Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They're blinding us with science


A report out this week shows that nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania's 11th-graders failed the state's new science test. My reaction to that is a lengthy yawn. For the vast majority of the students who fell short of the benchmarks - maybe all of them - this failure on a science test will have absolutely no effect on them later in life. When I was in junior high, I told my teachers, parents, heck, anybody who would listen, that I could pretty much guarantee that algebra, geometry and the like would be of absolutely no use to me in my adult life. I'm 50 now, and I'm still correct, despite the fact that my base of knowledge of geometry consists entirely of the ability to differentiate among circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. I'm not a math and science person, and a lot of young people aren't, either. Those who are will score well on standardized tests in those areas, and they may well pursue careers in which those segments of learning have some importance. State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak says the scores of the 11th-graders in the recent testing show that Pennsylvania needs to impose tougher graduation standards. Yeah, that's right, let's force more children out of school, prevent them from getting diplomas and perhaps cost them employment opportunities just because they didn't meet arbitrary standards in science. That's plain stupid. Here's my suggestion. Quit having your educators "teach to the test" and go back to the days (yes, the Dark Ages when I was in school) when we got a well-rounded education that put history, geography, civics and literature on the same level as math and science. A mind is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste, and with the No Child Left Behind-driven style of "education," we're wasting a lot of them.

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13 Comments:

Blogger PRIguy said...

I've never been a math person either. The advent of calculators really helped me out.

When I was in college, I had to take a variety of math classes up to pre-calculus. Pre-calculus terrified me. I was a mass communications major, but I had to have those math classes for my degree.

I was taking the final exam of my last required math class, and I used the entire time allotted. In fact, the only two people in the room for the last hour were the professor and me. With about five minutes left, I looked up and said, "Sorry about taking so long. This stuff is killing me." He asked me what my major was and I told him Mass Com. He smiled and said, "Trust me, you'll never see this crap again, nor will you ever need it." It was probably the most truthful statement I heard throughout college...haha.

I took some childhood education classes in college, and one of the things I learned is that children learn differently. There are some who respond to art, some to music, some to words, some to cold, analytical facts and numbers, and some to athletics. In other words, you can't teach every kid the same way because they don't learn the same way.

Teaching to the test, particularly when results are directly related to the amount of funding the school gets like it is here in Virginia, is producing a bunch of students who might know some facts, but they certainly don't know how to "learn." Which takes me back to my college days and the calculator. One of the professors I had didn't require us to memorize formulas. She said, "It's more important that you know where to find them when you need them," that is to say, LEARN how to look them up.

December 10, 2008 at 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only time I really needed algebra after high school was when I took the GRE standardized test to get into grad school. To be honest, I'd forgotten so much that a monkey could have randomly filled in the ovals and received the same score I did, which wasn't terrible...not great, but not entirely embarrassing.

There's got to be some kind of better way that math and science can be taught to kids who don't have a natural aptitude for it, but would still benefit from learning the basic principles of both fields. I know I was pretty cowed by math and science when I was young, and making graduation requirements tougher would have made it all the more intimidating.

Y'know, I seem to remember they were talking about toughening graduation requirements back in the 1980s when I was in high school. I'm guessing that they'll still be calling for that in 2030 or so.

--Brad Hundt

December 10, 2008 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I never mastered the "New Math" that was all the rage in the 70s!

December 10, 2008 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

When they started substituting letters for numbers, it was all over for me. And when I went to school, there was no talk about raising standards, because the standards were just fine. We got a solid, well-rounded education. That's what public education should provide.

