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Author Topic: What do we teach the young?
Pelegius
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The educational system in the U.S. has failed. This is not news, it has failed since inception and shall continue to fail until its aim is clearly realized.

But what is its aim? To create workers, caring not if they become the Unknown Citizen of Auden's memorable poem and lead lives of quite desperation, or to enable a generation to, as Joyce noted "go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the untreated conscience of [their] race?" I believe it should be the latter, but fear that I am in the minority.

If there were one thing I could destroy in schools every where, it would be the so-called "five paragraph essay" an abomination of the English languages which hinders both thought and communication. Orwell did not condense "On Shooting an Elephant" to five paragraphs, nor has any other essayist of note, the form being a complete invention of teachers.

Perhaps worse, perfectly intelligent students graduate from Secondary School without having read Gilgamesh or the Odyssey or any Sartre, some have not even read a play by Shakespeare.

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Richard Dey
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Ye gods! Four homophilic basics, too [Wink] .

There should be no stated state purpose in educating the young. The claim by the instigators of this shameless child-abuse was readin', writin', and 'rithmetic -- so the that little Puritanical brats could read the Bible, write their wills, and count out 10% of their hard-earned money for a tithe so Puritan Divines could drink tea and madeira.

The very question is out of order. All children should learn what they want in private schools designed to entertain them -- not beat, berate, and benumb them.

How the hell can you teach genius -- and what less, facing a billion Chinamen and a billian Indians and half a billion Euroneous competitors, must we have to stay in 1st place?

Instead of this public-school crap, what we need is an English-speaking union to which we belong. Tomorrow, with translation programs, we won't have that opportunity.

On the other hand, the 5 ¶ essayette ought to be banned even in Chinese [Wink] .

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Lisa M.
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The reason the five-paragraph essay is important?

"Hi, I'm ___, and I would like to work for this company/go to this college/whatever.
My qualification include _____.
I would be a benefit to this community because ____.
I am better than the other applicants because ____.
So hire me."

"As much as I have enjoyed my time here, I can't take it anymore.
My reasons are ____.
I have benefited from this experience as such _____.
I am certain that you will be able to find a suitable replacement.
Bye."

Unfortunately, most teachers don't present "Hey! This is why you need to learn it! When you ask people for things in writing, it's the simplest way to do it and not look like a total moron" as a reason for students to learn the five paragraph essay. Instead, students are taught "Do this because the teacher said so." Which totally does not apply to real life at all.

That said, I also hate the five paragraph essay, but recognize that many people need to learn it.

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WarrsawPact
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A five paragraph essay, as much as I hated writing them in high school, makes some sense. It gives organization, which is otherwise sorely lacking in most writing at that level, and also takes advantage of a peculiar phenomenon: it's really easy to teach people things by breaking it down into three things.

If you go above that, you're starting to get complicated and bore people.
I can get "stop, drop, and roll." If someone has to start using an acronym to describe something, and has four or five points, you're going to lose your audience.

Two points is simple, but often too simple to get a bigger idea across. You really only break it down to two points if you're teaching a very simple concept, in which case there's no point in writing an essay; it's more like a short answer.

When I have a limited period of time to catch an audience's attention, and I'm expecting them to have a short attention span and/or not be familiar with my topic, I find that using that attention-grabbing intro, a main body of three points, and a wrap-up to signal that I'm done can be a good way to organize things.

And in the meantime, the schools give very tidy, very easy signals to the student about how to develop certain skills in writing an essay -- like how to write a transition, or how to introduce a quote and the analysis for that quote, or how to grab a reader's attention.

Then the teacher can look at a paper and know pretty quickly whether the student "gets it" and point out very easily where the student is getting it wrong. Teachers need simplicity too, if they have to teach 120+ kids a week and grade all their papers.

It's a good template for teaching, but naturally you expect more from a student as they develop. The best teacher I ever had, who originally taught me how to really argue in an essay, was my history teacher back in the 10th and 12th grades. He didn't ask for a five-paragraph essay, but you had to internalize the lessons of the format in order to develop into the longer kinds of argument he demanded of us.

Anyway, a few years ago you'd have never heard me defending a 5-paragraph essay. Today, I understand what the point was.

