Striving for Mediocrity

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PraetorianShield
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Striving for Mediocrity

Postby PraetorianShield » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:41 am UTC

I don't want to seem arrogant but this topic has been a real source of puzzlement and frustration to me. When I was a little kid before I entered school my parents taught me to read and write and I could do so proficiently before kindergarten. They bought me TimeLife science books and I read them all the time. In fact, I pretty much just read or played all the time. I didn't watch much tv and didn't have any video game system.

I started out in school light years ahead of my peers and was much smarter than the classroom average. I eventually skipped third grade.

As school progressed though, especially during late middle school and high school, I have noticed my peers catching up to me. I am now not as smart compared to the classroom average.

Some of this has definitely been because of my declining work ethic as video games and other entertainment come out, but I believe a major factor is that teachers teach to the lower end of the class in order to bring them up to meet the average standard.

I think that the teachers should encourage success and help those who can achieve do so, but how can that take precedent over the education of others who might be a little behind the curve. It seems like the system naturally dumbs down smarter students while bringing up those below average.

Is there a way to improve this? What are your thoughts and experiences on this?

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby meatyochre » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:56 am UTC

First of all, your parents had the time and money to teach you before you got into school. Probably also passed on strong intellectual genetics. So you got very lucky early on. What you may have viewed as teaching "toward mediocrity" may have been teaching at a normal pace. You just move faster than that.

That said, I do agree that there's been a push lately for minimum acceptability, especially with the recent teaching to equivalency tests. I put this down to government threats and a general lack of funding. Bush's "no child left behind" program was a massive failure for this very reason. Instead of bettering the students who WANT to succeed and have the natural ability to do so, let's make sure everyone can get a C average. And if everyone in your school doesn't make a C average, your music program will have to be cut next year so you can devote more time to academics.

etc etc. it's a funding thing.
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PraetorianShield
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby PraetorianShield » Wed Apr 07, 2010 4:25 am UTC

Oh, another thing I forgot.

It seems to me now (as a senior in high school in America) that most of the kids who are actually failing (F's or D's) classes are doing so because they are too lazy to actually do the work to earn the grade. When teachers devote time to these kids it seems to be a sinkhole for resources.

Maybe we should try to find why the kids aren't motivated and then fix the problem. It doesn't seem like Japan has this problem to such a degree. Or America a few decades ago.

Societal/cultural influences?

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Atmosck » Wed Apr 07, 2010 6:36 am UTC

I'm also a high school senior in Jesusland, USA.

I was talking to my former AP Government/Sophomore-level English teacher about the state of education (boys in my graduating class at my school were 80% less-than-proficient in writing, and the school keeps having to cut because the area is predominately tea-party conservatives who shot down an initiative to continue a sales tax level that was instituted decades ago for education funding, and the state constitution requires a balanced budget, so the school dsitrict has to cut over $70 million for next year, giving us one of the lowest $/student ratios in the country). I told her there should be an entrance exam for high-school, in which students are required to be proficient in what's generally accepted to be Algebra I, to diagram sentences (from Charles Dickens), explain the scientific method, and know basic information about state and national history (when the state became a state, who was the first president). She asked, "...and what happens when they fail?" To which I replied, "They stay in middle school another year." And she said, "I'd vote for you for school board."

The thing is, some people are just dumber than others, and need to make up for that with work ethic to succeed. This is frustrating. It would be offensive to say, "you must understand such and such concepts at a certain age, and if you don't, that's too bad for you." That's what we see as leaving a child behind. So instead of building our educational style around understanding of concepts, we base it on work ethic, because it is less intuitive to realize that we're not all on the same playing field when it comes to work ethic (it's OK to say, "It's your fault you didn't study, so you fail." ) than to do the same with "natural" intelligence (teachers get fired for saying, "You're just an idiot, so you fail.") So kids can be complete imbeciles and still succeed in school (I have an acquaintance who is one of the dumbest people you'll ever meet, both when it comes to "street smarts" and understanding what the chemistry teacher is telling her, but she's a contender for next year's valedictorian because she studies all the time), because school is designed for them. That has two consequences: when kids like the girl i described hit the ACT and NCLB tests, they still have no idea how to structure a coherent essay or interpret data from a scientific experiment, in spite of being "successful" in school; kids who are "naturally smart," whether they are naturally disposed to work hard, lose their motivation to work hard, because they are not challenged on the intellectual side - only on the study habits side. That sends kids in a downward spiral, where they care less about school because it isn't interesting, and when they are naturally distractable and unmotivated anyway, which is often the case in bright kids, they get punished into remedial classes, where the case of busy-work-without-intellectual-challenge is even more extreme. More than half of the guys I knew in my 3rd-grade gifted-and-talented class are now dropouts or have GPA's under 2.0 (and most of these kids have ACT scores in the 30s). The gifted placement was determined by an IQ test, but it is not taught to stimulate the students - it's merely the same curriculum and same style that the "normal" kids receive, only sooner.

