‘Wasting Minds’ Seeks to Change a Few

January 14, 2013

It’s not really news that people are disappointed in the current U.S. education system. Other nations are beating us out in areas like math and science and public schools continue to fall behind. While everyone claims to have the answer that will bring American students up to par, the truth may simply be that the current system is not fixable, that we actually have to change the way we approach education if we want to produce knowledgeable and creative students that exceed all expectations. At least, this is the argument of author Ronald A. Wolk in this audio book ‘Wasting Minds: Why Our Education System is Failing and What We Can Do about It’. Wolk has spent several decades lobbying for school reform, going so far as to found and edit popular publications on the subject such as Education Week and Teacher Magazine. And he uses his considerable knowledge on the topic of education reform to lobby for a 180 in the way we address the education of our youth.

Parents, educators, and politicians have all joined the fray when it comes to finding ways to fix the U.S. education system. And while their suggestions are no doubt well-intentioned, Wolk wastes no time cutting familiar proposals to shreds. He attacks bids for longer school days or more days of attendance in a year, as well as standardized testing, mandatory math classes beyond what is currently required, and even the idea that every student can succeed if only they have a qualified teacher in every subject. Even the casual listener with little background information will likely have to agree that his arguments are well-reasoned and aptly supported with pertinent data.

Unlike most people who take it upon themselves to publicly rant about the ills of education in this country, Wolk goes on to suggest reform that takes our institutions, teachers, and students in an entirely new direction. In his estimation, the cookie-cutter approach to teaching that forces students to learn with their age group simply isn’t working, as dismal test scores have highlighted. Instead, he calls for a system that emphasizes situational learning through real-world applications, relies on individual instruction and assessment rather than overarching lesson plans and standardized tests, and turns instructors into advisors that guide the learning process rather than dictating rote assimilation of facts.

Of course, he is quick to admit that his plan is a daring one that would be nearly impossible to implement en masse because our current system is so deeply entrenched. But even here he offers a solution by way of a parallel system that introduces schools under this new banner, allowing teachers and parents to choose the path they wish to pursue. If we want more students to go on to become contributing members of society, it is incumbent upon us to create a system that funnels them into programs ranging from online schools to Ivy League institutions. And in ‘Wasting Minds’, Wolk offers an option that could just put U.S. students back on the international map in terms of performance and marketability.

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