We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Friday, January 28. 2011
No surprise there. Those students don't know grammar either. What do they know? I hope they know quadratic equations. I hope they read the Constitution - but you don't need a school to do that.
Well, they certainly know what Howard Zinn thinks - I mean, thought. They aren't necessarily lazy and dumb, they just aren't cut out for the really demanding mental stuff. What they need is solid basic knowledge, learn a job, maybe make a family, and they'll be just fine and as happy as they want to be. How many really smart kids do we need?
Science and math require more disciplined, rigorous, and abstract thinking than most kids want to bother with or, perhaps, are capable of. If a kid says languages - or math, or chem - are "too hard," you know right off that they lack the serious horsepower even if they are "bright and articulate." Most kids like the soft stuff - if they like any of it at all. Trouble is, you don't need a school for the soft stuff: it's all available out there, for free. Everywhere, nowadays.
In our spoiled, decadent culture, most people seem happy to pay others do the heavy mental lifting while they benefit from it all at ridiculously low cost. I know, because I am one of them, although I did plenty of math and hard science in college.
It has always been my contention that nobody should be able to earn a college degree without at least a year of calc, and real college chem, physics, and Bio (also, Econ). Otherwise, however bright you may be, you can't call yourself eddicated because there is too much basic stuff in life you don't understand well enough to have a legitimate opinion about.
Maybe I should have said a High School degree instead of College. If a kid had my kind of High School degree, they would be in a position to learn everything else they were interested in or needed to know on their own, in the library, or from The Teaching Company, or on the job. (Wisdom, on the other hand, comes from getting out there and living and getting into the cage with the Beast of Reality, and taking the knocks and dealing with the BS.)
High Schools should have oral exams on simple basic facts, because kids aren't ready for wisdom. "What's a subordinate clause?" "What's Avogadro's number?" "What's iambic pentameter?" "Why was Alexander Hamilton important?" "Why was Alexander the Great important?" "How does a lever work?" "Why do we care about the Phoenicians?" "How do you find the volume of a cone?" "How does an airfoil work?" Etc. Send in examining teams to do the testing to see whether a High School degree is justified. Paper testing doesn't do it. Nowadays, there are kids graduating from High School who cannot answer those questions.
It's the elite few who design our software, who design and build our computers and X-boxes and cars and refrigerators and airplanes and bridges and office buildings and coffee pots and power plants and missiles and digital cameras and machine tools and oil refineries and robots and hybrid wheat and permanent paintless house siding and our chairs and tables and new medicines and our Blackberries. Those are the unsung heroes of our daily lives.
It's all I can do to repair a horse fence or to replace a cracked windowpane in the barn, yet I am paid better than the people who design and build those useful things I listed above. Understand the workings on my motherboard? Not likely. Not smart enough, yet I am considered "highly educated."
My point is that the kids don't need to know the challenging stuff: Let them learn the elementary basic stuff, and the soft stuff if they want, and get their lightweight diplomas signifying that "they attended," and leave the challenging stuff to the smart, ambitious kids. Let the rest of us lazies flip burgers or teach school or attend meetings or sit in cubicles or express shallow and uninformed opinions about how life works, because we do not know how to make anything useful.
Let those few precious brainiacs work nights to make the tools and toys for us while we fart around with stuff that "interests us." The rest of us don't have to know anything complicated, do we?
We hate it when our brain hurts.
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I got a D in chem in high school, and A+ in college in Physical Chemistry and in Organic. My brain matured, and I was a late bloomer.
Ironically, math starts w/ arithmetic, which is far from abstract.
But, you have to take the time to learn it well. That means drills and rote memorization...yes the Tiger Mother is on to something. But even then, there are approaches that work better compared to others.
Flitting between subjects, addition, subtraction, mutliplication, in the early grades, exposing 1st and 2nd graders to all of them is a poor approach. It has the guise of helping kids advance quickly, but in the end they learn nothing particuarly well.
Better off to drill addition until they get it. And by get it, I mean they do it instinctively, in their sleep. And not just adding 1 or 2 digits, I mean 3-4 digit numbers, with columns going 3-5 deep.
Not coincidentally, once a kid gets that, subtraction and multiplication just fall out naturally. So does beginning algebra. A little extra time up front, with a committment to mastery makes other things easier.
And it pays off in higher mathematics. You have kids doing what I refer to as "arithmetic exploration". They start seeing patterns in the numbers, and just like the ancients, start to wonder if these patterns are hard and fast rules. Voila now we're looking at proofs and theorems.
Science isn't much different. That's the way to approach most subjects through the formative years. But, it takes:
-A philosophy of learning...what is all this for?
-An understanding of learning...an empirically derived understanding of how kids learn, not the latest fad.
-A systemized approach...K-12 needs to work as a system, not a bunch of discrete years of schooling.
-Faith...you don't see results in first or second grade. It's easy to panic if you hear that some school in Calif is teaching fractions to 2nd graders. You have to trust that taking 3 more months so every 1st grader masters addition, will lead to bigger success down the line.
...an empirically derived understanding of how kids learn, not the latest fad.
The irony of the ed schools teaching the latest fad is that classroom instruction has been going on for over 2,000 years, and over that period of time there has been developed some information on what works and what doesn't work in classrooms.
