“Education” Discussed in Dexter: how well does it teach useful skills?
The May 3rd First Friday public discussion at Dexter’s Abbott Memorial Library attracted a small but lively collection of local residents concerned about how and what society deems important to teach to itself and its children.
Carol Fuertado of the Dexter Historical Society led the group through almost two centuries of Dexter’s educational organizing, how the first settlers eventually got time from scrambling to stay alive to think about teaching at least some of their kids how to read and write. The first teachers were the slightly older girls who’d learned the three R’s, could pass them on to the younger kids, and could possibly keep order in the one room schoolhouses.
By the 1850’s Dexter had 13 separate “districts”, each with its own one room schoolhouse and local jurisdiction. In 1876 a townwide school board took over the administration, beginning the consolidation of curriculum and calendar, and buying the books for students. The first High School graduated one student in 1879, but most kids quit when they were 13 to go to work, where On The Job Training on the farm or in the newly constructed factories was the major educating method of useful skills. But by the 1940’s as farming declined and the rural population dropped, most people attended High School.
Alyson Saunders then lent the group her perspective as a recent teacher at DRHS and her current work with the REACH project (which attempts to connect students with mentors in a community outside of school who can explore the student’s individual interests in more detail than could a classroom teacher). She expressed amazement at how fast educational theory and practice change in the past few decades, from tracking students based on aptitute testing, to less tracking (“mainstreaming” everyone in one classroom), to making some distinctions in Junior and Senior years for individual capacities.
A major concern of the discussion group was that our current system doesn’t have much opportunities built-in for older kids to teach younger kids on a regular basis. The segmentation of grades and the long bus rides to centralized large schools with large class size were also issues of worry for the group. Kids aren’t being trained to think, said some, but rather to learn only what’s for the next test.
Alyson noted that the social culture itself has radically changed in the last decade, aided by technology, media, global commerce and interactions. “What’s coming in is fundamentally different” for today’s youth than the culture of even the recent past, says she. This dynamic will affect teaching styles dramatically.
Some in the group thought that the rigor of an Educational Degree required to become a teacher in Maine is not high enough: “Cream rises”, said one participant referring to people with innate teaching skills reaching a high level of competence, to which another participant replied, “Yes, but so does scum!”.
The sponsor of the monthly discussions, Dexter Dover Area Towns in Transition (DDATT), seeks to continue community learning and action about climate disruption, economic instability, and dependence on fossil fuels.
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