This year my nephew started first grade. And since it had been some time since anyone had looked over a math book for someone his age, we picked up a copy of the Common Core requirements. Here are the list of highest level of education my immediate family has achieved, my dad has two Ph.D.s, my mother has Master’s in Applied Mathematics and Engineering, my brother an M.B.A. and I round out the group with a Ph.D. This should have been enough brain power to understand what was going on in less than a minute. But the way it is presented, it isn’t the math any of us grew up on. people can’t wait until they see how badly screwed up Algebra will be!
My mom taught us all sorts of shortcuts when we were kids. I had more than one instructor who was less than enthused by my not showing work. Even when the answer was correct, it wasn’t correct. Seems you can’t apply partial credit to an answer that skipped a step! Eventually I learned to play their game, even when it bored me to tears.
Years ago when I taught high school economics I made sure that for one week out of the year those kids learned about how to read a bank statement and balance a checkbook. Software might do that for them now, but back when you had to enter the numbers on a piece of paper it meant the difference between a return check fee or not having any money when you went to the automated teller. Simple life skills that sometimes people just assume you have learned at home or seemingly by magic.
My point in all of this is to say that sometimes we need to make sure that we teach kids basic skills. How to build a lamp out of a potato is great, but can that same kid cook the potato? I agree that skills like writing in a cursive style are outdated, but kids have forgotten basic grammar when they are writing 140 characters on their phone. It’s taken me some time to relearn how to write without it coming across as a lecture or even an attempt at infusing too many facts. It’s not always the best thing to kill people with details.
There are always going to be kids who pick things up quickly. There will also be kids who need a little more attention because they are having a hard time. We have programs for kids with high I.Q.s and we have programs for children who are differently enabled. But what happens when you at times mix the two? Is it possible that everyone comes out ahead?
My senior year in high school was the first time I volunteered for the Special Olympics. I knew enough sign language to be able to communicate (thanks to my aunt!) We stood out in the rain watching kids just happy to make it across the finish line and get a hug. They liked the medal, but what they really wanted was for someone their age to be there and tell them they did great. Those same kids just wanted to feel like the rest of us, normal. (I have no idea what normal is, we just throw that term out as if everyone understands it!)
Having been born in 1972 it means that I am the first year of what we call Title IX babies. We had to enact a law that required educational institutions to offer equal opportunities to men and women. You have a football program, you also need to provide some equal program for women. It’s sad we had to make a law that says people are equal. But then we have had to do that many times throughout our history, and continue to do that.
It isn’t about how to change what we teach. And it isn’t about finding new ways to get material across to people. The best thing we can do is make sure that every person has the opportunity to find whatever it is they are good/great at, and encourage them. We aren’t cookie cutter people rolling off of a factory line at Volkswagon.
I have lots of strong women in my life. Everything that I was screwing up in my understanding of how to raise a little girl was going to be balanced by them. For every ugly braid, someone was going to laugh and fix it. Those same women have taught me some valuable lessons on how everyone should be given every chance in the world to succeed and on their terms, not mine, not societies.
The world is full of talented people. Hopefully there will come a time when we have learned to acknowledge the worth of every single person isn’t measured by a stack of degrees or money, but how they better themselves and us as a result. Potential energy can build up forever. But kinetic energy, the kind that moves things, burns out much faster. It’s that potential in us all that I love to see!
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The New School.”