Laughter and buoyancy needed in our schools

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Some preliminary findings: * Students would rather take art, physical education, and vocational education than any other subjects.

* Students count their friends as the "best thing" about the schools they attend.

* Teachers are generally satisfied with their career choice.

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*Only about 10 percent of teachers say they went into teaching because they love children.

* There's little laughter or fun or buoyancy in the schools.

* No academic subjects showed up in the top three when students were asked to rate their "most liked" courses.

* Parents are generally satisfied with the curriculum.

Those random statements were made by John Goodlad, dean of the school of education at the University of California at Los Angeles and the director of the well-funded, massive "Study of Schooling," which collected data for some seven year and now is involved in an analysis of the results.

Noting that teachers went into teaching because of a love of subject matter and not necessarily because of a love of teaching, he said that they appear to neglect the human-relationship part of their job. And this, he told a meeting of education writers here, "is a problem of enormous proportions."

Following up on that, he explained that "it looks from the data as if praise, encouragement, and nurturing are about twice as great in the primary grades as at the secondary level." Then he suggested that those later years are the very time when students most need the extra encouragement and individual attention.

Another finding: "After friends, older students find sports and good student attitudes the best things about the schools they attend. Teachers are ranked below such categories as the variety of class offerings and fair rules." Not surprisingly, students rated the most popular students as good-looking or athletes. Being smart was the third most important criterion.

This brought forth from Dr. Goodlad the following observation:

"If a student is good-looking, athletic, and smart, he's got it made -- but if he's just smart, life may be a lot rougher."

About teaching, he said, "A funny thing happens to subject matter on the way to the classroom -- it gets pedagogy. One has difficulty finding teachers doing and showing. [The study included over its severn years hundreds of hours of observations in selected classrooms across the United States.] In academic subjects," he observed, "there's a kind of dedication to telling and questioning youngsters, a general flatness . . . controlling kids seems very important to the teachers involved."

Parents, asked in the study to rank the relative importance of intellectual, social, personal, and vocational goals in education, tended to rate all equally.

"They want the works -- we're finding a very broad mandate," Dr. Goodlad noted.

Most parents rate their children's schools well and generally approve of the curriculum, but some say they do not feel their children get enough individual attention.

"Parents think the schools are doing a good academic job, but are deeply concerned about the welfare and safety of their children in school." In a personal aside, Dr. Goodlad suggested that some of the apparent parental satisfaction with the curriculum may be misplaced.

"I don't think parents are as acutely aware of the achievement decline as many other people are. . . . I think there's an enormous unawareness on the part of parents as to what the schools are doing."

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