Sunday, February 05, 2006

Algebra is Ruining our Children

The Los Angeles Times series on dropouts at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys spurred at least 2 commentaries about school curriculums. My response to one of the editorials, "Karin (Johnny) {gt} 95%" included a quote from Roger Schank, an authority on learning. Here is the letter:

Ms. Klein comes so close to grabbing the brass ring of what's wrong with the cumpulsory school system in this country, that my criticism may seem like nit-picking. She says, "schools are structured to help administrators feel organized, not to help children learn."

Close, but in fact, these "administrators" don't want to make this mistake--it's more along the lines of the worst excuse for any policy in any field: we've always done it this way. I have long wondered what the reason is for every student in America to understand algebra. In the 1950's, as a student I was told we were losing pace to the Russians in math and science. So in order to keep up, since then, schools have been ramming advanced math concepts down the throats of> willing and unwilling young people because someone somewhere once said, "It helps you think more clearly,"--a totally unscientific and unproven theory at best.

My childrens' curriculum includes NO music. My daughter's kindergarten teacher told me she needed to be able to count to 100 by the end of the year. I told her I was convinced my daughter would be able to read, write, and add and subtract by the time she graduated high school. I said that what she left out of the teacher-parent "conference" was any notion of how my daughter was relating to the other children in her class, which to me was the priority issue.

Roger Schank, world-reknowned authority on cognitive learning and teaching, sounds revolutionary in his education ideas, but he simply takes Ms. Klein's program one logical step further: "What kid would choose learning mathematics over learning about animals, trucks, sports, or whatever? Is there one? Good. Then, teach him mathematics. Leave the other children alone."

In other word, Ms. Klein, you're right about the need to re-think how we educate our children, and first and foremost we must acknowledge that in our human infinite diversity, everyone can't learn everything equally, and some children should not be taught algebra.

In addition, Schank has said this about the school system in this country:

School is bad for children:

Schools are structured today in much the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them.

The Government needs to get out of the education business and stop thinking it knows what children should know and then testing them constantly to see if they regurgitate whatever they have been spoon-fed.

We need to stop producing a nation of stressed-out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves.

We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school.

We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff. We need to create adults who can think for themselves.

Call school off. Turn them into apartments.

Schank's solutions are included in several dozen books he has written, and in his teachings to corporations worldwide on how to efficiently have employees learn their jobs. He is a major success, so his criticisms are worth paying attention to. Then it's time for the forward thinkers, and there are some, in our school's educational systems, to start making the changes in order to stop wasting our childrens' time, and minds.

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