Education is Not a Boot Camp

I concede that we live in the “microwave age”. Everyone wants everything immediately. If minimal work in minimum time does not lead to success, the venture is aborted. “Get rich quick” is the mantra of the day. If you do not believe me, look at the number of lottery tickets that are sold on a daily basis or the number of emails you receive from some filthy rich benefactor in another country who is begging you to take his money. People are always looking for a hustle so they don’t have to go to the job they hate anymore. Young people are not trying to hear anything about working for anyone for thirty years for a fraction of what they believe they are worth. They are trying to launch their rapping, singing, fashion, athletic or internet careers and “make that paper” real quick, fast, and in a hurry. Kidpreneurs are getting younger and younger. I am reminded of one of our cheerleading chants . . . “What do we want? Touchdown! When do we want it? Now!” It did not matter that the team was ninety yards from the goal line.  We expected every play to end in a touchdown. Were we delusional? Absolutely!

Unfortunately, the same mentality is being applied in the educational arena.  There are boot camps available for every standardized test, professional license, software program, and latest technology trend.  Promises are made to teach anything and everything in a week. And some even offer to teach you again or give a money back guarantee if the subject matter is not mastered. Of course, the caveat is that you have to follow their guidelines exactly to qualify for either.  Education is a lifelong process and CANNOT be minimized to a boot camp.

The brain is a mighty powerful organ that can absorb and store mountains of knowledge. Studies have stated that the brain can process tens of thousands of thoughts per day. While that may be the case, “brain overload” exists in a real and tangible way. College students pulling overnighters for finals can attest to the realization of a point of diminishing returns when absolutely nothing else can be memorized, learned or calculated. Conservation of knowledge kicks in and something must be eliminated from the brain before something else can be added.  The glass is full and you cannot pour one more drop without an overflow.  I submit this is why boot camps are only beneficial to those you offer them.  Their pockets are full, but the students are left feeling less than nourished.

The approach to education has to be from a lifelong learning approach to obtain the results that society is so desperately seeking.  I offer my journey to obtaining my professional engineer’s license as example of how to approach a test incorrectly and correctly. Licensure was a requirement for promotion as I began my career with a public utility company many years ago.  The first step in the process was to become an Engineer-in-Training by successfully passing a closed-book, eight-hour exam in the fundamentals taught in accredited college engineering programs.  My approach was to study for two hours after work twice a week with other new engineers for about four months. I was able to successfully pass the test the first time I sat for it. The next step in the process was to pass the open-book, professional engineer’s exam after gaining fours engineering experience. I was told that if I knew what I was doing, I would be able to complete the eight required problems in eight hours. Instead of using the same approach that had benefited me the first time, I chose to pull together as many resources that I could and take the test. After all, it was open-book. How did that work for me? I FAILED! Of course I was devastated, but I did not learn my lesson.  I only failed by two points, so I signed up for the next test. My plan was to become more familiar with my resources and study for a few weeks before the test to get the couple of points that I needed.  As usual, the plans of men are soon foiled. I accepted a new job in a new city so my study time was replaced with packing and house hunting. I still sat for the exam because I paid for it and I do not give away money. The results were the same as the first time. I FAILED by three points this time. Well, the licensing board has a mechanism to readjust the focus of prospective professionals by requiring a two-year waiting period before taking the exam the third time. Many of the circumstances were \ the same during my third attempt, but my prospective and focus had changed.  I had just begun a new job in the Atlanta metro area, but my study partner lived in the Myrtle Beach area. During the week, I would work engineering problems from textbooks, study courses, test guides, and 1001 type solved problems books. Every Friday night, I drove to Sumter, South Carolina to leave my two children with my fiancé’.  Early Saturday morning, I drove to my study partner’s house and worked problems with her for four hours.  I then drove back to Sumter on Saturday afternoon and Atlanta on Sunday morning. I did this every week and weekend for four months. I cried when I got the letter from the licensing board. I was now a Licensed Professional Engineer in the state of South Carolina!!! YES!!!

From the highest mountaintop, I scream that the educational system is broken!!!  Teachers are teaching (well, most of them), but most students are not learning.  They are storing the information just long enough to pass the test. I am not going to rant about the recovery process, but know that I am not a fan.  Students are not mastering the knowledge that is being imparted upon them. Teachers do not spend the first few months of school reteaching because of summer learning loss.  They reteach because the information was never learned in the first place.  My heart is broken as students are given credit for courses, but do not carry the ability to perform the concepts in successive courses. I am saddened by the SAT Math scores of students when they should be able to complete the majority of the problems based on the courses they have taken in high school. Education is not a boot camp that can be mastered in a week.  The focus has to be on building knowledge over time.  That is the only way that learning will take place. Our educational system must embrace lifelong learning if any hope of developing productive members of society is to come to fruition.

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