Our system has conditioned students to see their grade as an the end goal - and if they fill in all their worksheets, they'll be rewarded with that goal. The challenge is often the sheer amount of work this entails (I've always enjoyed AP classes because they are usually less work outside of the classroom, but more challenging material). What we need to do is give kids an legitimate challenge, where the time consumption and work come not from filling in all 6 pages, but figuring out the concept. (In my calculus class, for example, the teacher just gave us L = \int{\sqrt(1+(dy/dx)^2),x,a,b} for the length of an arc, when the derivative is given. He's shown us a simple derivation - it's nothing over anyone's heads. But he could have said, "How would you find out the arc length, if all you know is dy/dx? Figure it out for tomorrow." At least a quarter of my class would probably have been able, more if we were raised doing that kind of problem solving. Some of the kids sucessfully memorize it, but those are the ones who need to be explained why you can use that when you know y=f(x), and f(x) is differentiable. Some of the kids don't learn it, and end up deriving it every time they use it on tests and such. Fucking long parenthetical.) The teacher should be there to tell them when they're wrong or right, to give them the tools and background knowledge they need to figure out a problem, and to provide guiding hints (Sudent: "I can't figure out the derivative of sin(x)!" "Graph it, and draw some tangent lines, and record the slopes at a few points, and graph that. What does that look like" "Oh! This looks like the graph of cos(x)!"

I would keep rambling, but i have to get up in a little more than 5 hours to assist in running a laser show. Good night.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby BlackSails » Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:24 pm UTC

Self selection. When you were young, you were in an unsorted class. As you grow up, your classes became stratified by honors and AP and whatever

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Dave_Wise » Wed Apr 07, 2010 1:46 pm UTC

Self selection. When you were young, you were in an unsorted class. As you grow up, your classes became stratified by honors and AP and whatever

I doubt it. If you went from a secondary school full of dullards to Oxbridge, maybe. But not within secondary education, at least in my experience.
Some of this has definitely been because of my declining work ethic as video games and other entertainment come out, but I believe a major factor is that teachers teach to the lower end of the class in order to bring them up to meet the average standard.

Doesn't quite explain it. If the material was too easy for you, all else being equal you'd still expect to have a high grade. I suspect what's happening is 'teaching the test'. It's the same principle as using pushups to improve fitness- beyond a certain point, what's being improved is the ability to do pushups, not strength or cardiovascular fitness. A certain amount of this is inevitable unless we're prepared to abandon standardised testing altogether- not something I'd advocate. But no steps whatsoever are being taken to reduce it. In particular, I do not see the point in asking students to undertake feats of memorisation. Quite often the same effect can be achieved with a look up table and a few pages of problems. Quite often what the pupils are being asked to memorise is nothing more than somebody else's prejudices and assumptions. Exceptionally able and respected professionals apparently sometimes fail to pass GCSE exams in their specialist subjects. I think that indicates that there's something wrong with the exams.

I also suspect you're bored with the material and discouraged by the environment. I certainly was, and being placed in a class with 30-odd peasants who take pride in their own ignorance doesn't help.

Another factor that reflects more badly on you, and on me, is that quite possibly before you arrived in high school, you never actually had to work to achieve good grades. After a while, even in mainstream state education, concepts become hard enough to require actual thought. It's often difficult to notice when this transition occurs.

But I think the major problem is that the teaching methods used, generally speaking, weren't working in the 19th century and they are still not working today. I'm convinced that a radical overhaul of education in this regard would benefit both ends of the ability spectrum, and quite possibly switch some students who have been regarded as 'low ability' all the way up to the 'higher ability' end.

As for the ones who just aren't interested, which is quite often the case with the ones who get 'left behind', I don't know. I think it's a cultural problem rather than an educational problem.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Chen » Wed Apr 07, 2010 7:01 pm UTC

I don't understand all these threads where people say they're bored and thus they start ignoring subjects and get bad grades. Not everyone is going to be at the top of the curve. You need to be able to have an environment where everyone can learn. This generally means teaching to the slowest student. It may be boring, but it means it can easily be gotten through by the brighter students. If everything is being taught at such a low level it should be easy enough to ace things if people really are bright. If you're that bright you should be able to make time to ace the simple school work and still have time to do whatever else you find more stimulating. That or simply neglect school and get bad grades while doing what you find is interesting. Thing is, its going to be fairly rare in real life that EVERYTHING you do is always interesting. Simply not doing things when you find them annoying or boring is simply a bad practice.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Shivari » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:53 pm UTC

Atmosck wrote:I told her there should be an entrance exam for high-school


I don't know about that. If we aren't trusting what we've been teaching them for 8 years, why would we trust what we teach them in the next 4? Improving elementary education would be more effective and would more likely solve the problem.

required to be proficient in what's generally accepted to be Algebra I


Another instance in which we'd have to improve elementary education, considering the current system often has the goal of placing the average student in Algebra I in their freshman year. Hell, I went into Algebra I my freshman year and am in AP Calculus AB in my junior year. I certainly didn't jump ahead like that thanks to elementary school teaching, I did that on my own accord. But how many kids are going to take math classes over the summer in order to catch up with their peers who did Algebra I in 7th grade? We need to reform elementary education so that the average kid is taking Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade, not have an arbitrary entrance exam and hold them back because they haven't been taught that yet.

