Apr. 1, 2014





This discussion may help to illustrate how unrelated topics often can lead to understanding problems and finding solutions. It deals with the similarities between a military philosophy and our current education crisis. You will have to keep in mind the analogy is between a soldier firing his weapon to subdue an enemy and a teacher using his/her weapons to teach.



In the early 60’s the military stressed, to all its new recruits, fire control. A typical Marine Corps Squad had three fire teams with only one man in each having the capability to select “automatic” fire.  Recruits were taught to maintain well aimed disciplined fire to achieve several objectives; first: hit the enemy, second: keep the enemy from being able to concentrate their fire because of the well aimed friendly fire, third: this would result in fire superiority and eventual success.



Sometime during the Viet-Nam conflict the term “fire superiority” took on a totally new definition. Instead of controlled fire to subdue an enemy it became equated with “volume of fire”. The new M-16 rifle allowed each individual to opt for “automatic fire” increasing the volume of rounds sent down range. Often this resulted in enormous expenditure of rounds with minimum effect. It also led to a sense of individual accomplishment as rounds were expended at the enemy. The problem is that we forgot that one round well placed will keep the enemies head down and lead to “fire superiority” whereas dozens of rounds sprayed over the horizon are less likely to meet that objective. Sadly, this paradigm continues to exist in the military and can be observed in the weaponry and training currently being used.



Now, how does that relate to education? Well, we see some interesting comparisons between the philosophies of both the military and the education community.  Years ago, students were required to meet disciplined objectives. E.g. Memorize the times tables. (I once had a senior who didn’t know any above five) It also meant that teachers would quickly spot deficiencies and insist the individual student concentrate his/her efforts on a specific objective.  In short, students were required to focus their efforts (fire) on specific well defined (individual) needs. The student that couldn’t write had to rewrite an assignment. The student that didn’t know his/her times tables might have to recite them out loud to the class. Etc.



Today, in an effort to “meet all the students learning styles”, teachers often develop complex and convoluted lessons in an effort to send “as many rounds” down range as possible.  Instead of a focused and steady rate of fire many teachers try to flood the objective with a wide spread of missiles.  More and more new and fancy “armaments” are purchased at great expense and soon become excuses for lack of student learning. After all, Suzie can’t be expected to learn if she doesn’t have the latest equipment. Students, who don’t succeed, rarely have teachers that demand compliance to minimum standards because the teacher can show they have expended every conceivable form of ammunition so it must be the students fault.



Worse yet, many teachers are evaluated by their superiors on their ability to include the new weaponry into their lessons; and are considered superior based on their ability to “utilize new technology” NOT on their ability to educate the students. Teachers who have AA and DUAL CREDIT classes (similar to having a highly trained Seal team) expound on how technology is aiding them and, because of their student’s success, permeate the thinking that ALL students need the new weaponry to be successful.



The term “Back to the basics” shouldn’t be viewed as “reading, writing, and rithmatic”. Those are merely subjects to be taught and learned. Instead, “Back to the basics” should be equated to the basic teaching methods necessary to give our children the foundation to succeed. Reading out loud so a student can recognize their pronunciation and annunciation errors and can learn to properly use the punctuation when reading. Memorizing their times tables so they have instant recall when trying to do problems in multiplication, division, factoring, etc. And a myriad of other basic skills that will allow those students to make maximum use of all those technology weapons we can provide them. Otherwise we will wind up with students harnessed to technology and limited in the ability to adequately apply it. Similar to the soldier that has the latest weapons but hasn’t learned to maintain “fire control” to become a superior combatant.