No.14 July 2001

Pomp, Circumstance, and Palavra: The Crisis in Turkish Education Pt 1

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Schoolís finished and now thereís only the drip, drip, drip of sporadic meetings to discuss this and that.  Itís good being able to spend more time in the garden, find my own rhythm again, and even yield to moments when I absolutely have to go and write. 

Thatís all quite upbeat, but Iím not sure the overall tone of this monthís column is going to follow.  Iím afraid this oneís going to be rather serious.  You see, Iíve been thinking.  Again.  I do ask those readers who are prone to jumping all over foreigners who have the temerity to criticize anything about Turkey, anything at all, to restrain themselves for once, and please, please, please, just let what Iím about to say sink inRemember Ė Iíve said this over and over and my life here for the past years proves itís true Ė I feel we are in this together.  I really do care about what happens in this country because now itís where I live and breathe and have my being (and my living, breathing and being are very important to me).  Also, before you write to remind me, I already know the U.S. has many of the same problems, and so do other countries, but I absolutely donít want to hear it.  I just canít get it up (as it were) for those other countries because I donít live in any of them.  I live here.  Our problems are what concern me and I want to look at some of them here.  

While there are lots of problems it seems to me that all of them are somehow related to education, so Iíll start by asking a simple, but very important, question about education.   Why doesnít anyone have the courage to name what is happening in our schools?   

Last weekend for example, all the schools had graduation ceremonies.  Anyone who happened to attend and happened to be really looking would have had a shock.  The boys would have been all cleaned up, scrubbed, sweet looking, and speaking ever so softly and politely.  The girls, without exception all caught up in that inevitable, magnificent force of nature that is female adolescence -- here in Turkey mixed up with the very worst possible role models for female sexuality and achievement -- would have appeared equally sweet and soft-spoken.  The school management would have spoken about the graduating class, extolling their academic achievements (to be fair, three or four would have achieved something important), their innate respect for life and for human beings, and their other virtues.  Most of it would have been a lie, a show.  Most all of it would have given one the feeling of being inside the fairy tale of ďThe Emperorís New Clothes,Ē because nobody would have been telling the truth, which is that all year long, these same kids spent most of their time in school fooling around with their friends, being disrespectful (or worse) to their teachers, paying little or no attention in class, turning in homework erratically, and performing only minimally on tests.  Nobody told the truth, though, so the whole farce will continue into the next level of education and beyond.  

The fact that the same scenario was enacted all over this country troubles me greatly.  Our children are our future and we adults are for the most part robbing of them of any opportunity they have to become acquainted with Truth, Beauty, Honor, and Excellence.  Itís as if we were all conspiring in some God-awful plot.  Why?  The reasons are complex, incredibly complex . . . 

For example, weíve just weathered a severe economic crisis and schools were hit extremely hard, perhaps especially private schools.  Some responded to the crisis by demanding that the parents making installment payments increase the agreed upon amount.  Other schools tried to find ways to make ends meet without touching the parents.  However, all schools had to face a common problem the minute they closed for the summer.   They have meetings where class teachers (homeroom teachers) meet with principals to evaluate students one by one.   In the best of times this is a thorny problem -- schools donít like to lose students because that means a loss of income.  Nevertheless, in cases where a discipline problem has become too extreme or performance has been almost non-existent, a school will often bite the bullet and expel or fail the student.  This year however, in spite of the fact that most schools do have aspirations about upholding standards that function to balance the drive to earn income, itís my guess that they must have been forced into allowing all students, or all but the very worst students, to continue.  How else could they hope to survive?  The results will be that our discipline problems will become even worse then they are now and our academic standards will become even lower.  

   Now, let me ask another question.  Why are funding sources for education inadequate?  If things were different, I mean, if our thinking were just a bit different, just a bit more far-sighted, government funding for education would be dramatically increased because the powers that be would realize that this is still a very young country and its future absolutely depends on the next generation.  They would understand that quality education is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity.  The educational program itself would be redesigned because of the realization that an emphasis on technology and business at the expense of the social sciences and the humanities is not enough to produce vital, thinking, beings, capable of successfully leading Turkey through the first half of the 21st century and possibly gloriously through the second half.  They would realize that children must be taught while still very young (starting in kindergarten and first grade) that actions have consequences and as a result there would be real discipline programs in the schools, designed by persons trained in educational and child psychology, and implemented by teachers who were empowered by school management to enforce them. 

Increased funding would also make it possible to divide classes into groups of slow learners, average students, and exceptional or gifted and talented students.  This isnít done now, in part, because it isnít fiscally possible, but also because, as I understand it, it strikes our decision makers as being undemocratic.  Forgive the comparison, but weíve done this throughout most of the public and all of the private schools in the U.S. and it does work.  It is in fact more democratic than the system now in place because it affords maximum educational benefits for all students.  In the current system, students needing extra help donít usually get it and suffer because of it and students needing more challenging material have almost no chance of getting that, either.

The far-sighted thinking that would result in change hasnít yet happened, I am afraid, and the cost, while not immediately apparent, will become increasingly so and will prove high, very, very high indeed.   It seems to me that we can do better, in spite of the economic and other problems we are undergoing.  The question is what to do and how to do it. 

Well, dear readers, thatís some of whatís been on my mind.  Iím thinking of devoting another column to developing the ideas raised here and responding to yours, so please take some time out from your well-deserved summer vacation to let me know your thoughts.  

No.1- April 2000 No.11 April 2001 No. 20 July 2002 No 29 April 2003
No.2 June 2000 No.12 May 2001 No. 22 September 2002 NO 30 MAY 2003
No.3 July/August 2000 No. 13 June 2001 No. 23   October 2002  NO 31 JUNE 2003
No.5 October 2000 No.14 July 2001 No 24 November 2002 NO 32 JULY 2003
No.7 December 2000 No.15 August 2001 No 25 DECEMBER  2002 NO 33 August 
No.8 January 2001
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - TŁrkÁe tercume
NO 16 September 2001 No 26 January 2003 No 34 September 
No.9 February 2001 No. 17 April 2002 No 27 February 2003 No 35 October 
No.10 March 2001 NO 19 JUNE 2002 No 28 March 2003 No 36 January 2004

No 37 February - March 2004 No 38 April 2004

 

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