Thursday, September 4, 2008

the problem with education

is that it is not a single-fold issue, but ridiculously complex, kinda like climate change. The "problem" cannot be solved by any single solution.

As I sit here, grading stats hw late into the night, it really really really bugs me that for some of these homeworks, the quality is just abysmal. I will admit that my motivation to grade is affected dramatically when I see sloppy organizing, sloppy handwriting, unfinished answers that are just put on paper so students can make a half-hearted grab for partial credit. There really is a bimodal (or trimodal) distribution here between those that "get it", those that "don't get it", and those that "don't get it" and "don't give a damn".

I don't understand how you can be at a school like UCSD, paying money to take a course over the summer, and not try and do better. Why do we have financial aid that is independent of merit? Wouldn't it be better to put those millions into better schools for the motivated, but underprivileged grade school kids? $10k+ per year goes much longer in an elementary school than it does for an unmotivated college student.

The issue of motivation gets discussed a lot, and again, a lot of the proposed solutions are narrow-minded. Yes, consistent punishments and rewards are good as external motivations, but ultimately internal motivations are more important. I'm sure it does work for many students, and may even result in change of hearts, but I think there are definitely some that just stop trying in the absence of the appropriate reward/punishment framework. Again, I think a lot of people blame things like our culture and society (let's free tibet, and save Darfur! Screw Bill Nye and Reading Rainbow!) But that's still only one facet of a complex problem. My friend K thinks that motivation issues can be solved by making high school voluntary, which is a not entirely novel idea that is wrought with implementation issues. Trying to apply motivation psychology research to teenagers just doesn't sound like a brilliant way to fix education...

Of course, any attempts to engineer a culture that admires hard work and effort on a governmental scale is also easily seen as government interfering with things they shouldn't mess with. The problem is, though, that without intervention, we end up getting stuck with reality shows, celebrity coverage, and sometimes the two combined together.

Chalk this up to my late night cynicism. I'll feel much more optimistic in the morning. At least until I see the stack of ungraded homeworks...

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