December 10, 2008 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

I didn't think I'd ever need the math that I learned in high school... and I REALLY didn't think I'd ever need the math I sorta-kinda learned in college... and I was 99% right... However, working in market research and media consulting, EVERYTHING is about the numbers... I understand it all, and quietly laugh to myself when people at work call me "rain man" for my grasp of mathematical concepts and the ability to do basic math in my head... but seriously, I am not a "math guy" and only passed Prob/Stat in college because I promised the professor I would not take another math class and make him look bad if I passed... My point, I guess, is that some degree of mathematical competency could benefit you a LOT... Or, it could end up being a pointless occupancy of neurons. I would rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it... science, on the other hand, I feel is absolutely required in order to foster a logical and competent society... Not grad-level chemistry, necessarily, but at least a fundamental understanding of how the universe works. Without such an understanding, you end up with candidates for PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED FREAKIN' STATES OF AMERICA admitting that they do NOT believe in evolution... You also have to waste a lot of time typing the definition of a "scientific theory" (2nd grade science vocab) to dispel the argument that "It's just a 'theory'"...

I don't know how many teaspoons are in a 4 foot deep octagonal swimming pool... I don't really grasp the nuances of string theory... but I do know that I can find what number 8 is 36% of by doing 8/x=36/100 and that adam and eve did not ride dinosaurs in the garden of eden.

December 10, 2008 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

This is dumb, but the picture made me ask :-)
Do you guys wear your watch on the right or left wrist? I am right handed, but I have always worn my watch on my left wrist...

December 13, 2008 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I haven't worn a watch in decades. I notice a lot fewer people wear watches these days. If you ask them if they know the time, they check their cell phones. I don't have one of those, either. So, if you need to know the time, I'm the wrong guy to ask.

December 13, 2008 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Wow...

I feel naked without my watch... and on those days when I leave for work and realize I forgot my phone, I have to take a moment to breathe deep and convince myself that it will be ok...

We were just talking about something related to that on Friday at work... we all have blackberries, treo's, or some other some-such smartphones... we are constantly emailing or texting on them... using them to schedule appointments, going online...

I would say that the "phone" function is one of the least used features of my phone :-)

Kudos to you for not having one! Seriously... that is a different level of existence that I hope to get to some day.

December 13, 2008 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I only answer my home phone if I feel like it. I assume that if it's important enough, someone will leave a message. I've always felt that the phone is there for my convenience, and when I'm away from the house, I can manage without being constantly available via cell phone. I went to Radio Shack recently to buy a battery for my garage door opener, and as I was checking out, the kid behind the counter wanted to know if I needed a new cell phone. I told him I didn't have one and wasn't interested in having one. He asked me what I would do if my car broke down. I told him I'd walk. I couldn't have shocked him more if I'd told him I had Jesus in the trunk of my car.

December 13, 2008 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Jesus huh? I don't think I'd have room for him unless I took one of the dead hookers out...

December 13, 2008 at 8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't have a cellphone until my car broke down one morning. It broke down a half mile from a place that had a phone, but I figured I'd better "be safe." Now I don't have a land line but i use less than 10% of the minutes that come with the most basic cellphone plan I can find. I could do without a phone, but I like my internet access.

As for a watch, I stopped wearing one years ago because I was always in a place that had a clock of some kind -- home, the car, the office. When I did wear one, I wore it on my left wrist (I'm a righty), but I wore it with the face on the insise of my wrist. Why? Because when I was 16 and in love with a girl, the guy she was going with an eventually married wore his watch with the face turned in. I guess that should have been my first lesson in "appearances don't count."

December 14, 2008 at 4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rather be able to balance my checkbook and do simple math in my head by estimation that know how to calculate the volume of a sphere or find out what X equals. I had to take algebra, geometry and physics in high school, and I have not used to my knowledge used them since.

December 14, 2008 at 5:00 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Exactly. We learned to do all the basic math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, long division, etc., and that has served me well. Once we got into that 2 over X equals Y squared stuff, I almost had to laugh. I knew, even in seventh grade, that my future was not in a field that would involve math and science, and I realized what in incredible waste of time it was for me to even be taking those algebra classes. That's the downfall of a one-size-fits-all education system, and you make it even worse when you gear everything on how well the students can do on government-mandated testing.

December 14, 2008 at 10:07 AM  

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