Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Big Lie

Every day we are bearing false witness to our children.   It is something we do in the name of higher standards and equality.  We want all of our children to achieve high academic standards so we declare it so and go home.   Nothing on the ground changes.
The latest and greatest thought is that all children need to take algebra 2.   It is never exactly clear why this is so.  Mainly we are told that our children need algebra 2 in order to go to college.  There are no requirements that students master the skills in algebra 1, only that they "take it" before they "take" algebra 2.
We have a significant number of children in algebra 1 classes that have never mastered basic arithmetic.   Many of those children are poor or black or Hispanic.  Others are not.  The problem is we cannot as a society admit that the poor, black and Hispanic kids have not yet mastered arithmetic skills because that might mean they have not received a quality education.   And we all know that since our society is equal they must have received an education of equal quality to their socio-economic better off peers.
So we continue the big lie.  We teach kids material for which they are not in the least bit prepared.  We do not go back and teach them the 4th or 5th grade skills they desperately need and might actually use in their lives.  Indeed not.   In the 9th grade we teach algebra and lie to our colleagues, the children's families and worst of all to the children themselves.  We tell all these groups that we are teaching algebra.  How on earth could we be teaching algebra to children who have not mastered basic arithmetic?  The answer is we cannot.   But that has never stopped us before.
Since we have done such a great job of teaching algebra 1 to all of the children, we will now move onto algebra 2.   There will be many more children who don't learn algebra 2 than there are who haven't learned algebra 1.   Perhaps we will call this progress.
Someone once said that the bigger the lie, the more likely people are to believe it.  It is not clear just how many people are believing this lie.  Hopefully it is not the math teachers who are supposedly teaching algebra 1 and algebra 2.  Great empires have been built on the notion that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.
Here is the biggest foolishness of all- of what purpose is algebra 2 to the vast majority of all students. Oh right, forgot again, it will be needed in college.   Hey does that mean once college is done it can be forgotten altogether!

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