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ngthagg
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Is the five-paragraph essay really "an abomination of the English language? The idea of introducing your thesis, explaining the relevant points in detail, and then concluding by restating your thesis is simple, straightforward, and effective. Forum posts are bad examples, but only because they like to leave off the conclusion. Take a look at your own post, Pelegius. Add a conclusion, expand those interior paragraphs, and you have your very own abomination. If that doesn't satisfy you, go grab your favourite magazine or newspaper, and read some opinion columns. I think the only difference you might find there is that few writers stick to three body paragraphs. I think this is just a guidline for kids, so they know when they've written enough. (Three points has a good feel and rhythm to it, as WarsawPact pointed out.) Personally, I feel the biggest problem with public school curriculae is that too many teachers regard it as a quota, ie, teach this and you're done, instead of as a minimum.

How about this as an aim for school, in a less poetic form: to teach students everything they need to know to do whatever they wish with their adult lives.

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philnotfil
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Another reason for the five paragraph essay is that anything less doesn't provide enough room to say much, and anything more is just an expanded five paragraph essay. Unfortunately, students don't often get reminded that when writing an essay for real, they should make it as long or as short as it needs to be.

The real evil in education is that it is compulsory. Compulsory education was phased in over a rather lengthy period across the states, so it gives us an interesting opportunity to track changes without too much worry that they were influenced by some other world event. Across all the states, when compulsory education was instituted, crime and suicide rates went up.

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Gaoics79
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quote:
If there were one thing I could destroy in schools every where, it would be the so-called "five paragraph essay" an abomination of the English languages which hinders both thought and communication. Orwell did not condense "On Shooting an Elephant" to five paragraphs, nor has any other essayist of note, the form being a complete invention of teachers.
Yeah, and experienced pastry chefs probably improvise their own recipes out of thin air. Me, I need a recipe, because I'm not experienced enough to be playing around with things I have yet to fully understand.

I'll tell you what, when American kids learn to master just one paragraph, then we can worry about the limits of the five paragraph model [Smile] Frankly, I think there's more than enough thinking going on in school and not enough rote learning. I wish my stupid teachers had spent a little less time with Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird and a little more time teaching proper comma use.

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Everard
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" Across all the states, when compulsory education was instituted, crime and suicide rates went up."

Do you have a source for this? More importantly, was compuslory education the cause of high crime and suicide rates, or did those crime and suicide rates start to drop dramatically after the job market changed to reflect the higher average education level?

Crime and suicide rates tend to rise as stability heads to uncertainty. In most states, the change to compulsory education took place in a period of economic uncertainty, and as that uncertainty faded, so too did the spike in crime and suicide rates fade.

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RickyB
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"it has failed since inception and shall continue to fail until its aim is clearly realized."

Hey, you, on da soap-box, settle down some. [Big Grin]

I dunno whatcha mean by "since its inception". The education system of the united states churned out an amazingly educated populace, relative to the rest of the world, in certain parts of the 20th century.

What's true is, it hasn't done so for a long time. But these broad statements like "since its inception" can blind one to useful attributes.

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Ikemook
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"Another reason for the five paragraph essay is that anything less doesn't provide enough room to say much, and anything more is just an expanded five paragraph essay."

Um, not really. The number of paragraphs in an essay has little to nothing to do with its length. Paragraphs are tools of organization. You can say just as much in a three paragraph essay as you can in a five. The number of paragraphs you use should be determined by the content of the essay. Some essays need five paragraphs. Others need only four, or three. Others need more, because of the type of information they're trying to convey or the number of seperate points they trying to make.

The benefits to teaching the 5-paragraph style are that it:
1. Teaches students to write. It forces them to organize their thoughts when they put them down on paper.
2. Teaches students to try to find support for their arguments. Requiring 3 seperate supporting points is a good policy for encouraging early students to research about and think over their ideas.
3. Teaches students to (hopefully) write concisely, because if your essay length is short enough, 5 paragraphs can be a lot of information.

