kitchen table math, the sequel: call for comment

Monday, February 11, 2008

call for comment

Jay Mathews on Two Million Minutes.

Column here.

5 comments:

SteveH said...

What, exactly, is the problem? What are the problems?

Compton says that there is a problem. Mathews says that there is no real problem. But both of them seem to be talking about education as an economic engine rather than a way to help kids define and fulfill their individual dreams. I abhor this thinking.

Lsquared said...

I ended up being a mathematician (professor, small university). What worked for me, was that in high school, you could, with a little determination, take the classes you wanted to and go as fast as you wanted to, so after being patient through elementary and jr high (though I did get 8th grade algebra 1), when I hit high school, my parents urged me to take algebra 2 and geometry simultaneously (at that time you could take them in either order), and I discovered that I loved math. So I was taking math classes as fast as I could, and there was a state math competition to fuel the competetiveness.

My son just finished high school and had a similar situation (no math contest, but lots of honors math classes offered). I don't know that this is the answer for the B and C students, but the A students will thrive if there's enough diversity in the school offerings that they have a chance to do math--math with all of the nitty gritty algebra stuff and they can go fast enough that they have some momentum. What really worries me is that some of the things I see us (the US educational system) trying educationally seem to be aimed at having everyone work at the same level, even in high school. There needs to be somewhere that the curriculum choices are broad enough that the smart kids are comparing themselves to other smart kids, and are going at a pace that is challenging for them--otherwise we end up lazy.

Which brings me around to a rather different thought than I had when I started: our students often don't have any sense of competition in academics. Trying to be the best is encouraged in athletics, but in academics we discourage comparing children with each other. Which I guess means I maybe agree with Compton. Our children need higher expectations in academics, and it's not going to come naturally.

SteveH said...

"Our children need higher expectations in academics, and it's not going to come naturally."

I've seen parents who know exactly what they want when it comes to sports, but they get all wimpy about academics. I'm not talking about coaches or parents who scream. I'm talking about parents who appreciate high expectations when it comes to sports. Practice and mastery of skills are good things. Parents won't be happy if the coach sets up player groups to discover their own methods.

But when it comes to academics, they believe the ed school rhetoric that learning has to be a fun and natural process or else the child will really get messed up. Somehow, education is magically different than learning a sport or playing the violin.

There are some changes in academics, what with robotics and math and science olympiads, but they tend to have fuzzy issues. The First Lego Robotics League is a nice way to get more kids interested in engineering, but they don't emphasize enough that unless they do well in math, they will get nowhere near a college of engineering.

Teaching of math was not great when I was growing up, but one could do well without help from parents or tutoring. There was still a good amount of sink or swim, but kids were better prepared in K-6 to swim. I don't care about macroeconomics. I care about those kids who could do very well if they were only required to master the times table in third grade.

The issue is not discovery or understanding, it's low expectations.

Catherine Johnson said...

Lsquared - interesting.

There needs to be somewhere that the curriculum choices are broad enough that the smart kids are comparing themselves to other smart kids, and are going at a pace that is challenging for them--otherwise we end up lazy.

This is such a hairy issue....I don't have time to describe the situation here at the moment, but my district is in a state of chronic conflict over whether there will or will not be accelerated courses, Honors courses, who will be allowed entry, etc.

Personally, I like two "models":

* the community college model (prerequisites! testing in!)

* the La Salle High School model

To me, both of those approaches could deal with the many issues we have here with kids being kept out of accelerated courses and administrators who wish to end all forms of homogeneous grouping.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

I got this link in an e-mail early today. I read it an decided that I wanted to parse Mathews' article on my site.

I browsed some of the comments left on the Post website. I find the commenter's arguments a lot more compelling than Mathews, which I processed as a weirdly juvenile attack. He uses 2nd grade playground logic to make his points and, in my opinion, treats 2MM unfairly.