Prospective teachers could use information on what works and what doesn't work in classrooms. They really could, because it is not intuitively obvious what works in teaching a given class. The irony of inundating ed schools with the latest fads is that prospective teachers are given information on what has not been proven to work in classrooms. More often than not, after ten years of trying out a given fad, research shows that the fad doesn't work in classrooms.
The future is brighter, once you correct for race.
Can I say that on your blog?
Of course that data makes sense. Anyone who knows a thing about statistics knows to be highly suspicious and always look behind the numbers and who's funding it or benefits from the conclusions.
Since so much fiction is fed to us via fancy looking statistics, that might just be the most important class one could take in College. They should have a High School version of it as well.
But I think the gum'nt wants to keep us a bit dumb.
I got a C- in Calculus because I could never figure out WHY I was doing it. Three different graduate-level Cost-Accounting classes were all A's for me because I did understand why.
It's the math methods used to find out how fast things change and how much you get if you keep at it.
And how to compute the number of gallons in a barrel of beer. Curved sides!
If you don't need to know things like that, you don't need calculus. Be happy. Learn home brewing instead.
Being raised in the foster care system in Mass. meant that I got shuffled around a lot and never got to spend an entire school year in one place. They just passed me through until High School. For some reason in ninth grade they stopped passing me and started giving me Incompletes. Incomplete after incomplete until I was looking at my fourth year as a Freshman.
I explained to the helpful lady that ,no, I didn't think I needed the classes, I'd like to just take the test please.
I scored a 97 and walked away shaking my head. THIS was all that was expected? Less than an hour to take a multiple choice test and now I have a GED?
Somehow I don't think the standards have gotten any higher in the last 30 years.
As long as you show up on time and do what we tell you, we will feed you.
You know, you make a good point - one which I am in full agreement.
I have a number of friends who are plumbers, electricians, roofers, carpenters, cabinet makers, masons, etc. All guys who are always looking for qualified apprentices - emphasis on qualified. What do I mean by qualified?
Able to do basic math (addition, subtraction, etc.), know metric and SAE conversions for common sockets, wrenches, etc., can at least communicate and last, but not least, willing to work. Can't find them.
We do have a tech school system in CT, but the system is, not broke exactly, but staggering. The emphasis is on the trade and not necessarily the supporting education - it's the supporting education that is the most important. You can teach apprentice level skills in a year or so.
If I were to do it all over again, given a chance to rewind, reset and try it all once more, I'd be a tradesman. Plumber, electrician, welder - doesn't matter, I'd be in a trade. One of my old hunting buddies has a 10th grade education. Went to work for his grandfather as an apprentice plumber. 30 years later, he's got a crew of 18, nine service trucks, office staff of 5, beautiful home, manages a huge installation ready inventory of heaters, water pumps, yada, yada, yada. His two sons have high school educations, one year of business administration at community college and are taking the business beyond even his expectations. And I can introduce you to other tradesmen I know who have done pretty much the same thing and still are.
So you're right - absolutely right.
I might go that way too if they turned my clock back 25 years.
I went to a high school that had a senior course"intro to calculus and analytical geometry". I'm sure that course wasn't taught for long because only about 10 of us took the course. This was a big school with over a thousand students, but not many were interested in math. I'm not suprised that high school students are ignorant of science.
"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded - here and there, now and then - are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as 'bad luck.'"
I had a wonderful math teacher in 8th or 9th grade who taught me something important about how to teach. She was trying to introduce us to quadratic equations, the part where you learn how to solve the equation by factoring it. This was an advanced class full of kids who liked math and intended to master it, but for some reason we all got off on the wrong foot. After several weeks, we all were simply baffled at what she was trying to tell us. She didn't get upset, didn't berate us, didn't doubt herself -- and above all, didn't just stick to the approved method and either fail us all or pass us all, according to the prevailing philosophy. She said, the heck with this, we'll start over as if this were day one of the school year. I don't know what was different, but we all got it that time. The rest of the year proceeded smoothly.
She was a fine teacher who was focused on whether her students were mastering the subject, not on whether she'd checked off all of the boxes. She trusted us to learn; we trusted her to teach; and we weren't going to lie to each other about whether we'd acquired the skills we were aiming for.
She taught me that an initially baffling subject can become clear if you calm down and try again. She wasn't a warm or chatty teacher or someone given to praise or self-esteem gimmicks, nor was she a dragon-lady who tried to scare or shame us into our best efforts. She was matter-of-fact, and fair, and competent. I remember her now with a tremendous sense of pleasure, confidence, and security.
At what time in human history has a minority not considered, developed and made for the majority? Simple things, complex things. Why did various peoples in lands separated from each other decide a stick with a holder on one end would give greater distance to a thrown spear? Why did someone decide a stick with a string would propel a smaller stick farther than a man could throw, and with greater accuracy? American students score lower on science and math than do students in a few other countries. That means exactly what? There is no reason to expect every student to excel in math or physics or science. Or history or literature, for that matter. Here’s a fix: Make a society that says when someone reaches age 18, he’s on his own.
Can you say SPECIALIZATION?
Society has progressed because we all don't have to know everything, allowing us to invest in improving the good/service we provide to those who fix our windows/fences/motherboards.
And their use of our services frees them up to improve those motherboards.