Now, you might agree with me but still insist on an entrance exam anyway. But like I said earlier, if we aren't trusting that the class they passed taught them something, then we should look at what we can change about that class, not what we can change about what they're allowed to do after the class.

to diagram sentences (from Charles Dickens), explain the scientific method, and know basic information about state and national history (when the state became a state, who was the first president).


I don't know, most of this seems kinda irrelevant. Diagramming sentences might be useful for someone who has trouble with grammar and writing in general, but when you have developed a command of the language on your own (through reading or writing on your own, or more ideally, being taught really well), then I don't think knowing what a verb phrase is (or whatever) matters anymore unless they're a budding linguist. I don't hate the idea of getting kids more knowledgeable about history either (in fact, I love it), but I think a standardized entrance exam is completely the wrong way of going about that. And I've always seen memorizing dates in history as useless, so I'd rather see more emphasis on the actual history than important dates. I'll concur with the scientific method, but once again I'd stress more instruction and comprehension on it than asking for it to be rehashed in a test.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Aardvarki » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:57 pm UTC

As someone who destroyed every standardized test put in front of me (99th percentile etc etc) but barely scraped through High School with passing grades, I sympathize with your plight.

My problem was one of motivation. Throughout all of my schooling, nothing came as "difficult" so I never had to "work" for my grades. I found homework useless as I already knew all the answers, it was no more than busywork that I couldn't be bothered with (in elementary school when it took two minutes, no big deal, i'll finish it by the time the teacher finishes handing it out - but as high school came along and homework took two hours - writing formal proofs, calculus where the teacher insists that you "show all of your work", no way would i waste my time on that crap). As teachers began grading homework, my grades fell. I aced every test, but zeroed every homework.

I was in one of the best public schools in my state, with a gifted program that was truly excellent. I loved the quiz bowls, the math team competitions, chess team, any opportunity to challenge myself. However, standard work was unfulfilling and most teachers did nothing to help. I can accept that some students need to practice the problems hundreds of times in order to understand it, but when the only motivation to do the busywork was a "grade" (which at the time, I couldn't have cared less about my "grades", my parents didn't really push me to get good grades because they knew I was smart), I just didn't see the need to do it. Giving different students different homework would be seen as preferential treatment, which is unacceptable - but probably would've sufficed. If the teacher could tell the students "Your homework is to either solve these 30 relatively easy problems or to solve this one incredibly complex, difficult, thought-provoking problem", I'd probably have done more of my homework. Unfortunately, a teacher's job is neither to make their students happy nor to teach complex lessons to the top of the class, it is to ensure that all of the students are able to learn the basic lessons. A student who already understands the basic lessons but craves more complex ones ends up being the "student left behind".

Unfortunately, since public schools are rated based on the percentage of students who understand the curriculum, it does a school no good to provide additional services to a student who already understands the curriculum. I like to think that if I was sent to a private school or somewhere that could have better catered to my needs, I may have ended up better - but in the end that is shifting the blame away from myself. The problem is certainly three-fold, a student with no desire to do work that is uninteresting, parents who don't push the student to do the work regardless, and teachers who don't teach to the upper echelons. Chen is right, it is definitely bad practice to ignore the boring work, but try telling that to a self-important teenager who can hardly bear to listen to the teachers who aren't teaching to him and isn't being pushed by his parents to do the homework.

I've heard excellent things about Montessori Schools, perhaps something like the Montessori Method would be helpful to students like this. Self-directed teaching has always worked well for me, and perhaps you may find some success with it as well. Figure out what interests you and teach it to yourself. I know the Montessori Method was designed for teaching young children, but I think most gifted students would excel at teaching themselves new material. If you're not learning it well enough from the teacher, try reading ahead in the books and teaching it to yourself, or teaching yourself in other subjects that interest you more than what you're currently learning. If you focus on related topics (lets say you're bad at calculus - maybe try teaching yourself physics - you will learn calculus by teaching yourself some physics), you should find some success.

Sorry for the longwinded post.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Dave_Wise » Wed Apr 07, 2010 9:37 pm UTC

If everything is being taught at such a low level it should be easy enough to ace things if people really are bright.

If only it were that simple. See my comments about 'teaching the test'.

'Gfited program'? That sounds like a good idea, provided the school staff have a modicum of proffesionalism. My problem was that the teachers flat out didn't like me. This may have been due to my record of spectacular violence. But to be honest, I was no more violent than anybody else in the school. The difference was that (a) I was the one stupid enough to get caught, and (b) What I said was automatically disbelieved thanks to my racial heritage.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby meatyochre » Wed Apr 07, 2010 11:02 pm UTC

Dave_Wise wrote:
If everything is being taught at such a low level it should be easy enough to ace things if people really are bright.

If only it were that simple. See my comments about 'teaching the test'.

'Gfited program'? That sounds like a good idea, provided the school staff have a modicum of proffesionalism. My problem was that the teachers flat out didn't like me. This may have been due to my record of spectacular violence. But to be honest, I was no more violent than anybody else in the school. The difference was that (a) I was the one stupid enough to get caught, and (b) What I said was automatically disbelieved thanks to my racial heritage.

