Renowned humorist Dave Barry reflects on his college experience and writes:
College is basically a bunch of rooms where you sit for roughly two thousand hours and try to memorize things… Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:
Things you will need to know in later life (two hours). These include how to make collect telephone calls and get beer and crepe-paper stains out of your pajamas.
Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours). These are the things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology, – - -osophy, -istry, -ics, and so on. The idea is, you memorize these things, then write them down in little exam books, then forget them…
After you’ve been in college for a year or so, you’re supposed to choose a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and forget the most things about.
While Barry may be somewhat diminishing the value of a college education, he has hit upon an important issue that effects schooling at almost every level. Put simply we may ask: Why do our children learn so much and yet know so little?
Failure motivates. Well, to be more accurate, fear of failure motivates. We live in a society in which the Lombardi motto ‘winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing’ drives athletes towards excellence and has been often quoted, and subsequently adopted, in the business world as well. Coming in second is now viewed, in the words of comic Jerry Seinfeld, as being ‘the first loser’, making the thought of failure to win a distasteful, if not outright scary, prospect.
What is it with elementary and high school teachers? Here’s a scenario that, unfortunately, is all too common:
Student: “Oh, Mrs. Smith, I wanted to hand in my report on the Solar System”.
Teacher: “I can’t accept that report”.
Student: “Why not?”
Teacher: “That report was due yesterday. You can’t turn it in late!”
Student: “Why, did the Solar System change that much since yesterday?”
Teacher: “No, but it is my job to teach you responsibility! And also, you have to learn that in life you do not get second chances!”
A conversation overheard a million times in classrooms across America. “Why”, complains 4th grade student Timmy, “Did I get a C on my report card”? “Oh no, Timmy”, replies his teacher, “You didn’t get a C, you earned a C!” (In the age of massive grade inflation – a discussion for another time – I guess this conversation would include a B, or even an A-.) Timmy walks away unconvinced. Actually, he thinks, I didn’t earn it, you gave it to me.