Cliff Notes Education LO7382

Marion Brady (
Sat, 11 May 1996 05:31:24 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO7324 --

Barry Mallis writes:

>Being involved with many community organizations which seek to improve
>ties between business and education, I hear from deep inside me a howl
>about the aesthetic in education, about learning for learning's sake (as I
>see and feel it). And I'm torn between utilitarianism in its modern
>clothes, and humanism at its best, conveyed sometimes by educators in
>settings which I romantically recall, where pressed dirt on academic paths
>of many generations still seems to stand for empathetic Truth.=20

A major problem, it seems to me, is our frequent failure to think
through the best place to draw such lines. Here's something I did for
last Wednesday's Orlando Sentinel that touches on the problem:

Recently, the Sentinel provided "My Word" space for
those interested in explaining what they'd do if they were high school
principals. I'd be willing to bet that the subject drew more than the
usual number of submissions.
Just about everybody, it seems, is an expert on what ails
education. Unfortunately, most such expertise is nostalgia driven and
simplistic. Its prescription for every problem? "Back to basics! If
what's presently being done isn't working, do it harder, or longer, or do
it again." Fundamental change -- the kind of change that real crises
demand -- is almost always viewed with suspicion by the amateur experts
and opposed.
Consider, for example, school mathematics. According to the
media, math scores are too low. So, true to the "back to basics"
response, a bill is introduced in Florida's legislature to add algebra to
the high school graduation requirements.=20
It's a waste of taxpayer money. Tightening the screws may raise
scores a few points, but it won't solve the problem. Fundamental change
is in order -- the kind of change that would almost certainly pack school
board meetings and trigger wails of protest about "dumbing down the
curriculum."= =20
Math, everyone agrees, is a basic subject. All students should
come out of school able to make change, balance checkbooks, complete
income tax forms, check cash register receipts, and know if they've been
had by the vacuum cleaner salesman.
This is what many think of when they think of school math. And,
since this sort of "math" is obviously a good and necessary thing, and
since it's hard to get too much of a good thing, the present math
curriculum is, ipso facto, a good thing.
There is, in fact, relatively little of this kind of math in the
school curriculum. School mathematics has been shaped (as one might
expect) by mathematicians, and most mathematicians aren't much interested
in balancing checkbooks and checking receipts. Most have been drawn to
the field by its esthetic appeal, and make little effort to defend what
they teach on the basis of its practicality.
Now there's nothing wrong with math as art. But to make mandatory
the particular kind of math presently required is, it seems to me, a
serious mistake, akin to making orchestra participation or oil portraiture
or dance mandatory, and then getting all bent out of shape when some
students don't perform well.
General education math requirements should be changed, not to make
math easier, but to put the emphasis on statistical analysis -- the primary
tool for understanding the quantifiable aspects of our present situation,
how we got where we now are as a society, and where we're probably headed.
American kids are as smart as any. But ours is a pragmatic
society, and the "learn this because you're s'posed to" that still works
in many traditional cultures rings pretty hollow here. If we'll forego
knee-jerk, backward looking "reforms" and make math a source of insight
into the human condition, I'll bet the farm that the scores won't




Marion Brady <>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>