Old School

| by Heywood | illustration by Charles Marsh |

Every year about this time, we always seem to get bombarded with statistics about how well or poorly our education system is working. Some pundit always has a theory on how to make the system work better. I've read a number of ideas over the years, except the one that I believe is the most obvious way to improve student performance.

Although I never tried it myself, regular attendance just might be the answer. Now, back in the 50s when I was in elementary school, attendance was fairly mandatory. But that sure didn't stop me from daydreaming. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Demerjian, took notice and finally said, "Little Heywood, if you don't start paying attention, you'll never amount to anything." Although she was very intelligent, after all these years, I still think it was a lucky guess.

But getting a student's attention and holding it has always been a struggle for educators throughout the years. Everybody remembers the song "School Days." The one line in that song that always got my attention was "taught to the tune of a hickory stick." Well, that stick was actually my coach's wooden paddle, and I got to feel its tune every time I didn't pay attention to him or my schoolwork.

Of course, the key to learning anything is access to information. It was much different when I was growing up. Sure, we had newspapers, but the majority of what we learned came from books and television. And let's face it, back then and even now, television has always been considered by some scholars as a vast wasteland. That may be true. After years in front of a television set, I've finally come to realize just one thing. The most important thing to any woman is a way to lock in moisture.

And if we really needed to learn something, our only reference was some type of book. I never understood this, but when I couldn't spell a word, my teacher would always tell me to look it up in the dictionary. How? Seriously. And lessons for each class were taught right out of some boring textbook. I found out in a hurry that if you didn't like a particular subject, your retention level was very low. For some reason, I just didn't like history. About all I can recall is that pillow fights didn't last long in the Stone Age.

Things are different now.  As you can tell from this month's issue, technology is playing a huge role in changing the teaching and learning process. Smart phones have made texting a phenomenon and a way of spreading information to a huge audience. It's even created a new dialect made up of acronyms like OMG, LOL and my favorite, WT............uh, never mind. And although it's revolutionary, texting is dangerous when you drive. The worst thing about it is all those people that appear out of nowhere on the sidewalk.

Students can also say goodbye to three-ring binders and textbooks. A computer tablet keeps all the notes and handouts in separate files. And the computer not only contains the textbook, but also videos, animations and additional materials that support learning. The tablet can also test children's knowledge of a subject as they learn and provide instant help and feedback. This provides positive reinforcement and may get them excited about a subject. Granted, not all of us get excited about the same experience. For instance, short people get excited when they accidentally bump their heads on things. But if a subject is presented in a more interesting format, chances are the students will pay attention and learn more about it.

Yep, with all this new information technology available, we are gradually saying goodbye to chalkboards, school libraries and even backpacks. And with all the knowledge future generations will gain, maybe one day they will finally answer that age-old question. Who closes the door when the driver gets off the school bus?