Is changing educational methods the only way to improve education?
The modern rhetoric of lawmakers has focused on a perceived need for improved education since the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk. Since then, efforts have focused almost exclusively on adapting teaching methods to meet the needs of diverse students. Is this really the right focus?
To say that educational methods have not changed much over that last few decades is an understatement. The world has modernized. Information has become the primary commodity. Educational methods are still the same. The effect of the educational pendulum has been to repackage old ideas in new ways so techniques appear to change. However, the reality is that the same educational methods are simply being recycled. Rhetoric among educational leaders indicates that the old factory model of education is broken and ineffective needing to be replaced with modern tools and methods that prepare students for today's world. Seldom, however, is there a genuinely new idea given regarding the nature of these modern methods and tools. Classroom teachers are simply told to modernize and appear relevant.
Concurrently, student behaviors are being overlooked. What would not have been tolerated in a classroom a decade ago has become the norm of student behavior today. Teachers who try to squelch inappropriate behaviors such as displays of disrespect to faculty and fellow students are branded as old-fashioned, intolerant, or unwilling to meet student needs. With a completely student-focused philosophy that requires the teacher to meet the self-perceived needs of every learner while having no real authority to do so, the decline of the classroom continues.
The solution is not grounded in changing educational methods. Little has changed in decades, and little is known regarding what change should be made to move forward. The education pendulum is perpetuated. The solution is rooted in what many private and public school teachers already know: mutual respect. Notice that there are two distinct components in that statement. First, teachers need to respect the diverse needs and cultures of their learners; their goal must be to help their students be successful. This is not difficult. Few, if any, teachers enter the profession without the desire to see their students reach their full potential. The second component is wherein the difficulty lies: renewing the respect of students for teachers. Fueled by the entitlement mentality that is prevalent among students, the level of blatant disrespect toward teachers seems to be on the rise. The only way to end this cycle is to cease positively rewarding this type of behavior. Positively rewarding behavior contributes to repeat behavior. This is the basic behavioral conditioning model. Cease positively rewarding inappropriate behavior, and the behavior ends over time.
This is far easier said than done. There are multiple levels of personal emotion coupled with societal norms all engulfed in the ever-shifting post-modernist philosophy. The methods of education may still need to change; educational research must continue to search for new ideas. Nonetheless, if we begin the transformation by moving toward a model of mutual respect, we can begin to see change even while searching for modern techniques.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education.