19 December 2013
The Real Reason American Kids Are Lousy At Math And Science? This NY Times Op Ed May Very Well Hit The Nail On The Head
Posted by Dan Satterfield
I’ve written often here about Science and education and how poorly American kids do in Math and Science compared to many other countries. I spotted this Op Ed in the NY Times tonight, and it’s well worth a read. All the money in the world will not help if we continue to send the wrong message by our actions as parents and administrators, and the first two comments are also (IMHO) enlightening.
The bigger question is what we as a society do to change the culture. I am reminded of the quote (cannot remember from who) “Each year China graduates more really smart kids, than the U.S. graduates….
In Canada a few years ago, I was relaxing at a resort hotel in the hot tub when a group of young students got in and started talking. I listened to them for a while and was impressed by their vocabulary. I asked them if they were in college, and they laughed and said, “no we are still in high school”. American high school students would never have used that level of vocabulary, and that episode convinced me that there is definitely something to those studies that show Canadian students generally rank well above American students.
So, how do we fix it? I don’t know but I do know this:
While we should have an immense amount of empathy for those who have not had the opportunity to an education, we should have the utmost disdain for anyone who celebrates the lack of one as a cultural identity or lifestyle.
As a algebra teacher in a 95% free-lunch 200 special ed, 1/3 Hmong, 1/3 Hispanic and !/3 African-American demographic…….I LOVE MY SCHOOL. We might not get a great APY score but we have multiple AP classes, teach Calculus 1 and 2, and all the sport jocks are expected to be NCAA eligible. We send most of the graduates to a 2 or 4 year college, but all we hear is how bad the education system is in America. I just shut my ears and do the best I can.
If I could change one thing, it would be a late bus so that students could stay after school and get tutoring.
Also we have had at least one Dell Scholar in the last seven years (only 100 in the country per year) and one year we had three.
Call me a Pacer 4 Life !
I worry about the implications of your statement that “we should have the utmost disdain for anyone who celebrates the lack of one as a cultural identity or lifestyle.” There is a growing body of research that shows that racial and cultural identities are closely tied to academic achievement. I agree wholeheartedly that combating stereotypes that certain groups can be identified by their lack of academic achievement is an important societal goal, but disdain is a very poor, and I would argue unproductive, way to go about it.
Empathy all the way, no need for disdain.
American school culture also puts an over-emphasis on athletics over academics. We divert time and resources into athletics at all levels of education, sending children and young adults contradictory messages about the purpose of school in their lives.
In most countries around the world sports teams are not closely associated with school.The message children get is that school is for learning, period. Sports can be wonderful for children, but they belong elsewhere – after the learning is done.
So, not sure that all is lost with the US education system, but geography matters a ton… How you are educated depends on where you live, which is ultimately related to your income… My kids spent several years in a Chicago public school – in that system I witnessed what I feel is the BIGGEST problem with our education system. It broke my heart to see first hand how it matters WHERE you are born. The US school system fails kids in poor areas. At that school, they taught to the test. Test prep started week one and didn’t stop until after the standardized tests were complete. It was an utterly useless way to educate kids. We now live in NorCal. Huge difference in what is taught. Test prep doesn’t start until two weeks before the standard testing begins. That’s it. Case in point: My son has a test tomorrow. 6th grade science exam. They’ve been learning about plate tectonics, the theory of continental drift, composition of the earth. Test questions are similar to those I gave to my COLLEGE students for their science core requirement class.
As a teacher, the reason kids struggle with math is not because of poorly manufactured standards, but really because, at the end of the day, they lack basic math skills. Not having basic math skills impedes learning at higher levels, since math is a cumulative subject. Not to mention, math inadequacies can and do spillover to other subjects, like the sciences and computing. I’ve told many parents that if they want their child to succeed in math, they have to enroll their kids in supplementary programs like Kumon. Now, if Kumon is too dry, too expensive, and too boring, there are other math programs online, most notably HugeIQ, that really work on building the essential skillset.
At the end of the day though, math is not some magical activity. Its just like learning to do anything. In basketball, you don’t move on to doing fancy plays before you learn how to do a lay up. And as boring as doing lay up drills may be, they build a skill that is essential and must be done through repetition.