kitchen table math, the sequel: more slave math

Friday, February 22, 2013

more slave math

Watching local news tonight.

Today's story: parents being interviewed about a new slave math scandal in school.

The mom who is head of School Council, trying to go easy on the teachers involved, said she thinks it's a very good idea to bring "social studies" into math.

Which reminded me of Histogeomegraph and the tragedy of content isolation. And of the middle school model. And of my own middle school, back when they were bringing in the middle school model here.

With the middle school model, we parents were told, wondrous connections amongst the disciplines would be made:
  • In math class, the teacher could point out that Pythagorus was a Greek 
  • In English class, the teacher could point out that the father in The Miracle Worker was a patriarchal male who is ashamed of his handicapped child
  • In science class, the teacher would take POINTS OFF!!!! for misspelling
The problem with "bringing social studies into math" is that a person who has spent a great deal of time and energy learning math has not spent a comparable amount of time and energy learning "social studies." So the social studies that gets 'brought in" is superficial (Pythagorus was a Greek), wrong ("ashamed of his handicapped child"), obnoxious (POINTS OFF!!!),* or, in the case of slave math, upsetting and weird.

From 1999, here's Nancy Granstrom:
During our eldest daughter's eighth-grade year in junior high school, I wrote a letter to the editors of the local newspaper praising the education in our school district. The teachers were highly knowledgeable, dedicated individuals, who imparted their expertise so well, and did an exceptional job of preparing students for high school. I was convinced that the Community Consolidated School District 21 in Wheeling, Illinois had cornered the market on how to truly deliver a quality education. Two years later, however, it was welcome to Jack London Middle School for our second daughter.

Our daughter had not been looking forward to all the spelling, vocabulary, history, pre-algebra, and reading of the classics she had seen her older sister do. It turned out that she did not need to worry because little of that took place at her middle school. The explanatory pamphlet from the district stated that middle school theory includes: "Integrated thematic instruction, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, multiple teaching styles, flexible block scheduling, and authentic assessment."

Under this system all teachers taught all subjects, even if they were not qualified to do so. The philosophy was and is that they should be able to teach anything. The reality is they have to, because the majority of the classes are extremely integrated.

A Parent Criticizes "Middle School Theory"
by Nancy L. Granstrom
Funny thing here in my district: we had two years of strife over the middle school model, then they brought in the middle school model, and then...nothing.

Nobody ever heard a word about it again, and except for some scheduling changes, things seemed to be pretty much business as usual.

Two or three years later, they brought in Lucy Calkins' reading workshop.

__________________________________________________________

* I say "obnoxious" because the school was not teaching spelling at all. C.'s spelling was so bad that I had purchased a spelling curriculum I was using at home, and now, in the name of the middle school model, we were being told that the only help our kids would receive in the spelling department would come in the form of a cranky science teacher, nearing retirement, punishing the kids into better spelling by taking POINTS OFF!!! (That's what we always called it, back in the day: POINTS OFF!!!)

I wish now I'd kept a journal of those years. Ed attended that meeting....

Oh, wait! It's coming back to me.

Ed of course was strenuously lobbying against adoption of the "middle school model," and was playing a prominent and vocal role in the parent meeting convened to educate us in the nature of the coming changes. So when the science teacher said her contribution to Subject Integration was going to be taking POINTS OFF!!! Ed said forcefully & without a trace of irony, as if the POINTS OFF!!! plan explained everything (which it did), "That's very helpful to know. The science teacher will integrate English and science by docking points on science tests for spelling errors. That's the kind of information we need."

He told me later the science teacher glared at him.

Really, the best parents can hope for is to get these people's goat every once in a while.

3 comments:

Auntie Ann said...

Wow! Authentic assessments. Is that in addition to formative and summative assessments?

These are the words that drive parents crazy. They do not in any way add to the honor of teachers, but make them sound like nit-wits.

Karen W said...

In Iowa they have been talking about integrating subjects as "getting out of the silos." Is that a midwestern thing?

In any case, it is here (along with reminders to teach process, NOT content.) No one here seems to be questioning whether teachers have the skills to teach outside of their subject matter specialties. We did, however, have a vigorous debate on the House floor this week about whether parents are competent to teach their own children how to drive.

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