Slaying the dragon

fantasy-dragonby Michelle Graves, Logic Humanities teacher

There is a dragon in education that will steal your child’s treasure. John Mays, science teacher and Novare textbook publisher, calls it the “Cram-Pass-Forget” dragon. At conferences of classical Christian education Mr. Mays sports a campaign button with the red circle-and-slash symbol obliterating those three words.

He starts his talk with a thought experiment: would your children pass a review test in November, say, over the previous school year’s material? Are they mastering subjects or settling for the sad cycle of cram, pass, then forget?

How can we get to the better threesome of “Learn-Master-Retain”? Mr. Mays outlines the principles for mastery-based pedagogy. We slay the dragon by avoiding superfluous content and busy work and by reviewing 30-40% of the time in subject, on and off campus.

On campus this means assignments supporting specific learning objectives. We should focus deeply on the core content, reviewing and rehearsing regularly. Assessments need to be cumulative, drawing randomly from prior chapters and quizzes. Grades should reflect learning that has been internalized, not just effort.

At home there will be constant drilling with lists, formulas, facts, vocabulary, flashcards, explanations. 30-40% of the time in subject! You might have a child who is impatient with review. “I already know that,” he claims. But we are learning to master and retain, beyond the test, beyond year end.

The goal is that your children be caught up in their own cycles of excellence. They enjoy what they are good at. They are good at what they enjoy. We are training children to enjoy mastery learning itself. This can be a joyful way of life that extends into adulthood and eternity. Mays reminds us that expecting mastery doesn’t require being mean. You are the child’s advocate and can say truly, “I’m on your side.” We don’t reserve our affection, waiting for them to measure up. Rather, we provide a loving, friendly environment. We are eager to help children succeed.

Our example as parents and teachers is very important, of course. Do we hold ourselves to these high standards for mastery? Do we take short-cuts that ultimately cost us our joy in learning or work? The Lord is eager to help us raise these children to be His good and faithful servants. Not dragon bait.