Last week I was thinking about the typing class I took in high school and that, although I did not realize it at the time, it turned out to be one of the most useful classes I have had. Thinking about the most useful classes started me thinking about the other end of the educational spectrum. In my case it is not a single class, instead it was two entire years of my public education.
I attended Shiloh Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio from kindergarten through eighth grade. At the time that I entered seventh grade, someone in the Dayton Public School system decided that a change was needed in the teaching methods that would be used. Apparently, it was time to do away with the old ways and implement a “new and improved” educational approach. (Doesn’t that refrain pop up every decade or so?) This grand, new idea that was to be piloted at my school was called Individualized Guided Education or IGE for short. The basic premise was that kids are all at different levels and learn at different rates, so each child should be taught where they are and not forced to go at the same pace as everyone else in the class. To further recognize and facilitate this the 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes were all intermingled.
Now theoretically this might sound like a nice idea and for some it worked. My date to the senior prom in high school was able to skip an entire year of school by taking advantage of this system. Alas I was not that type of overachiever. I think I was a typical adolescent boy (read that as “inherently lazy”) so for two years I did as little as possible. Perhaps the result might have been better if individual students were chosen for the pilot instead of an entire school.
Up through 6th grade I would say that math was perhaps my best subject – after that it was my worst. As I recall, there was little or no classroom instruction. I was to take a pretest on a chapter in the math book, if I passed, I moved onto the next chapter, if I did not pass I was supposed to do the work in the chapter then take a post-test and, if passed, move onto the next chapter. The idea was to go to the teacher and ask questions, I was not one to go out of my way to talk to a teacher and so I would just sit and try to muddle through it out on my own, each week falling further behind my peers. Grades were simply “pass” or “fail” – again as an lazy adolescent boy – what motivation did I have to do more than pass? The only real consequence I remember during those two years was an 8th grade basketball game that I was ineligible for because of a science assignment. It was not because I had a poor grade on it, I just did not see the need to complete and turn it in. I completed the assignment before the next game. (Not that it mattered – we were a pretty bad team and I was a bench warmer.)
When I moved onto my freshman year of high school, upon recommendation of my elementary school teachers, I took the easiest math and science classes offered. I remember looking at my first grade report in high school and thinking to myself, “I guess these are the grades I am supposed to get.” Fortunately that first report card was a very good one. I do not profess to be a genius, but I do think that I am smarter than the average bear and I can back this belief up with two earned master’s degrees and five professional certifications.
Over the years, I have thought I should gather up all the men and women who attended Shiloh during that time and we should file a class action suit against the Dayton Public Schools for malpractice or malfeasance or mal-something or other for wasting those formative years that did not prepare many of us for anything. Education theories and methods may be nice, but they do have a real and lasting impact on the students involved and, in my case, it was not good.