I call bullshit on the violence thing. There's no way that you could have a record of spectacular violence unless you perpetrated spectacular violence. And I refuse to believe that every single student at your school perpetrated spectacular violence.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Rubys » Wed Apr 07, 2010 11:58 pm UTC

You just described one of the major problems of the school system in perfect detail. This is just it. The school system aims for mediocrity, because that's what standardized tests are all about.
It still is weird to me that one day I talked to the girl who always gets 90+ on every test, and it was about something slightly tough to grasp, I think some sort of logic puzzle.
She proudly accepted the challenge of trying to solve it, fueled by years of being the smart girl, and utterly failed.I had to explain it for half an hour.
That's when I remembered that at classes, she is the one that asks the most questions. Not because she has some insight into the material, but because she only barely understood what was the teacher talking about. Then I remembered how her notebooks are always extremely organized, and how she writes everything, how she has only a few friends, and how tense is she whenever people strike a conversation up with her. That's because unlike my previous opinion of her, she barely understands the subject matter and spends most of her afternoons reading through the notebooks trying to make sense of it. Because exactly as the fellow somewhere above me stressed - school teaches you work ethic more than anything else. Her being tense all the time? Constantly failing to understand in class, and stressing about not understanding anything. Writing everything in perfect organization? That's because during the lesson she understood nothing. Few friends? That's because of the afternoons filled with studying her notebooks. That is the kind of student the school system encourages. I suspect the constantly-stressed-out thing was kind of specific to her and doesn't apply anywhere, but the rest of them? The perfect student, if you'd ask a teacher to describe it - Writes down everything, aces the tests, asks questions in class. But actually? Crams and crams for every single test, memorizing everything, and understanding nothing.

Then there's the actually smart ones. Those are the ones who derive the formulas they need in a math test from previous knowledge in the middle of the test. Those would be the ones who would be excited and pay attention when a teacher teaches something new, and when the routine do-it-over-and-over started, get bored and go to sleep. I hate saying this, but that would probably be me. My final scores? 95~ in CS, 90~ in math, 90~ in physics, 55-60 in everything else (Some subjects I have no idea how I ever got that 55. Literature? History? Bible? Honestly surprised I didn't fail all three)

Who would you imagine have more contact and more respect in the eyes of a teacher? The student who writes down everything, asks tons of questions during class, and aces everything, or the one who sleeps in class, doesn't write down anything at all in class, almost fails most classes and pays no real attention to the teacher?

If I messed up the English, I apologize, it's not my first language.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby achan1058 » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:28 am UTC

Rubys wrote:Who would you imagine have more contact and more respect in the eyes of a teacher? The student who writes down everything, asks tons of questions during class, and aces everything, or the one who sleeps in class, doesn't write down anything at all in class, almost fails most classes and pays no real attention to the teacher?
In my eyes, you aren't much better than she is. Unless you are simply just so good (and I mean at the very least on the national competition material, ie. genius), having an extremely poor work ethic isn't an excuse to almost failing 1/2 of the courses. There are people out there who have decent work ethic, as well as being able to truly understand the material. And in reality, a lot of real life work is more about work ethic as well, so perhaps one can say that the schools are "working as intended".

I should also add that natural understanding of the material can only get you so far. If you haven't hit the brick walls yet, you will, sooner or later. Though, if you are really that good, you might only hit it when you reach grad school or something.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Rubys » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:52 am UTC

achan1058 wrote:
Rubys wrote:Who would you imagine have more contact and more respect in the eyes of a teacher? The student who writes down everything, asks tons of questions during class, and aces everything, or the one who sleeps in class, doesn't write down anything at all in class, almost fails most classes and pays no real attention to the teacher?
In my eyes, you aren't much better than she is. Unless you are simply just so good (and I mean at the very least on the national competition material, ie. genius), having an extremely poor work ethic isn't an excuse to almost failing 1/2 of the courses. There are people out there who have decent work ethic, as well as being able to truly understand the material. And in reality, a lot of real life work is more about work ethic as well, so perhaps one can say that the schools are "working as intended".

I should also add that natural understanding of the material can only get you so far. If you haven't hit the brick walls yet, you will, sooner or later. Though, if you are really that good, you might only hit it when you reach grad school or something.

I was actually trying to make the point that she would be the more respectable one. Guess I failed. Or you mistook my tone as a showing off kinda tone.
No, I don't think I earned much respect from my teachers, and rightfully so, and also I think I presented myself in not the light I was trying to. I wasn't trying to cast myself as the very smart person who gets beaten down by the system, I'm lazy and I know it. It was... a bad example of a counterpoint to the "perfect student", I suppose.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby PraetorianShield » Thu Apr 08, 2010 2:31 am UTC

The way I see it there are two ways to be successful/get good grades.
You can either be naturally
Very smart-high IQ and able to pick up new material quickly and do well on the test with minimal to no studying
or
Very motivated-takes thorough notes, asks questions, gets a tutor, studies, reads the book, etc.

It seems to me that the best thing to be would obviously be both very smart and very motivated, followed by less smart and less motivated. Further on in life it will probably be your work ethic and ability to get a job done that allows you to succeed. After all you are being hired to do a job, not learn how to do it and then sit on that knowledge.

