No Gold Star For You

Q: How many Ed school professors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It doesn’t matter!

I’ll clear up this “math wars” thing in ten words or less: kids have to both understand it and get the right answer.

OK, eleven words. Who’s counting?

It isn’t complicated. Teach kids what they are doing, and how to do it, and test them to make sure then can do it.

Next question.

From where did the schools of education get the idea that improvement was needed with math instruction in the first place?

Was there something wrong with teaching kids to memorize multiplication tables, and then testing them on it, so that the teacher could actually verify that some learning and accomplishment had occurred?

Put it another way: did it ever occur to any of these Ed school geniuses that there might be a cost to dumbing down expectations by moving away from the concrete toward the abstract? Especially in a hard science like math, where there is only one right answer, and it is right because the laws of math say that it is? This isn’t poetry — or even history — where interpretation is part of the discussion.

And if the answer to the question above is “because poor inner city kids in crime-ridden neighborhoods fell behind the rich suburban kids in school achievement”, well, it doesn’t seem like we did them any favors, does it?

Lowering expectations in education serves whose goals, exactly? Surely not the student or the parent. The school? Closer, but I don’t think that’s it either. The teacher? Maybe sometimes, but they don’t have the power to implement new policies. Teachers unions? Possibly. Ed schools? Bingo.

Teachers unions exist to protect teachers, and one way to do that is to lower expectations so that they can make the argument that grades have gone up, so obviously our kids are benefiting.

Ed schools have to pretend they are teaching something, so they invent new ways to teach material, which rarely work. And they are afraid of icky scary “numbers” and stuff, so they don’t even educate the teachers of our children in any of the hard sciences that these teachers will then turn around and attempt to teach to our children.

And both camps have an interest in protecting themselves — even at the expense of our children.

And not only have they failed at educating our kids, they’ve failed at making themselves look better. Lose/lose.

So the nexus of Ed schools and teachers unions have managed – despite whatever their intentions might have been – to screw up large swaths of a couple of successive generations of our young people, and put America at a competitive disadvantage in an increasingly technical world.

Nice job!

  1. Mike said:

    I have never understood why education isn’t more focused on economics. That’s what I would teach starting at kindergarden in the most basic way.

    With math, I’d guess about 98% of the adult population does nothing beyond arithmetic in their daily lives. I don’t understand why we force things like trigonometry and calculus down kids’ throats who have no inclination to use them later in life. It only serves to hurt self-esteem. If a kid is interested in that stuff, I’d support it as an optional route. Same goes for the sciences and history… and most other courses of study beyond economics!

    Kids need to know what credit cards are, checking accounts, savings accounts, money markets, apartments, condos, homes, car payments, etc. I don’t understand why it isn’t taught. This info will help the average person about a billion times more than calculus will.

    You can even offer the other courses in terms of economics. “Kids, being good at math has great economic value in the work place… and here are the careers that demonstrate that.”

    “If you’re interested in marketing, study what advertising is, study psychology, etc.”

    “If you want to make good money as a mechanic and skip a lot of other academic fields, here’s that option.”

    I wish schooling was more vocational.

    Give kids an idea of career choices and which skills they’ll need to succeed within them. Instead, we force all these subjects down kids’ throats who never use them, and hardly remember them for the rest of their lives. I always challenge people to tell me what they learned in high school. It always brings about an embarrassed chuckle and a, “Eh, I don’t really remember.” But, had they been prepared for real life, they’d remember.

  2. Thanks Mike. I agree with all of that. School is not practical enough. But what is even worse is that schools try to do “college prep” and don’t even do that right, either. So they fail at both goals.

    I took calculus and all that in high school, but I was always a math geek and that’s just what you do when you’re good at something. For most people, you’re right, such subjects don’t make much sense.

    If I could chane middle school and high school curriculums, in addition to getting back to the basics re: math, I’d implement more history and change the reading material in English to be more factual (biographies, and history). They teach history, but it isn’t really effective history. Dates, names, blah blah blah. That isn’t education, it’s recitation. What good are dates and places and names if you don’t learn the crucial difference between the French Revolution, which emphasised equality, vs. the American Revolution, which both inspired the French Revolution, and was based on freedom as a God-given right? I didn’t learn this myself until the last few years, when I sought out these topics myself based on other readings I’d done.

    Re: reading material, I think reading biographies of great people – or even one or two evil people – from history are often more useful than “great literature”, since they teach about time and place (history and geography) as well as politics and war and all the great questions and struggles that people have faced in every society throughout human history.

  3. Mike said:

    Hey JBrokaw,

    I was really good at math as a kid too, though I felt it was all a waste at the time… and feel somewhat validated by that now. (I even competed and went down state a couple times. Normal, Illinois… hardly Normal.) The only way it would have had value for me is if I had chosen to study astronomy in college, a subject I’m still greatly interested in… obviously. (It’s kind of funny that you and I are two of the less stat-obsessed baseball fans out there… and we’re both REALLY good at math.)

    I agree with you about history. Your criticism of modern methods, or lack there of, reminds me of what I call “Charlemagne”. Uh, he was like an important leader of France or something. For some reason, the name’s in my head but I really know little about it.

    I’d like to see history taught from the standpoint of social evolution… from hunter gatherer society, to agrarian developments, to city-states, to nation states, to empires, to global commerce, etc. It’s a remarkable climb. The goal of history should be to get kids to understand how we got where we are now… and not a recitation as you aptly put it. Furthermore, I like the lens you want to place over it… through the eyes of individual humans, biographies. You get a sense for a human being during a time period… and what makes him happy, what makes him suffer, what his goals were, his strengths and weaknesses, how that society viewed him, etc.

    I haven’t read many… and I should. As you may know, I just finished one on Nikola Tesla that was beyond fascinating. Now there’s an historical figure who deserves a lot more attention. And by the way, to sort of combine sports and biography, have you read ‘The Jordan Rules’? Sam Smith really did a hell of a job with that one.

    All of my greatest learning happened once I finished college… when I started learning what I wanted to learn. I wish there were more of a focus on basic, as you put it, for kids… so that they too have the ‘room’ to pursue their interests.