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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1997 Issue #46

by: Jerome Ennis, Headmaster
The R.I.T.E. School
Armuchee, Georgia

Einstein said it best when speaking of knowledge when he said: “All true knowledge is experience and everything else is information.” This is not to say that information is not important. It is! 

Most of the educational process is acquiring information, but much of it is also experiential; especially attitude and behavior formation. Realities are created in the mind based on the inputs. We learn by hearing, seeing, doing, touching, tasting, smelling, etc. Whether those realities in the mind are based on truths or untruths, they still become the individual’s reality. Television, movies, music, computers, peers, parents, teachers and others are where young people get the “inputs” into their minds that they create realities from. 

As teachers, we have to understand this process and realize that many of the students’ realities are based on faulty or negative inputs. Our job then is to break down the faulty realities and put positive or true information in it’s place in order that the student then creates a new reality that will be useful to him/her. As a simple analogy, let’s suppose a student had someone teach him that two plus two is five. With this “reality” in his mind, he will constantly struggle in arithmetic and as time goes on, the faulty reality will compound into an ever-increasing problem. Whether the person who taught him that two plus two was five intentionally mis-taught or was just ignorant of the truth themselves, the result is the same. Blaming someone for the problem does no good. Understanding that the problems exist and doing something about it is the key. 

Shaking people loose from their faulty realities is a simple process, but it is not easy. People become comfortable with what they “know” and change is resisted. That is why many educational, rehabilitation, and incarceration programs are not successful. People tend to return to what they “know” and are comfortable with. True change did not occur. 

Before we can successfully create lasting change, we must first create the disequilibrium that shakes a person completely loose from his/her “reality” and through an experience create a new healthy and productive reality so that they have no desire or intention to returning to their former “comfortable” reality. Then how do we do this?? 

Many students, from an academic standpoint, are not prepared for certain levels of a course they are in. The problem may be in math, reading, or writing. Many students miss segments in the educational process and the problems compound themselves as they move up through the grades. Too often, we teachers make assumptions that because students are in a certain grade and course that they are prepared. All too many times, we are wrong. Many low-achieving behavior problems stem from poor academic preparation. The “class clown” may be clowning around to mask the fact that he/she cannot read or lacks the skills in math or writing. 

Academic problems can be discovered through simple screening devices. Once the problems are identified, if the student chooses, we can back up and re-teach at the level that the educational process broke down. The biggest problem is in convincing and motivating the student to “get to work” and take responsibility for themselves. It does not take a lot of time to re-teach if we start at the level where the student began to have problems to begin with. Most times it began at the early elementary grades and compounded over the years. 

Boys, especially, are many times not emotionally or cognitively ready to learn when they are 5 through 9 years old and may have missed large segments of acquired information, knowledge, and skills needed to learn at higher levels. As they grow older and mature, the things they did not or could not grasp in their early years of schooling now become easy for them when we re-teach beginning at the point where the problems began. 

Many behavior problems will go away when the student becomes competent in academic skills. For behavior and emotional problems, whether the student is having academic difficulties or not requires identifying the problem. The next step is breaking down the faulty “reality” mechanism that is creating the behavioral/emotional dilemma, and replacing it with a new experiential reality which changes the students self concept. 

These students can be identified through observation in the classroom setting by people who have the observational skills, knowledge, and judgment to recognize these students. Then screen, re-teach, and return them to class with the skills, knowledge, self-discipline, and self esteem to successfully participate in a meaningful curriculum. While these students are removed for re-teaching, the curriculum standards for the others can be brought up to a meaningful and challenging level so that already-achieving students will be taught at levels that do not bore them. In the end, all educational standards and the level of education that students leave school with will be raised. No more teaching to the lowest common denominator in an effort to “pass” more students on. 

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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