Personally I consider myself to be slightly above average in both intelligence and motivation but I wish I was more motivated. My problem is that homework generally is boring and monotonous. Especially when compared to video games and modern entertainment in general.

The other problem is that I seem to be close to "hitting the wall", as was posted earlier, in AP Calculus. I now feel like I have to do the homework in order to understand the subject material and now I am having to work significantly harder than in the past few years of high school. (ps. I still think that my hardest year was in 6th grade in a Talented and Gifted class where the teacher assigned massive amounts of homework as well as layering the due dates; i.e. an assignment for the day, 3 for the week, 2 due in two weeks, 1 due in a month, and then a year-long project. So we always had homework.)

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Dave_Wise » Thu Apr 08, 2010 10:57 am UTC

I call bullshit on the violence thing. There's no way that you could have a record of spectacular violence unless you perpetrated spectacular violence. And I refuse to believe that every single student at your school perpetrated spectacular violence.

I honestly couldn't give a shit whether you believe me or not. If anything, what I did was relatively mild by the standards of the school. I might have lifted somebody over my head and thrown them down on the ground, but I wasn't the one who vandalised the toilet block, I never actually- and I found this difficult to believe myself myself, and I was there so I don't honestly blame you, set fire to a school building after dousing it in petrol. I didn't carry a knife, and I wasn't even invovled in the third outbreak of violence ('hammies vs. townies')

The point, however, is that programs for giving gifted children more work to do can only work if the teachers recognise which children are gifted, and don't simply take their favourite dullard and put them on an accelerated program. Also, I'm fully aware that quite a few of the kids that get labelled as 'thick' actually have learning difficulties, and sometimes prove quite bright once these issues are resolved. Instead of which, no school in the area even screens for dyslexia (something the FE college does to every student on the first day of every course).
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Apr 08, 2010 12:39 pm UTC

Chen wrote:I don't understand all these threads where people say they're bored and thus they start ignoring subjects and get bad grades. Not everyone is going to be at the top of the curve. You need to be able to have an environment where everyone can learn. This generally means teaching to the slowest student. It may be boring, but it means it can easily be gotten through by the brighter students. If everything is being taught at such a low level it should be easy enough to ace things if people really are bright. If you're that bright you should be able to make time to ace the simple school work and still have time to do whatever else you find more stimulating. That or simply neglect school and get bad grades while doing what you find is interesting. Thing is, its going to be fairly rare in real life that EVERYTHING you do is always interesting. Simply not doing things when you find them annoying or boring is simply a bad practice.


Disclaimer: I am exceedingly biased in my answer, and I'm trying very hard to not explode.

Just because a student is bright does not mean that they should simply be shoved off to the side. Your argument of doing something you find stimulating on the side might work for older students, but what about those who are much younger? First graders may be intellectually bright, but often times that does not come with the maturity of a teenager. The discipline and work ethic needed to find something outside of class that is interesting is exceedingly high. I have issues with it now, and I am in college.

Younger students simply cannot handle that yet, and that's where you start losing the natural curiosity and drive to learn things. If they're not challenged, then they'll never expect to be challenged. This is mostly from anecdotal evidence, but I think it's fairly well accepted.

Another issue with simply doing something on the side is that you are forced to be in school and to do nothing else for seven hours a day. If, like myself, you have some sort of unhealthy addiction to good grades, then you'll spend at least an hour, usually more, on homework. That does not leave much time for other academic pursuits if you would like to participate in extracurricular activities.

The problem with the advanced students is that they get shoved into a corner, or work as unpaid teachers assistants, which gets particularly annoying. I would suggest you read A Nation Deceived - it talks a lot about "gifted education" and the reasons that teaching to the top of the class is just as important as teaching to the bottom.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Chiffre » Thu Apr 08, 2010 2:50 pm UTC

KestrelLowing[sup] wrote:teaching to the top of the class is just as important as teaching to the bottom.

+1,
Equal opportunity for gifted people means that they are teached to the limit of their abilities! Everyone would curse a teacher who doesn't teach the average student up to average knowledge, similarly for children with disabilities, but the gifted gets nothing?! Then you complain that US universities do hire foreign PhD students. You haven't even identified gifted people in the beginning. That's why +1 for entrance exams to high school.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby PCal » Thu Apr 08, 2010 5:14 pm UTC

Well i only really read this thread because the OP talked about reading at a high level so i drew a parallel to my self i use to eat books. I'm still finding odd how a book I read in third grade (LORT it was just when the movies were coming out) is acceptable to use on my AP English exam. But i digress, the problem with judging people by percentiles and bell curves is just the way the work there will always be a bottom 50% and a top 1 % even with a sample of people with genius level IQ. This is the thing that Irks me, its that the schooling system is seemingly set up as a 1 vs ALL competition. Maybe its was a my naivety or just that I'm fine with were I am in terms of intelligence but i had really no idea about class rank and such until the end of my sophomore year and by that time it was basically set who would be at the top and there was a lot a mediocrity at the top. It should be worry about yourself and we'll let you know if your doing bad (don't get me wrong this isn't do the best you can do and that's fine its, hey it doesn't matter that you just beat jimmy). The thing is schools don't give incentive to highly intelligent people, some would say getting into a good college and finding a good job would be incentive enough to put out effort but if with no effort you already better than most people why put in more? After you get to a point they realize that they will be fine farther down in life and find the amount of effort need to ensure that. As to what incentive a school could give to someone who knows they will succeed with what there at now i do not know what that is.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Yakk » Thu Apr 08, 2010 5:40 pm UTC

So, has homework in primary/secondary school (grades 1-12, or education for ~5 to ~17 year olds, for people who use different systems) exploded or something?

