Sunday, 7 March 2010

We badly need a Hippocratic Oath for schooling:

"Above All Else, Do No Harm"

Sunday morning... put on the coffee, turn on the feed from KSCS in Fort Worth (Ok, you got me..I'm country) and start flipping through blogs I haven't had time to read all week... and the one that most caught my eye had the quote above.

Those who have read my blog for awhile know that I occasionally set aside my blogs on math to comment on education, my grand kids, or whatever happens to catch my interest.

This Sunday it was a month old blog at the Daily Kos (I have no idea what that means) by teacher Ken. It is long, but good enough to take the time..

The title is "students should graduate with a résumé, not a transcript", and is taken from a quote by Arnold Packer, who was the principal author of the SCANS report, from the Dept of Labor. Much of the blog is based on an article by Grant Wiggins, a regular proponent of "Authentic Education." (Sort of like "Pro-life", who could be against that?)
Here is the opener from the Wiggins piece:

Imagine the following HS requirements being recommend to the School Board:
• 3 years of economics and business
• 2 courses in philosophy – one in logic, the other in ethics
• 2 years of psychology, with special emphasis on child development and family relations
• 2 years of mathematics, focusing on probability and statistics
• 4 years of Language Arts, but with a major focus on semiotics and oral proficiency
• US and World history, taught as Current Events - backwards from the present
• 1 Year of Graphics Design, Desktop Publishing, and Multimedia presentation

Outrageous? Hardly – if we do an analysis of what most graduates actually need and will use in professional, civic, and personal life. How odd it is that we do not require oral proficiency when every graduate will need the ability. How absurd it is in this day and age that students aren’t required to understand the capitalist system. How sad it is that physics is viewed as more important than psychology, as parents struggle to raise children wisely and families work hard to understand one another. Requirements based on pre-modern academic priorities and schooling predicated on the old view that few people would graduate and fewer still would go on to college make no sense. Ask any adult: how much algebra did you use this past week?

Ok, that last line struck a nerve that I come back to sometimes....... If someone took a survey in 1900 of the frequency with which people used automobiles, television, airplanes, (complete with your own examples) no organization could use it to justify research on the basis of that survey. And the adult who has NO training in algebra will have only the most superficial understanding of probability and statistics from his two years of mathematics in those areas. ...and how much do you learn in a course in semiotics in the absence of algebraic reasoning??? consider this trilogy of the elements of the subject in a online "introduction"....

* semantics: the relationship of signs to what they stand for;
* syntactics (or syntax): the formal or structural relations between signs;
* pragmatics: the relation of signs to interpreters
remember, you are teaching this to the same kids who have trouble figuring out how to add fractions, or find the area of a triangle, or explain what a polynomial is

But given that big objection I like the idea of a more student tailored curriculum. I like the idea of a student getting the education they want, getting a recognition of the level of achievement they have reached, and let business decide (and test to see) if they have the credentials that the business needs.. I had a parent recently say she would be having her kid skip a day of school to go to Cambridge and participate in the science day there... Another is missing a week to go to Crete with her father who just returned from six months being deployed in Iraq. I hate for kids to miss my class, but not much I will do in a day or a week will be as life changing as a day with world class scientists designing and explaining the future of an area of physics that one kid is interested in, or spending a week on a beautiful island with family to recover from some of the sacrifice of an extended absence (he didn't just miss seeing her spike a volley ball, he missed her first real date, falling totally in love for the very first time, and her first heartbreak six weeks later when the boy decided they should "just be friends" all of which she went through missing only a moment or two of classes for a trip to the hall when tears flowed). These kinds of events should be part of the experience of high school. I believe schools ought to have more independent explorations in subjects the student is interested in... Bright kids take calculus because it is the next course in the "college-intending" sequence, but some (many) would be much better served with a course in Statistics, and although I teach it, AP Statistics is not necessarily the best syllabus for that learning for lots of them. And I have several bright students who have accelerated right through all the pre-calculus curriculum and never saw a Moebius Strip, never played with a bent nail puzzle, and have never heard of Fibonacci, or a thousand other things that give math life and energy.

So Let's offer kids the option to tailor their own education... really empower students, and you Mr. Taxpayer, will need to cough up several more dollars each year because to do that schools will need to have lots more small classes (hence more teachers) and the technology to do more independent study .. What? oh, on second thought you don't like it as much... Yeah, let's just go back to blaming all our problems on the teachers and the unions.... Did you hear, there is a school over in Whatsit Town that let a private company take over the school system and saved thousands of dollars a semester. They can manage with just one certified teacher in each subject to design lessons and they hire aides to manage classes and the kids learn independently.... and their state test scores hardly dropped at all this year.....
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