The problems, as I see them, aren't actually with the 5-paragraph essay, but with the continued over-emphasis on it, giving the impression to young students that this is the only way to write. As a consequence, students go into college JUST writing 5 paragraph essays, even when the subject matter demands more (or less). Furthermore, while initially good for encouraging thought and creativity, students spend so much time writing 5 paragraph essays that they (the students' writing) becomes thoroughly uncreative. The students use the same kinds of introductions and the same kinds of conclusions. They'll never vary their style.

In other words, the 5-paragraph essay is a good START, but it's not the be-all and end-all of writing, and shouldn't really be emphasized beyond a certain grade.

If some of that was kind of garbled, my apologies. I just woke up, and I'm having some nasty sinus and allergy problems.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

David Carlson

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Serotonin'sGone
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quote:
The educational system in the U.S. has failed. This is not news, it has failed since inception and shall continue to fail until its aim is clearly realized.
Pel, how old are you? I keep imagining some prep school kid who has just regurgitated something their favorite teacher fulminated -- or perhaps it's something you read? A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God's earth (Alfred North Whitehead, the aims of education) Do you think the five paragraph essay is an inert idea? Mind you I don't mean the above derogatorily -- it's just sometimes I see your ideas and they look so -- unformed. They carry such extremes, such black and white clarity, that they clearly haven't been thrown around and played with just yet.
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philnotfil
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quote:
Originally posted by Everard:
" Across all the states, when compulsory education was instituted, crime and suicide rates went up."

Do you have a source for this? More importantly, was compuslory education the cause of high crime and suicide rates, or did those crime and suicide rates start to drop dramatically after the job market changed to reflect the higher average education level?

Crime and suicide rates tend to rise as stability heads to uncertainty. In most states, the change to compulsory education took place in a period of economic uncertainty, and as that uncertainty faded, so too did the spike in crime and suicide rates fade.

I think it was Paul Goodman, I'll dig around and see if I can find it again.

One of the most interesting things to me, is that this finding was pretty standard among all of the states, and the compulsory education movement took 60 years to reach every state, so we can't blame it all on something like the civil war. Across 60 years and 48 states the trend held true. The variable they each had in common was the introduction of compulsory education.

[ March 23, 2006, 10:31 AM: Message edited by: philnotfil ]

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Richard Dey
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I think phil is right on that, but of course Goodman committed suicide; in my mind that would only emphasize the point, but I'm sure it would be looked upon as an unnecessary exclamation point around here [Wink] . Goodman gave a speech once, referring to the institution of compulsory education in MA in 1635, making much the same point, i.e., that the Pequod War followed shortly thereafter (was it 1638?).

As to paragraphing, since the subject of the essay proposed by Lisa is "I", the object is "job", and the dative is "employer", the demonstrative is "resume", and verb is some form of "employ", that particular use of an essay seems to me a bit over the top to me. In any event, logically it is a 1-paragraph cover letter more efficiently accomplished with a postit (or better yet by email).

I often asked new hires why they'd gone to such lengths in their applications to say that they wanted to work for our auncient & noble bank when they knew it only by reputation and not by experience, and they were inevitably startled by the question. There responses were inevitably some excuse for the modus pro forma -- at which point I could their excuse to interrupt the bad habit. The challenge in a form letter is always to find something ingratiating to say to the old lady who's electricity you are about to cut off.

OTOH, I thoroughly approve of Lisa's vixenish ability to cut to the chase, and any old fox would hire her with a hoot on the horn before the fox was caught [Big Grin] .

Analogously, I would think it a proper objective of the young to comprehend the structure of the sonnet -- but I might spend a lifetime in education before I got a decent one out of a classroom. Is not teaching form often an excuse we use to banish illiteracy and barbarianism?

I often think of that American spy who was caught (in a cafe was it?) for juggling his silverware and clattering his knife instead of using two hands to eat. His mother's propriety and insistence upon good manners got her son tied to a stake and shot.

It is a weakness in all countries that we hire the trained and the obedient rather than rebel and freethinker. We should be taking advantage of such opportunities, not passing them over.

The most important subject before the classroom is an appreciation of the teacher .... There is no discipline required by the bitch to whelp the pup .... She only uses discipline to eject the dogs who've become too big for the litter. -- Mullin: Percy Proctor to Tony Tutor, in The Pedagog.

