Thursday, January 03, 2008

Here's a good one for you by Taylor the Teacher

I run hot and cold when I read stuff like that. I mean, I know it's true and I'm so glad I know it. But it bothers me. I don't like that my daughter is in that environment all day. The only reassuring thing for me is that she is there of her own free will (unlike the majority of high schoolers). She has learned to tolerate the really moronic teachers and make friends with the really cool ones. Although I think high school is a complete joke and a waste of childhood, I don't let K know how I feel and I'm very supportive of her choice.

The other night we were going over homework together and it was algebraically solving 2 problems for "y", coming up with their corresponding "x", plotting the points on a graph, then looking to see where they intersect. Can someone please tell me what the point of that is? How is this something that can relate to a child's life? Where in God's name are these kids ever going to need something like that?! Teach my daughter how to balance a checkbook and pay bills. Teach her how to choose an insurance plan. Teach her how to comparison shop for a new car. THIS is what kids need to learn. THAT is what math class should be. When kids are older and decide they'd like to be an engineer, architect, or mathemetician, THEN they can sign up for pointless-to-everyone-else-in-the-whole-world-but-them math classes.

Imagine your boss at work required all employees to spend 3 hours each day after work at a class on Battleship. Yes, the game. This expensive course (that comes out of your paycheck - sorry, it's company policy) focuses on the exact written rules and strategies of the game. You will have to choose a report topic (5 typed pages with footnotes) and read (with full understanding or else) long books - like, Staying Away from the Edge and Why No One Can Find Me by I.M. Sodumb - and there are tests every Friday. It doesn't matter that you've always hated that game or that it has nothing to do with your job as a stockbroker. If you fail, you will take it again and again until you can pass. Your instructor (who just learned about Battleship the month before the class, yet acts like she invented the game) seems like she'd rather be anywhere else and has recently humiliated you when for the third time you couldn't state the obvious difference difference between rows B and F. BTW, if enough in the class can get good grades, Hasbro will award the CEO, CFO, and the 4 VPs with a nice stipend and send them each on a 5-night cruise. How would you feel? Would you complain (to deaf ears)? Would you just give up and feel defeated? Would you just not show up? What if all companies required this of their employees (you can't just look for a new job)? After 10 years of this program, the employees, like drones, just go religiously every day. They look zoned out and tired and aren't really paying attention. They don't like being there, but go because they have to or they'll lose their jobs. Complaining in the past just brought tons of red tape and resentment. I wonder if any of them will enjoy Battleship in the years after the course is over. Um. I doubt it. Yeah. That's what high school math is like to me.

At least K sees school for what it really is and will not be beaten down by it. She goes to enjoy new friends, create a good cheerleading team, perform in the talent show next month, gain a little more independence, maybe go to Europe next year, and see how well she can do playing the grades game. And it is a game. Real life is in the real world. Real life is being your own person, making your own choices, and being comfortable and happy.

Now read the above article again.


sharichez said...

I agree with your comments that most of what is taught in schools may come across as arbitrary and useless to students and parents. I have a slightly different view on this.
A teenager's brain is growing at a tremendous rate and should be exercised and expanded as much as possible during this time period, producing a well-rounded, critical thinker who can better understand the world around them. So, they may not use everything they were exposed to in school but did it help them become better thinkers? Can they pick up and assimilate new info that they come across as adults more efficiently? Can they understand the relationships between seemingly unrelated concepts better because they were exposed to a variety of topics at an earlier age?
True, the x-y graphing assignment may seem useless to students or even you, but it might be something that sparks a child’s interest. It might be something that a child suddenly finds that they are good at and enjoys and may want to even pursue. Who knows, it might lead to a career in math, science, engineering, etc. I have many students who enter my chemistry class in September claiming that they hate science, have no interest in the topic, and don’t want to be there. I’m proud to say that each year I have at least 10-15 kids that by the end of the year have changed their mind and now want to pursue science as a career. Would they have felt this way if they weren’t “forced” to take chemistry? Probably not. Kids at this age aren’t experienced enough to make decisions about what they don’t want to learn.
I hear this argument quite a bit from students and my response is always that at this point in their life they don’t know what they are ultimately going to go into. They don’t know what skills they are ultimately going to need. And they certainly don’t know if there is something out there that they haven’t been exposed to yet that they may truly enjoy. Kids should have some choices about what they like and want to take, but they should be exposed, at least for a short period of time to as many other topics as possible, even making pretty little pictures of x and y values.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Just wanted to throw out another perspective on Math. I went to high school in Greece and they are REALLY big on Math. My last year of high school we were doing college level material. They look at math from a perspective that I think is very important and I wanted to share in the hopes that I may make it easier to accept :-).