Note that it is extremely hard to teach "be smarter", and it is far easier to teach "work harder". If you take pride in "being smart", then working hard is evidence that you aren't that smart, and the output suffers. And really, nobody (except your mother) gives half a shit how smart you are -- they care about what you can output. Einstein (etc) isn't famous because he is smart, he is famous because of what he produced (relativity and the photo-electric effect, etc) with those smarts.

Hence schools working on "work harder" and not on "be smarter". The flaw happens when you take a student and tell them to work hard on something "boring" or "easy", or if the student self-identifies with being "smart" in the sense of "being able to produce results with less work". Once that happens, the "smart" student can fall into the trap of seeing virtue in not doing work, or seeing doing work as a flaw. And then they learn to not do work (and, in effect, only be good at what you find easy). As all sufficiently worthwhile subjects contain things that are not easy at some point along the trajectory to being sufficiently useful with the subject, this means that the people who take pride in "I find it smart", and by that they take pride in "I find it easy", people end up being insufficiently useful.

How to fix this? The entire education system is a social abomination, with students trapped in a social zero sum game with little exposure to the consequences of their choices.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Velict » Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:07 pm UTC

PraetorianShield wrote:Is there a way to improve this? What are your thoughts and experiences on this?


I live in a pretty average school district. We have a "Challenge" middle school designed for students like yourself, with an advanced math/science curriculum that leads to many students taking calculus as a freshman or sophomore in high school. I think it's a great program, although I myself didn't particularly excel in math while there (I was far too lazy and not particularly gifted). Similarly, the high school I'm going to right now is very large, which allows for the school to offer advanced courses like science research or linear algebra to gifted students. With smaller high schools, there simply aren't enough students who would be able to take such a course to justify the school offering it.

I think we just need to have a national exam taken in both 5th grade (before middle school/junior high) and 8th grade that evaluates students in all major academic areas - math, science, and the humanities. Students that score well are given an opportunity to opt-in to selective schools that provide a more vigorous education. I believe the UK has a system of grammar schools that works similarly to this.

PCal wrote:Well i only really read this thread because the OP talked about reading at a high level so i drew a parallel to my self i use to eat books. I'm still finding odd how a book I read in third grade (LORT it was just when the movies were coming out) is acceptable to use on my AP English exam


True, AP exams aren't the most rigorous of things. I know someone who used Green Eggs and Ham on one of the essays :D

Chen wrote:I don't understand all these threads where people say they're bored and thus they start ignoring subjects and get bad grades. Not everyone is going to be at the top of the curve. You need to be able to have an environment where everyone can learn. This generally means teaching to the slowest student. It may be boring, but it means it can easily be gotten through by the brighter students. If everything is being taught at such a low level it should be easy enough to ace things if people really are bright. If you're that bright you should be able to make time to ace the simple school work and still have time to do whatever else you find more stimulating. That or simply neglect school and get bad grades while doing what you find is interesting. Thing is, its going to be fairly rare in real life that EVERYTHING you do is always interesting. Simply not doing things when you find them annoying or boring is simply a bad practice.


The curve isn't static, though. By instituting a system of selective middle/high schools, we can actually shift the curve upwards. A school can focus a lot more on providing quality education if it doesn't have to worry about students who need remedial math and science courses.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Chen » Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:32 pm UTC

Velict wrote:The curve isn't static, though. By instituting a system of selective middle/high schools, we can actually shift the curve upwards. A school can focus a lot more on providing quality education if it doesn't have to worry about students who need remedial math and science courses.


Oh I have no problems trying out things like gifted programs and the like. The problem is generally a shortfall of money required to do these things. The number of gifted students is a small portion of the school population (pretty much by definition). If budget is an issue it makes sense to cut from those who can manage on their own rather than those who absolutely need the help to even get the most basic of things. Parents also need to be more involved in their children's education. Learning outside of school is important, especially for those who don't find they get enough IN school.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Dave_Wise » Thu Apr 08, 2010 7:49 pm UTC

The problem is generally a shortfall of money required to do these things.

Well, quite. If it's got to the point where the building itself is unsafe and unsanitary, it makes little sense to try and start a gifted program. But, actually, there's quite a lot that can be done without spending any extra money whatsoever, like more modern teaching methods.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Andromeda321 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:02 am UTC

I think Yakk summed things up beautifully, really.

In hindsight, one of the best things my parents ever did for me was never tell me that I was "smart" so I had no clue I might be until I was a teenager. Instead I got brownie points whenever I actually worked hard even when I hated the material, even though that never happened as I was definitely in the "I'd rather study what interests me" crowd, and seeing as I couldn't change my level of intelligence but could control my work ethic this was definitely the right approach.

