Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Teach to need rather than dream

The other day I had an interesting conversation with two excellent math teachers.  These women have taught higher level math skills to kids with significant learning challenges.  They asked me a very important question.  Why are we teaching algebra II to students who can't make change, measure elapsed time or calculate living costs.  The answer is pretty simple although self defeating.  The reason is that politicians have taken over educational curriculum and the weak professional educators have allowed it to happen.
Politically it makes great sense and great sound bites to endorse college for every student.  But realistically that goal is bad for kids and bad for schools.  Not all students should go to college.  Some kids don't want to.  And, perish the thought, some students don't have the ability to do college work.  Somehow or other that notion is considered to be undemocratic.  When as a nation we endorse the concept that "all men are created equal", we mean equal in the eyes of the law.  All people are not equal in competence, whether that competence is athletic ability, academic ability or artistic ability.
No one would ever espouse that everyone should be on the varsity football team.  That privilege is reserved only for those who can make the grade on the field.  Yet we heartily endorse the concept that everyone should be on the varsity academic team known as college.
This ridiculous and shortsighted notion denies the students with other abilities the opportunity to develop those abilities.  It also deprive some kids of the functional learning they will need to survive in an increasingly complex world.  Sending unprepared and/or unqualified students to higher education also causes those institutions to divert valuable resources in attempts to bring those unqualified students up to higher ed standards.  And it wastes taxpayer and parental monies in funding these pie-in-the-sky notions.
Children need to be educated based on what they need to succeed.  That means starting with basic writing, reading, math and technology skills.  Skills needed to function and not get fleeced by those who would take advantage of them.  Next, they need to understand what it takes to live independently.  How much does it cost and how much can they legitimately be expected to earn.  That means every varsity high school football player is not going to the NFL.  Most will be fringe earners struggling for some way to earn a living.  It also means that every person who manages to scratch out a six year bachelor's degree (which by rights should only take 4 years)  is not going to get a great job especially if that degree is in something like mass communications or American history.
Finally students need to be educated to DO something.  Whether that something is a professional job that requires advanced education or a technical job that requires advanced education of a non-academic nature.
Education is not a game.  We have a limited number of shots at getting the right one for our lifetimes.  We should not be wasting that time on some dream we wish would come true.  If wishes were fishes no one would go hungry.

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