Mathematics is a combination of learning a set of principles and then picking and choosing which are best to apply to solving a given problem. Their theory was that this process actually exercises the brain, as they say: "sharpens the brain". Everyone in Greece is taught math heavily for this reason, regardless of where their vocation choice will take them.

A similar theory is seen in Alzheimer's research - exercising the brain by learning a new language, solving brain teasers, learning to play an instrument, might actually slow the effects of the disease.

Hope this helps the disdain at least a little :-)

NYCitymomx3 said...

Thank you sharichez and 'anonymous' for your comments.

I have no problem whatsoever with exposing kids to new concepts and ideas. Actually I think that's what an education is all about. It's the only way for them to see what's out there for them. My 11-year-old has spent a lot of time on everything from algebra to Incan civilization to HTML coding. I introduced them all to her. She loves it. What bothers me is when kids have things forced down their throats, with homework, tests, and lengthy projects, demanding it be learned or else you FAIL (read: "you're a failure") and it's on your permanent record. My 3 kids have gone to a total of 7 different schools altogether, experiencing dozens of teachers. I've seen some truly excellent teachers who know how to reach children, make learning fun and interesting, and treat the kids with respect. Unfortunately, I've seen an equal number of teachers who are sarcastic, insulting, discriminatory, and threateningly authoritarian. You tell me whose students will come out of that class with a great knowledge and zealousness about the subject. Kids go through their school years (especially middle and high school) with so much pressure and anxiety from and about everything and everyone around them. Going through months of a topic they truly hate with a teacher they truly hate will never teach them anything productive. What it WILL teach them about life is how to slide by enough to satisfy the person in charge without getting in trouble. And that is what they'll bring into their adulthood.

In an ideal world, all teachers would care about and respect their students. They would love what they teach and know how to convey that love. They would know how to teach without drudgery and tedium. Children would enjoy the lessons. I hardly see that at all. Take a look at the middle and high schools in this country. Kids are not learning. One study shows American students ranking 15th out of 16 nations in math. In physics, US seniors ranked dead last. Out of 21 nations, in general math and science, American seniors ranked near the bottom. Only 10% of high school graduates qualify for even entry-level jobs. And "about 55 percent of students taking physics in the United States, for example, are taught by someone who never majored or minored in the subject."
( 2/25/98)

Something is wrong somewhere. Teens (and almost-teens) need more choices, more freedom, and much more respect in schools. Forced teaching does not equal learning. It does, however, usually kill whatever interest was there. In elementary school, it may seem that reading, writing, and arithmetic are forced, but these are things the child uses and will use every day of his life. It has meaning for them. High school math is made up of abstract concepts that cannot be applied in a student's real world (well, for 99% of kids). It doesn't really teach them "how to think". Yes, they will memorize a formula and pass a test, but ask them the following year what that formula was and what it was for. I guarantee almost all of them won't be able to pass that test if it was given again.

I know what I say sometimes hits a nerve with teachers. I speak mainly from my own experiences and from what I see going on in this country. Kids (teens) are doing poorly, hating school, and disrespecting each other and adults because they feel defeated and powerless. And many teachers who feel defeated and powerless take out their frustrations on the kids. I'm fed up with the whole system. Why should my kids have to be a part of the proverbial roulette wheel every September? Black, you got the caring, respectful Ms. X. Red, you got the oppressive Mr. Y who will make this year hell for you. I applaud and wish I could hug and send flowers to those teachers who know what they're doing. It's just that there are too many of them out there who don't.

another hs mama (previously anonymous) said...

So the problem we are having is really with the way things are being "taught" - not with math - gotcha... and totally agree with you by the way. And to top things off it is extremely sad that this is the situation - not only do we have to sit idly by and watch, or even help, our children play the passing game - we watch them lose there love of learning without them realizing it. Because, in essence, when you use the material solely for the process (passing) then the material itself becomes unimportant, a tool to use, not the goal itself. Quite sad - glad I'm homeschooling :-)