The reason this is good of course is because no matter what you do in life I have yet to come across a profession where work ethic doesn't triumph over smarts, and I include my studies for a graduate degree in astrophysics very high up on this list (I don't think anyone gets by in physics without more late nights up studying than you can count, even when the material isn't particularly interesting). So ok, I don't know anyone who actually enjoyed high school worth mentioning (wouldn't you be depressed if the high point of your life was at the beginning anyway?), but I can't think of anyone whose work ethic wasn't tested at the university-level by which often it's very difficult to change the one you have.

Though yes, relating back to the original question, a lot of countries crank out a disproportionately larger number of scientists/engineers than the US, and often it works that way because they teach to the most intelligent in the class rather than the other way around. Though then you often run into things like kids having to decide their track at age 13 (ie do I want to go to high school or vocational school, often down to the profession) and this method of teaching often stems from a lack of resources in the first place (you will study a lot harder when it's not guaranteed you can go to college as opposed to the US where everyone can go somewhere). So there are often problems with both systems.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Yakk » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:53 pm UTC

Social promotion and the grade system might also get in the way.

If it wasn't a matter of keeping you with your peers, one could imagine a high school system that let you in until you turned 18, gratis. You could proceed faster, or slower through the curriculum. There would be material that would maybe stretch a bit beyond the AP point (but that might require transferring schools -- or even a boarding school -- to provide sufficient concentration of students), or students could leave high school and go to university.

Instead, we have decided to treat school as a socialization system rather than an education system. Which means social promotion, making people wait until they are 18 to go to university (so they can be with their peers), etc.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Dave_Wise » Sat Apr 10, 2010 11:01 pm UTC

In hindsight, one of the best things my parents ever did for me was never tell me that I was "smart" so I had no clue I might be until I was a teenager

I also tend to think that if you've been told that you are 'gifted', you tend to internalise the attitude that your skills are inherently down to something you are born with, that you are 'special' in some way. So when you come across something that genuinely is challenging, and you fail when you first do it, you tend to think 'damn, I"m not as clever as I thought, I suppose' and give up.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Shokk » Sun Apr 11, 2010 12:21 am UTC

Something that popped into my head almost out of the blue today, was the notion that, in the education system that I'm familiar with, at least, the subjects are being covered, but the material is being ignored.
There's something that causes students and teachers to only cater to the surface of the matter, resulting in your grades becoming a measure moreso of how well you can dance for the puppeteer than of how much you UNDERSTAND what is being given to you. That you can apply it and know it and use it and LEARN FROM IT.
Not sure what exactly it is that needs to be said or done to change this(and I think it needs to be changed), or even necessarily what's causing it in the first place, but I think that this might be describing the situation decently, yeah?
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Yakk » Sun Apr 11, 2010 12:50 am UTC

Dave_Wise wrote:
In hindsight, one of the best things my parents ever did for me was never tell me that I was "smart" so I had no clue I might be until I was a teenager
I also tend to think that if you've been told that you are 'gifted', you tend to internalise the attitude that your skills are inherently down to something you are born with, that you are 'special' in some way. So when you come across something that genuinely is challenging, and you fail when you first do it, you tend to think 'damn, I"m not as clever as I thought, I suppose' and give up.
"I don't like doing X" is more ego-buffering than "damn, I'm not as clever as I thought". Hence "gifted" people deciding they don't like things that they don't find easy (like, say, keeping notes, doing homework, or whatever subject they don't find easy).
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Dave_Wise » Sun Apr 11, 2010 6:53 am UTC

Probably part of it, but in all fairness you do have to take into account the impact of spending huge amounts of time lumped in with people who genuinely are very thick, or at least a lot lazier than you are. Quite often, it's not an ability problem, it's a cultural problem. For some reason, people in this country are unreasonably proud of their own ignorance, and I'd much prefer parents who tell their children that they're "gifted" than ones who can't be arsed.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Apr 12, 2010 8:56 pm UTC

Dave_Wise wrote:I also tend to think that if you've been told that you are 'gifted', you tend to internalise the attitude that your skills are inherently down to something you are born with, that you are 'special' in some way. So when you come across something that genuinely is challenging, and you fail when you first do it, you tend to think 'damn, I"m not as clever as I thought, I suppose' and give up.


That was a huge issue for me - I was placed in a pull-out (read 'useless') "gifted" program in 1st-5th grade, so the label of "gifted" and "smart kid" followed me all through school. I remember the first thing I didn't understand intuitively was something in algebra II. I don't even remember what it was, but I remember actually becoming physically sick because I could not figure out a math problem. I thought about running away from home because of this. I ended up just going on a really long bike ride.

What does matter is that someone can become so convinced that getting something on the first try is who they are - what their identity is - that they can feel like their world is falling apart when they hit a challenge. This is why I gave up, at least initially. My mom knew something was wrong with me, so she helped me go and tackle it again, but if I hadn't had as supportive of parents, I may have given up entirely.

I have since mostly realized that failing is not the end of the world, and asking for help is a good thing. I still have issues (as in I have to go talk to counselling services at college, with a push from my boyfriend - yay for internet being anonymous!) with going to office hours at college because I think I'm horribly stupid for not understanding everything the first time.

