Defending the old schools

It seems the fashion way of making impacts is to critique the old school and say something new. It is justifiable: things keep changing as time goes, and time keeps going. People destroy the old tools and inventing the new tools and call it a revolution. It’s an iteration. The old tools used to be some great inventions replacing their predecessors, and now it should be understood that they are replaced by the new generations.

The evolution is inevitable.

So is the evolution in education. I see many arguments talk about stopping the standard test. The old schools which look serious and hard on students should be changed into joyful places.No students should be blamed.

Here I want to kindly remind you that most tools can excel other tools for a certain purpose. We should acknowledge that competition always exists when resources are limited. And the truth is that the resources are always limited and certain resources are so limited that people can feel the lack of them. In a market,  a supplier, in most cases, won’t get the chance to tell the clients or customers not to buy sofas but to buy chairs because they can only make chairs. They can survive if there are no other competitors and the chair is needed. However, if the chairs market cannot make any profit, they may not survive. I treat the standard tests as requests from the clients, the education system. Education is important to everyone and the educational resources are limited. The standard tests are part of the approaches to grant the education resourced. It should also be noticed that there are always paths beside the ordinary ways for extraordinary students.

10 thoughts on “Defending the old schools

  1. dianafranco says:

    Unfortunately, what you say is true. Resources are limited, especially for education. I think that standardized tests are going to be present for a while. I am not saying that those are the best approach to test the students’ knowledge but “for now” this is the way how to compete for the unlimited resources.

  2. greicism says:

    I’m definitely one of those people who don’t “believe” in standardized tests. But maybe a large part of that is because I’m not very good at them. I definitely agree that resources are limited; and for that reason, I completely understand the logic behind requiring standardized tests. That said, I think standardized tests (in the U.S. anyway) just facilitate a cycle of who is entering certain kinds of schools. I think we’re seeing a shift in that some schools at the university level are starting to move away from a heavy emphasis on standardized tests, and that’s probably because they have the resources to do so. Really interesting post!

  3. Amy Hermundstad says:

    You make a lot of interesting points in this post. I love the idea of iterations and making small changes to improve something. I am interested in getting your thoughts on how this relates to mindfulness.

    • Qichao Wang says:

      From my understanding of mindful learning, it should be about learning and learners themselves (i.e., being mindful instead of being in autopilot mode). However, I see many comments on the supporting education systems that how we should treat each student individually and it’s ok that they cannot do certain things. It seems that they want to teach the students to break the boxes even before they framed the boxes. The thoughts in this blog are trying to critique the comments from mindful learning (e.g., Langer, Ellen J. (2016): The power of mindful learning. Second edition. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books (A Merloyd Lawrence book).). The thoughts here are also a reflection of the phase “evaluate” (on the topic of mindfulness) in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

  4. Finally someone who understands economics. I agree with a lot of the points you make. Competition is inherent in everything. Starting from our conception to getting into college. A simple illustration will strengthen your point. To get admitted to Virginia Tech, each of us competed (even if the competition was not explicit) with numerous other applicants. In this example, getting in VT is the scare resource which we competed for and the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL etc was the means to differentiate ourselves from other applicants. In this case, we do observe some positives of a standardized examination.

    However, the concept of externalities also arise (Read about it here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality). Specifically, I’ll talk about negative externality here. If the free market was allowed to operate without restraints, we would observe more pollution (manufacturers refusing to clean up lakes, rivers and streams etc., vehicle manufacturers not complying with emission standards etc.) which would in general lead to a miserable (think of costs incurred due to heavy metal poisoning, breathing problems etc) life for millions if not billions. Without regulation and with the free market running wild (like Hulkamania), we would have been stuck at a sub optimal equilibrium.

    Coming back to education and exams, I see similar patterns (atleast in India). Since there is no regulation, exams and grades are used to measure quality of students. This combined with the prevalence of rote learning ensures that many students with genuine interest in certain areas miss out on say their dream job or dream schools.

    Unfortunately, in a country where around 800 million out of 1.3 billion people live on less than $2 a day, the number of paths for “extraordinary students” is quite limited.

    • Qichao Wang says:

      Sorry to hear that. A refined system should be able to capture the talented outliers. The individual enrollment + extra credits for extraordinarily talented students channel in China could be a reference to moderate the “lack of regulation.”

