Debate Magazine

We Train Students to Tolerate Boredom for Long Stretches of Time, They Bring That Skill into the Workplace

By Stevemiranda

When we force students to take a required class, we assume two things:

  1. Because someone is teaching the material to them, the student will therefore learn it.
  2. There are no other consequences to requiring students to take the class. There is no backlash; it is strictly a value-add proposition.

Both of these assumptions are false.

* * *

Let’s start with point No. 1.

Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/4 of all students will not earn a high school diploma. From the Associated Press this summer: “Just 13 percent of high school seniors who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, called the Nation’s Report Card, showed a solid grasp of the subject. Results released Tuesday showed the two other grades didn’t perform much better, with just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency.”

More headlines from this year: “High school test scores slip to record low,” “More students fail math graduation exam,” “Hundreds of students fail science MCAS, cant’ graduate.”

I could go on.

Just because you require them to take the class does not mean that students will learn the material. For those who don’t remember much about high school, let me refresh your memory: many students don’t have any idea why they’re being forced to take this class, and spend a great deal of time spacing out, doodling, and waiting for the bell to ring.

Many of the most academically talented students leave high school to attend four-year colleges. The Chicago Sun-Times, however, reported this summer that about 1 in 3 students entering college need remedial help in subjects like English and Math. These are students who have been forced to take required English and Math classes since they were five years old.

Just because you require them to take the class does not mean that students will learn the material.

* * *

Now, point No. 2.

Of the students who enter college as freshmen, almost half will not earn a degree within six years. Many observers see this as a need for more required classes in high school since, clearly, students don’t have the academic chops to handle college. However, students’ inability to get through college has little to do with academics—with the availability of remedial courses, professors with open office hours, on-campus tutoring centers, writing centers, and a variety of other academic support centers, any student who is committed to learning has the resources available to earn a degree.

The problem is that, for 13 years, students have been shuffled from one required class to another, waiting to be told what to do. Many attend college simply because they’re too old for high school. Now, they need someone new to tell them what to do. Their education has always been controlled by someone else. They have never been allowed to make a real decision about their education, and, deep down, they’re not 100 percent sure why they’re in college in the first place.

Required classes do not ensure that students will learn the material. Instead, they teach students passivity. They teach students that someone else is responsible for their education.

* * *

One last data point: According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of U.S. workers are either not emotionally engaged or are actively disengaged from what’s happening on the job. Those with a college degree report the lowest levels of engagement.

This is a predictable outcome of our education system. We train students in conformity, compliance, and the ability to tolerate boredom for long stretches of time. Those are the skills they bring with them into the workforce.

(There are actually three really important assumptions about required academic classes. The third assumption is that unless we force students to learn, they’ll just sit around and do nothing. This is also false, and I’ll address it in tomorrow’s post.)

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