Stresses on Education – Learning Abilities, Culture, and the Brain

Recently, I was asked to describe the role of education on intelligence. My response was not exactly optimistic, but worth sharing.

It appears as though education may not have a ???role??? in any of the differing views on what intelligence is, how to measure it, or how to increase it. Considering the inability to generate a consensus as to what intelligence is or how to classify, categorize, and interpret different types of intelligences, this tells us that we may never understand it to the point of developing structures and environments to ???produce??? it. Intelligence is elusive. Unfortunately, so much pressure and stake is placed on that which we are unable to describe. Our institutionalized educational practices such as grading provides little to no insight into one???s intelligence. This could be a product of flawed grading methods used by the teacher, low motivation but high efficacy of the student, and many other alternatives. However, it still stands that education has long had a problem of identifying, producing, and increasing intelligence. That all sounds a bit paradoxical.

What then of the great push toward free, compulsory education? Our culture has developed from the simple melting pot into what has become a ???mixing bowl???, consisting of a greater diversity than America has ever seen. The statistic that was striking was that by 2050 (within our lifetime) there will be no majority race or ethnicity. A nation that prides itself in the great maxim that ???out of many, we are one??? (E Pluribus Unum) has never been farther from it. We???re not one of anything. Since WWII, our society (I can???t even say ???our culture???) has increasingly become more accepting of ethnic and cultural differences – almost, it seems, against our will. In the golden ages of public education, when the government first started funding millions of dollars to education in order to produce scientists and engineers to combat communism, the classroom was not diverse; at least the segregated schools weren???t diverse. SInce the Civil Rights Movement (and the subsequent spin-off equal rights movements) and through the 70s, American society has pushed public education to serve the greater needs of all demographics, no one is expected to assimilate. Johnson???s Great Society ushered in a wave of ideological reforms to close the income gap and increase the likelihood of a chance to succeed, putting American society on the path toward multiculturalism.

Since then, schools have grown into the provider of all things. It seems that every piece of educational legislation passed since has increased the demands of schools, and none of them have made teaching students any easier. While this all certainly makes a strong case for civic education, the effects of diversity on education is difficult to grasp. To do so involves conversations on motivation, expectations, stereotyping, gender differences and bias, and language acquisition and barriers. These effects exact a staggering toll on the teachers and students. Consider the perspective of a Hispanic girl, whose parents speak no English, and are unable to overcome unemployment – the odds stacked against her are seemingly insurmountable! What if she is labeled as having a learning disability, what then? This is not a far-fetched scenario. As we have been frighteningly unable to educate children out of poverty (meaning the cycle of poverty continues despite increased educational opportunities), how are we to educate the whole packages?

This makes us wonder, do we even stand a chance? Does education hold the promise for our future?

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