  5. abramds says:

    I am really glad that you made this post, it has sparked some really interesting discussion. I think that the philosophy, as Debjit points out, “competition is inherent with everything” is somewhat true, but I think that competition in the classroom is overwhelmingly a bad thing. I am not saying that some type of analysis of learning isn’t necessary, but I think it is important to consider different learning and test taking styles. I also understand that for system wide data collection, some type of standardized testing is necessary, but I think that the pressures towards teaching to a standardized test disrupt the real goal of education. We are not trying to educate people to become really good test takers, we are trying to educate people to become great members of our society. I agree with your final point about choosing the right tool. I think that many of the “old school” ways of doing things might still have a place, but I also think that in some cases, the wrong or outdated tools need to be replaced. Thanks again for a really mindful post!

  6. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post, Quichao. I first thought I wanted to respond to some particular points you made, but after reading through the comments, I think I have more questions than remarks.

    There seems to be a general acceptance that there is competition in every system that humans are engaged in (even in conception), but does there need to be competition in education? Do there need to be ‘winners’ (those that are able to pursue (interest, talent or both) and ‘losers’ (those that fill a job vs. engage in a profession/vocation that they are personally committed to? It a foregone conclusion, in your mind, that some will ‘have’ and some will ‘have not’?

    Tangentially, do you (anyone reading this) believe that human capacity to learn is determined at birth (or sometime thereafter) or is virtually limitless (or something in between)?

    Do you believe you would be in the same place right now if any external factor in your existence, upbringing or education were different?

    I look forward to reading replies.

    • Qichao Wang says:

      Thanks for the comments. Before answering your questions, I want to kindly point out that there is no “u” after “Q” in my name. 🙂

      Now first, whether education needs competition, based on my understanding, depends on the approaches the educators are using. Including competition could be a way of engaging students (like the score and competing systems in gaming). If you are talking about competing for the education resources, I don’t think it’s appropriate to use the term “winner” or “loser” to represent the competing results. Competition in education resources is not something I want. It’s something that is already here and we need to think about the way to deal with it rather than ignore its existence. A further thought on competition in education resources will be talked in my last response.

      For your second question, I don’t think that human’s learning capacity is determined at birth. I believe in hard work and that most skills and knowledge can be learned. Actually, I believe that is what can make our human society evolve to today’s civilization and the reason why I’m doing research and want to teach. And because human’s knowledge body can accumulate by the contribution from all the talented minds, I think when we promoting new ideas, we should have the idea in mind that the old fashions have their usage at certain conditions. It’s easy to propose something new without thinking about all the constraints the reality have. Ignoring the value of old-school methods would trash the exploration of the past generations.

      Lastly, I do not believe I would be in the same place if anything changed. Actually, I do not even think I would be me if anything changed. Back to your first question about competition in education. I understand that the education resources are limited and my success, if there is any, strongly depends on the resources that I got. Also, I can see many people, including me, are still on their way to a better life because they could not get enough education resources earlier. Since education is so valuable, I must defend the standardized tests because they offer a relative fair approach for the under-represented groups. There were ten years when the college entrance exams were abandoned in China. During these years, only the ones who know someone could get the chance to go to colleges. When the elites are talking about how to widen their kids’ minds, someone far away is still struggling to get to figure out what are the colleges in this country and how to get the chance to get in.

      With the limit of time (the class is coming), I can only mention these thoughts. Hope you like it.

  7. brooks92 says:

    Very interesting. I am no economist, but I am a biologist, so I do understand competition theory.
    In nature if there are limited resources, something inevitably goes extinct. It still baffles me that a lot of people (particularly in the US) think that this ruthless free market ‘survival of the fittest’ strategy is appropriate for human affairs. The free market has led to the demise of the high street, a wealth gap that would make Caligula double take, and economic collapse. We shouldn’t apply it to our economy, and we certainly shouldn’t apply it to our schools. We need a lot more checks and balances!

    Don’t get me wrong, I think competition is useful and even necessary for development.
    Coming back to nature, competition drives evolution; it is responsible for all of the fine-tuning we see in animals that seem perfectly adapted to their environment. Hence I advocate regulated, as opposed to cut-throat, competition.

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