies serve to represent them selves and their status, not their members. Let the kids be friends with whom they like, and form their own groups - they'll have more fun out of it, and be more focused on getting things done instead of the next grand society ritual.
    - Sports. I have never seen so much emphasis on a nonacademic, unintellectual activity in any educational system. Sports are fun, and should be provided as a valve or for the enthusiasts - but not as the lever moving all the gears in the rest of the school.

  9. 50 years from now will be 2064. I blame the error on our educational system.

  10. I think this discussion is based on a demonstrably false premise: that public schools exist primarily to benefit children. They don't. Rather, the public school system exists mainly to benefit adults: adults who work in the system, adults who pay taxes to support the system, adults who benefit from selling products and services to the system, and, not least, sanctimonious politicians who use education as an issue to make gullible women think that they care about them and their children. Viewed this way, it's no surprise that most schools are concerned mainly with providing daycare and sports. It's what their voters and taxpayers demand.