That was really just an anecdote to illustrate that in order for gifted children to not give up you have to challenge them right away. If they're used to the challenge, and don't think that their entire identity is based on never being challenged, they can achieve so much more than someone like me, who might achieve great things, but has to get over a lot of psychological things first.

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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby Yakk » Mon Apr 12, 2010 10:22 pm UTC

Dave_Wise wrote:Probably part of it, but in all fairness you do have to take into account the impact of spending huge amounts of time lumped in with people who genuinely are very thick, or at least a lot lazier than you are. Quite often, it's not an ability problem, it's a cultural problem. For some reason, people in this country are unreasonably proud of their own ignorance, and I'd much prefer parents who tell their children that they're "gifted" than ones who can't be arsed.

Praise your kid for working hard at a problem, and for pushing through difficulty. Praising a kid for being smart actually lowers outcomes (I guess you can say "you are smarter than X", which might raise outcomes for Y if not X...)

You can think "my kid is really smart" - what I'm saying is that telling your kid that she is smart (and having her identify with it) doesn't do good things to the kid.
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Re: Striving for Mediocrity

Postby CNiall » Tue Apr 13, 2010 12:33 pm UTC

I currently go to a 'grammar school' in the UK (essentially a school that is supposedly more academically-oriented with an entrance exam) and much of what the OP said applies just as much here -- perhaps moreso, even. The school takes great pride in its academic achievements and does not hesitate to flaunt these at every possible opportunity (though it is probably important to note that I don't mean the pupils themselves here, but rather the management) but somewhat interestingly the point that someone raised about a child being told that they are 'gifted' resulting in them becoming complacent and causing a barrier to progress later on is similarly applicable to my school. Perhaps it applies to others as well, but I can't really speak for them.

Each year, the school admits the top 120 students who took the entrance exam; in theory, these should be the most able in the city and you would then go on to assume that this would provide the school with a great chance to push the pupils academically. Of course, this breaks apart when you consider that not every child of the right age in the city is going to take the exam and of the ones that do take it and pass there are going to be those who simply have no interest in academic fields, but even with these concessions made the school would be in a perfect position to push the pupils. Instead, the school does the exact opposite: for the most part, they hire sub-par teachers who might as well be the first five people they met on the street -- more than a few teachers seem to think that dictating the material in the textbook and having us write it down is good practice and one particularly bad example actually uses Wikipedia in the same way. There are a few teachers who are actually good at their job, but unfortunately I could count them off on a single hand.

For the most part, the teachers seem to have no idea how to cope when asked a question outside the scope of the GCSE syllabus; the most common response to a question is "Oh, you don't need to know that, it's not important." closely followed by "That won't be on the GCSE so don't worry about it.". I understand that yes, passing the assortment of GCSEs that we are taking with good grades is important, but when these questions are asked they're never asked in such a way as to derail the class -- those asking always wait until the class has been set some work to do or something similar that means that the teacher is (relatively) free to answer questions.

Combine the poor standard of teaching in the school with the fact that we have been given three years instead of the two years usually allowed and you have a recipe that drives anyone who is not even necessarily 'smart' but just finds the subject interesting and goes to the damn classes to learn, not to have easy material that has been drilled into their skulls innumerable times already spouted at them and any questions that concern topics not covered by the GCSE at best casually dismissed. It certainly doesn't help that our wonderful headteacher (who, perhaps notably, is disliked by pupils and staff alike) spends more time devising schemes to "bolster the school's community and Instill [sic] a greater sense Of [sic] community and belonging in [the pupils]" (to quote her directly) than repairing the horribly broken methods used and outright refuses to allow people to take certain GCSEs a year early even though we can easily have covered the material and are 'oh-so-very-priveleged-to-attend-this-school-with-it's-excellent-examination-results'.

To put it in shorter form, self-proclaimed 'best school in the city' hires, for the most part, incompetent teachers, has awful management, is horrifically pretentious, interesting parallels with how praising a kid for being smart can actually lower outcomes. Unfortunately, I can't really see a way around this that wouldn't involve massive restructuring of the UK educational system as a whole -- someone metioned the Montessori method and while I can see that working extremely well in an ideal group of reasonably smart kids with (more importantly) a good work ethic it all falls down when you consider:
a. The fact that any group of kids isn't going to consist solely of reasonably smart kids with a good work ethic; you're going to always have those who take inordinate pride in being ignorant or those that simply cannot be bothered, for example.
b. The fact that the UK educational system is so based around the GCSE and A-level examinations: leaving the kids to study only what actually interests them would be great in the aforementioned ideal group, but you still run into the issue that someone immensely interested in, say, music would still be expected to have a pass at GCSE in at least English and maths.

Perhaps if the GCSE examinations were improved the situation as a whole would be better, or at least less exaggerated.

(It's probably important to note that the GCSEs are exams taken at the age of 16 and the material is usually studied in school for two years before actually taking the exam and that the A-levels come two years after the GCSEs and so are typically moved on to straight after taking the GCSEs, i.e. from 16 to 18, though one could -- providing your school would allow it -- take both of these exams earlier, in theory)


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