Mullin, BTW, was a master of something called training drama, a play written for training actors -- which I have often found more entertaining and more rewarding than plays for production [Eek!] .

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Pelegius
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Richard, thank you for your post on the history of education in the United States, which was very accurate. I too disapprove of ulterior motives in education, believing as I do that education should aim purely to educate. As Francis Bacon so correctly claimed, "ipsa scientia potestas est" or, "knowledge itself is power." Jesus echoed, to my mind, that concept when he said, in the Gospel of John, "Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make ye free."

To others,
I do not object to five paragraph essays, which may occur in nature, I do object to The Five Paragraph Essay as dogma, which is ridiculous in its limitations and reduces creative thought and analysis to formulaic recitation, exactly what education should avoid.

Serotorins gone, as to my age and occupation, yes. As to me view of the Five Paragraph Essay, yes. As to my alleged regurgitation of ideas, I admit to doing so, but then all people regurgitate ideas. The trick is to digest them first.

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sbkilb
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Maybe we should take back the responsibility of educating our own young. I don't see why not if standards are met.
I am basing this idea in the belief that compromises are made to accommodate an institutional form of education. What better teacher-student ratio than one child, one parent? Granted, not all parents are good teachers, but the web could help that out and the child could progress at their own speed.
Allso, I have heard that a time a loooongggg time ago when there was at least one parent at home and they actually had a say in what their child learned.

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Pete at Home
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If the purpose of educating the young was to help them get jobs, that would be much better than what we have. I think that most schools have the primary purpose of keeping kids out of the way so that their parents can get jobs. Principals also talk about the noble social goal of "keeping kids off the streets," instead of making the streets safe for kids.

In other cultures, being "on the street" doesnt have the connotation of scum and violence as it does here. As a kid in France, I would hop on a bus and go to a museum, a park, to a bookstore or a library. I learned more on my private excursions than I ever did in school. I improved my french, I read great books, walked through museums and saw the great masterpieces ... all by myself at nine years old. Just because it was available.

American kids these days at best have a chance to educate theselves on the internet, but that's a pit full of dangers.

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Pelegius
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"If the purpose of educating the young was to help them get jobs, that would be much better than what we have."
Perhaps, but it is not satisfying to me. Such a system would be as soulless as the one in place. I believe in something higher than helping them get jobs. I still hold to the idea of forging the uncreated concinse of our race and think that the best thing we can teach young people is that failure is not the ultimate defeat, complacency is.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
"If the purpose of educating the young was to help them get jobs, that would be much better than what we have."
Perhaps, but it is not satisfying to me. Such a system would be as soulless as the one in place.

Dude, it's a government institution that's increasingly federally controlled and cut off from any local parental accountability. Where's it supposed to get a soul from?

I'm not as much concerned about giving the school a soul so much as trying not to stifle the kid's souls. Connect them to the opportunities they need.

quote:
I believe in something higher than helping them get jobs.
So do I, but I don't expect everything to come from a state school.

quote:
I still hold to the idea of forging the uncreated concinse of our race and think that the best thing we can teach young people is that failure is not the ultimate defeat, complacency is.
Who learns that in school?
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The Drake
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I teach the young that chewing tobacco is tasty and fun.

Okay, I stole that from the Onion.

I am sending the wrong message to our nation's children

quote:
Among the many messages I'm sending are that people should look out only for themselves, that dishonesty is rewarded, that it's okay to drink and drive, that money is the most important thing in the world, that women are to be treated as sex objects, that chewing tobacco is tasty and fun, and that the elderly are useless members of society who are to be mocked and treated with disrespect. How much of a chance does America have if impressionable kids have people like me to emulate? Not much!


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Pelegius
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Pete, then you make the classic mistake of education: low expecatations.
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Pete at Home
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Pelegius, I think you make the same mistake of children, their parents, and community. I didn't say I don't want schools teaching it. I said I don't want to rely on schools to teach that, because in a healthy community, the child should be able to learn those things better outside the school than inside.
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Pelegius
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A healthy community starts with a healthy school.
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Pete at Home
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That's an odd place to start. Who would attend the school if there are no families and no children?
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