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The existential horror of the United States adult education system

I've kind of been slow about making posts here!

It's not that I've had nothing to say, god knows I don't shut up. But I've been busy.

Busy in the educational system.

I just need to blow off steam, I think. It's a lot to deal with. I don't know how much of how bad the educational system is is public knowledge, and I don't know how much of it is just my experience. But it's really, legitimately fucking me up and maybe just shouting about it will help.

Part 1: Oh lore?

I'm trying my best to step delicately around the fact that I was very good at being in the education system. A smart kid, if you will. I had issues, but I knew what I was supposed to, I was capable of keeping up when I was participating in class. I landed myself in AP classes, and every teacher I ever had told me of my potential, and when I'm properly medicated, coping well, it's hard to disagree! I'm pretty great.

I dropped out of high school in 2012. I spent the day the Mayan calendar ended in the hospital, on suicide watch. I remember waking up on December 21st, 2012 and thinking - maybe this is where the world ended. And I still think back to that day, sometimes. I went back into the system at the start of this year, to get that funny little high school equivalency, in part to keep people (employers, parents, randos on Twitter) off my back...

Mostly to keep people off my back...

Okay, entirely to get people off my back.

I wasn't expecting much - my understanding was that week one would be orientation, where we took a standardized test, and then if I did well on that, come week two, I'd be able to just skip straight to the big boy itself, the GED. If not, the class provided would help. The structure itself was not that - I could have taken the GED at any time, since the classes are separate from the GED itself, they prepare you for it, but don't administer it themselves.

Due to some misunderstandings, I wound up missing a lot of time in the class itself, but the class itself isn't the issue. I'm about 40% done as I'm writing this segment, and it's broken up into weekly loops.

On Tuesday, I do a placement survey for the topic I want to tackle next. This, in theory, tells me what I need to work on and how to work on it, but mostly it just tells me what I already know, that I know enough to pass the test. I'm waiting on a Reading/Language Arts test as I write this segment, and sticking my toes into the water of next week's topic, Science, compelled me to write this.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, I do the online work for each subject. There are 4-7 unit reviews in the online instruction that should be completed over that time, they usually take about 20 minutes each. Thursday, I come back in for a Pearson Vue GED Ready Practice Test. This costs $6 normally, but as a student at a community college, I get voucher keys that makes them free. I do that, and then when that's done, schedule a test for Monday.

The class itself is fine, for covering the basics. My instructor is nice, even if she talks just a bit too quickly, and it's nice and calm, only 10 people on average. But when was the last time you thought about how to get the mean, median, and mode from a set of numbers? Ever thought about a sentence in terms of subject and predicate after your tenth birthday? Me either.

Part 2: I'm interested in talking about online work.

This can be broken up into two segments, one is the funny incompetence, the other is the not-funny incompetence. The first week in class, I signed up for the online work, which is privately owned and which will remain anonymous so that I'm not sued.

I don't know if they can sue me or not. But I'm gonna watch my goddamn back.

This online class floats back and forth between being incompetent in fun ways, and being incompetent in less fun ways, that does almost nothing to prepare the test-takers for the world they're entering into, and along with that, it's almost constantly loaded, in ways that are really, really difficult to explain, if you aren't already politically-aligned with me. To explain what I mean, I'm going to ask you a question, direct from the Language Arts segment of the test.

Reasons is a technique is often used to when the purpose of the paragraph is to inform a reader.

Is this statement true, or false?

I ran it past my girlfriend. She didn't know. I ran it past my group chat of people whose intelligence and ability to think critically I've come to respect. None of them knew either. This is a procedurally generated question. It's obvious once I've said that, it's very obviously words jammed into a sentence structure without regard for how they fit together. It's nonsense.

Something similar happened on the math test - I took the placement survey and the unit review for factoring polynomials in the same day, and I encountered a question that was almost identical on the unit review for polynomials as I did the placement survey. The difference was the answers were in a different order. And this is the extent to which "online education" has innovated. I've written Twitter bots more complex.

The game designer in me is jumping out but a good multiple choice test is equally good a teacher as a human - one of 4 answers is correct, and from the context of the question and its set of answers, you can usually reverse engineer the answer, or at least brute force it.

And in the case of math, this works fine. Mathematics is its own beast - it often exists holistically, in a way that becomes mechanical. You can, very much, procedurally generate math problems, and in that sense, it works. It wouldn't be easy work but it wouldn't be difficult to do. But the issue is that all the test questions are like this - this includes the ones for which this sort of jigsaw puzzle question doesn't work. This includes... Language Arts. (Or reading/language arts, or what I'm referring to it as, since it's easier to write, RLA.)

The use of language is broken down into concepts that can be multiple choice. It's no wonder people drop out of this system so easily.

RLA is chopped to shit by this, and as someone who's pretty passionate about how sick it is to be able to read and understand words and use the words you read to say more words that other people can then understand themselves, it's GROSS AS SHIT.

The RLA class is so miserable. It's helpful to look at the educational system as providing tools, and then in turn, how to use those tools. RLA does this, too, in a sense. But it's tools that aren't useful for understanding things, it's not useful for understanding non-fiction, and it's not useful for understanding fiction. It's tools that are built to pass standardized tests - a teacher can teach students how to draw conclusions from the text, but if a student comes away with a perspective on the text that is different from the rubric, that teacher is a bad teacher.

This, combined with the procedural generation of questions, creates a nightmare.

The question that's stuck with me the most is this: "What is another term for breaking down information into easily understandable chunks?". Multiple choice. I was given "Purpose for Reading", "Reporter's Questions", "Outlining", and "Making Connections" to choose from. You may think, "Vicki. That's obviously outlining, right? You make an outline by creating a topic, and then bullet points with easily understandable chunks, right?".



