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March 30, 2011

Still Thinking

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I work with a British lady who teaches in the same school. To say she’s not opinioned is like saying a Tea Party person does not want to balance the budget.


We have had many conversations about the British system vs. the American system of education. She claims the syllabus and Cambridge examination system is far superior to the American. When I started teaching here, I wasn’t so sure, but now I am convinced the good old USA has it all over merry ole England.


I teach biology in tandem with another teacher. She is also in charge of the sciences. I have to complete a list of topics at the same time she does. We also perform the same experiments. We must also give the same tests.


I pace my topics on the ability of the students. Sometimes they take longer to understand a certain topic, and I slow down. Other times, they grasp a topic quickly and I can speed up. I like to jump around and maybe do something sensible, like cover of the systems in the body first instead of throwing photosynthesis in between the heart and the neuron. In the end, we have both covered the same material.


But, I can’t do this. I have to march with her and the boss agrees. Apparently, all of the world follows this system and is on the same topic at the same time.


The same goes for experiments. She will have the entire class perform the experiment once and then moves on. I have them perform the experiment and if something goes wrong, and anything can go wrong in an experiment, I will have the students repeat it the next day. No, I don’t force the experiments; but if all the students get yellow and the rest of the planet gets red, then something has happened, most probably a chemical that has been mixed incorrectly.


We agreed to give a test on the material on Friday. She wrote the test for both of us. I received a copy and thought I was reading a test meant for the Greek class. I had to sit down and read it carefully before I understood it. Yes, it did bear some resemblance to the material I was teaching, but the questions were so nitpicky. I asked if I could write my own test. No, we had to give the same test.


I would love to teach my students about orangutans and what they eat. I am anxious to discuss how tropical porcupines can eat all those poisonous plants and still survive. I want to share the excitement of telling about the sea nettles I swam with and how one capture a small fish. But, no! I must march along with the syllabus and her.


Not to be able to share this with my students, to add in the extras, to excite their imaginations, to push them to a broader understanding beyond stomach and intestines, produces an individual devoid of curiosity and the desire to explore.


Getting back to my discussion with the British lady…


She told me the students all had to study the same things and take the same exam. “How else could we have a standard measure,” she questioned.


I replied teachers set and wrote their own exams. “A student would only have to sleep with his/her teacher to get a good grade then” she replied. “The vast majority of teachers in America are professionals and don’t sleep with their students. I don’t know about England,” I retorted.


I then asked her to name someone in England who has made a discovery that has affected mankind in the past 20 years. “Name me an American,” she shot back. “Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and the guy that invented Facebook,” I replied. “What about the British?” “I am thinking,” she said rather defensively.


I have come to the conclusion the British system has been invented to keep teachers from sleeping with their students.


Oh, by the way, that British lady is still thinking.


. . . . . .life is good. . . . .


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