I grew up in one of those Judeo-Christian homes that apparently strike terror in the hearts of the likes of Betty Friedan, Alan Grayson and Kathryn Joyce. My parents never had sex until they got married to each other. Theirs is an enduring...

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The State of Education, Part 1

The Story Problem

It's October, lovely October, as the year has turned fully over into its afternoon, vacationers have come home, and children have hit the books again in earnest.

Only now it's November.

Oh well. I was busy doing stuff. Some of the stuff I do uses math.

Everyone uses math from time to time, whether hunting for an elusive sock (1 sock does not pair up well with two feet), or multiplying a recipe by 3 2/3 because that's exactly how much stewed pumpkin they have to use up, or figuring the correct bend in a conduit run, or engineering a municipal water supply.

Mrs. Daniels was doing some math, at least according to my sister's 3rd grade math supplement, which we picked up at the local teachers supply. Mrs. Daniels ordered 63 tables and 7 chairs for a banquet. Each table will have the same amount of chairs. How many chairs will be at each table?

I sincerely hope Mrs. Daniels is purely fictional. Even so, I wish her luck, cutting up those chairs, and seating any guests at her sorry banquet.

Oh, the joys of moronic story problems! I can see my brother now, doing, probably 4th grade work.

"I bet the answer to this problem's wrong!"

Mr. Garcia is going to tile an area which is 6ft. by 4ft. with square tiles which are five inches across. How many tiles will he use?

My brother, having recently observed the tiling of our entry hall, dutifully worked out the tiles he would need. Knowing my brother, he probably also laid out in his mind all the necessary cuts. It took him awhile. When his math sheet was finished, and corrected, sure enough, there was a discrepancy in this answer.

"Aargh! I knew it!", he fumed. "They didn't figure the grout lines!"

Always scrupulous to a tee, he never did learn to assume that an educator, writing a curriculum with children in mind, thinks little about grout lines. But today, he is sent to every tile job acquired by the general contractor he works for.

And, they usually take him awhile. But they all stand up to scrutiny.

Speaking of moronic story problems, a young friend of mine was adopted out of foster care a couple years ago. Her home life, previous to foster care, was troubled to say the least. She is a sweet, sensitive little girl, and becomes easily disturbed by "dark" content in books and movies, so her new parents try to shield her from some stories other children would find exciting.

She is behind in her reading skills, and in order to help her come up to speed, the public school she was enrolled in gave her a supplemental reading text that was not only out of reach for her abilities, but consisted overwhelmingly of dismal stories of an abused earth.

Is it possible some fifth-graders have enough of their own problems, so as not to be burdened with the effects of nuclear-contamination on the nation's water supply, or the effects of industrial toxic waste on the nation's turtle population?

In my online hunt for the offending curriculum, I turned up this provocative story about what some people do with problematic stories- apparently it's called "self-censorship". I didn't know it was a sin! And, no. I do not think all school-age children need to be exposed to all stories. If a particular troubling concept really needs illumination in such a young life, someone in a trustworthy personal relationship with the child should find such text in the adult section, and share it carefully with the child.

If a large percentage of American high school students are not prepared for college academics, why should they be forced to cope with relational and emotional topics that many adults still can't handle very well?


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6:35 AM  

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