It was "Purpose for Reading". But like, none of those are anything, dog. This isn't an adult education. This is bullshit baby watch hour. This isn't even a bullshit logic trap. It's asking for an answer that exists solely in the context of one thing. The mechanical tool you're asked to understand is "You read to learn things, this is called Purpose For Reading." and this doesn't do anything. This is a very... difficult question, and not in a meaningful way.

It's difficult, because it's divorced from any meaningful context - it is about the subject itself, in such a... crunchy way. It just... doesn't make sense, in a way where you can piece together how it was supposed to make sense - it's like a mad libs question. And it's not great, it's not a meaningful test of your ability to read and comprehend information, it's a

Another question I was asked was "What organizational tool would be best suited for understanding a biography?". My options were "Timeline", "Character web", one I don't remember, and "Word cloud". I thought to myself, since biographies are primarily focused on a person, what you'd want is a character web, to create a list of information about that person. I had a compelling case in my head for it. It told me timelines was right, despite... like... biographies... being about... people...

There's a lot of things that are considered common sense that are just not present in these tests.

Part 3: Please unload all questions before entering the testing area.

This is the not fun brokenness of the system.

When looking through it, it becomes really obvious that the privatization of the study material has had some adverse effects on its ability to reflect the world. I took my placement survey for science classes today. These modules were last updated in 2016, and it's something... interesting.

There are certain aspects to it that are... troubling. It never outright says the things it wants you to believe, but it does strongly gesture in their direction.

One question I got was this:

Fossils are: A. Formed only under special conditions. B. A form of direct evidence of evolution. C. A type of record of the past. D. Both A and C.

It's insidious, subtextual. Students are primed to believe an answer D, "all / none / some of the above" question is correct, since they don't appear without reason, especially on this science test, which has "All of the above." be correct on every question it's appeared on, including this one.

From this, we can assume that the message here is not "Fossils are formed under special conditions and are a direct record of the past", but the negative space around that statement, the message is "Fossils specifically do not prove evolution correct." and while it's strictly a true statement, it is the only mention of evolution on the entire survey, and its existence in that survey is textually wrong.

To that extent, certain questions are obviously loaded. One question read:

Why are alternative energy sources such as geothermal, solar, and wind power not used? A. Scarcity of the resource and excessive cost. B. Pollution control issues and excessive cost. C. Pollution control issues and scarcity of the resource. D. Excessive cost and unreliable power source. E. Unreliable power source and pollution control issues.

The correct answer is D - again, the negative space of the "right answer" is more instructive than the correct answer itself. Pollution control issues and scarcity of resources don't impede the use of a resource, but cost and unreliability do. Comparatively, the expense of fossil fuels translates to between $0.05-$0.17/kWh, while on-shore wind farm schemes average at $0.06/kWh, and like. Wind isn't going anywhere. If wind has gone somewhere, we have beefed it too much for renewable energy to save us.

The last one I'm singling out from the science unit is the way they test the ability to read charts, which is like. A lie. The first chart is a list of greenhouse gas emissions from 1992, and 2012. It's cherrypicked. That's the word I'm gonna use here - it is unequivocally cherrypicked.

It selects some large cities that had reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, relative to their point in 1992, and uses those points to draw the conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced, despite total emissions between 1992 and 2012 being both, nonlinear and factually incorrect.

Note the use of the awkward wording - it is not between 1992 and 2012, it is the point at 1992 and the point at 2012. It then, instead of asking me to draw meaningful conclusions about differences in numbers between the charts, asks me to be the third point in the pattern recognition string, by asking me "What future trends do you foresee for carbon monoxide and ozone?", and asking me to pick one of four possible futures from a list. This asks for pattern recognition, but pattern recognition kicks in at 3. One is a trope. 2 is a callback. 3 is a theme. And then 4 is the author's fetish.

These are in the less overtly political topics - when I take it, I'm absolutely gonna have some shit to say about the social studies module. Like. I'm a leftist. Duh. Of course I'm gonna have some shit to say about how US History and politics are portrayed. But one of the things I saw upon booting up the site was sample lessons - my instructor hasn't added the "social studies" module to my student account yet, so I can't access them - and I, curious beast that I am, looked into it. I have stared into the abyss, now. I fight monsters, and now I have become a monster myself.

Because the test wants me to say "The Democratic party wants to raise taxes on those with higher incomes, and increase minimum wage.", and I'm pretty sure that's entrapment. Like, I'm certain that's what entrapment is. Forcing people to commit crimes against the truth.

I'm gonna hold off on writing this part of the post until I'm actually done.

Part 4: I took it.

The social studies segment was... miserable, in expected ways.

"A proposed bill increases taxes on the rich. Which political party would be a fan of this bill?", and all that. The online software asked some questions about climate change that took the same negative space approach as the fossils question mentioned above. Oh and also it used that same negative space format to implicitly deny the existence of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Nazis. Which is hard to come back from.

And equally as expected, the online software didn't at all match up with the GED test I took.

The GED test itself is surprisingly unbiased - I'm not sure what all I'm allowed to say, again, since there are NDAs and such, but while it's not totally unbiased, it's still less biased than the online software that I used to "study" for it. The social studies test was difficult because I had to navigate the labyrinth of what I know to be true ("Henry Ford was a scumbag union-buster") and what is accepted to be true by the computer. ("Henry Ford innovated in the workplace by inventing the conveyer belt")

Part 5: Vento Aureo

So now that I'm done, my opinion?

The first week, I was asked to say "Having a high-school equivalence like the GED will increase your self-worth, and your esteem." and I came home to say it was done, to praise and applause, from all sides, including my leftist friends, and it doesn't feel like anything. It feels like... eh. It is what it is.

And what it is, is a mess.

We should reform public education, somewhat. Maybe.