Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Education Theater

Noted cryptography and computer security expert Bruce Schneier coined the phrase security theater in his book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World (actually, I think that he may have coined it in earlier writings, but this is the first reference I could find):
But some countermeasures provide the feeling of security instead of reality. These are nothing more than security theater. They're palliative at best.

In 1970, there was no airline security in the U.S.: no metal detectors, no X-ray machines, and no ID checks. After a hijacking in 1972 -- three men took over a plane and threatened to crash it into the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear power plant -- airlines were required to post armed guards in passenger boarding areas. This countermeasure was less to decrease the risk than to decrease the anxiety of passengers. After 9/11, the U.S. government posted armed National Guard troops at airport checkpoints primarily for the same reason (but were smart enough not to give them bullets). (p. 38)

My godchildren are in kindergarten and first grade, and they get homework every night, and often times not just a little. This is a significant change from the way things were when I was in elementary school, and I don't think that it's a positive change. I seriously doubt that it actually helps them to learn anything or do much of anything other than frustrate them and their parents. A growing body of evidence seems to give credence to my doubts -- see, for example, The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish and The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. I'm not saying that homework is pointless for all students of every age, just that it makes no sense for five- and six-year-olds, especially in significant quantities. I strongly suspect (although I have no evidence for it) that teachers and schools realize that it's pointless but assign it to create the image of academic rigor for parents and others evaluating the school. In other words, I suspect that it's education theater, not really education.


mamacita said...

Becca's homework hasn't been nearly as bad as Emmet's, so we might conclude that the education theater is primarily designed for the hyperactive parents of "advanced" children. Ugh.

Sara said...

I've read some of those books you mention, and the biggest take-away I had was this:
1) appropriate homework is about 10 minutes a grade level -- 10 minutes for 1st grade, 60 for 6th grade.
2) if you child has more than that, check the district standards (most districts have recommended homework amounts per grade level) and then talk to the teacher and principal.
There, the cutting edge research about homework, summarized in 2 points.