DILEMA: Too many schools and educators are demanding less of our students.
"A 1990 survey of college seniors showed 42% couldn't name the dates of the War Between the States to within half a century." - Dumbing Down Our Kids by Charles Sykes
"A typical American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra... Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I've found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn't... " - Andrew Hacker, professor emeritus Queens College
Here are three current examples of the dumbing down of America- one in English, one in history, and one in math:
EXAMPLE #1: William Chase in The Decline of the English Department (2009) notes that many schools core requirements are neglecting critical reading and are taking the passion out of books and liberal arts. As a result the relevancy and pursuit of English writing and classical reading are quickly dropping. Hopefully the Common Core Standards across content areas will help.
EXAMPLE #2: In a Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview (6/18/11) Don't Know Much About History popular author and historian David McCullough responds to the Department of Educations release that week of the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress which found that only 12% of high-school seniors had a firm grasp of American history:
|Image by Ken Fallin|
"We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate...One problem is personnel...People who come out of college with a degree in education and not a degree in a subject are severely handicapped in their capacity to teach effectively...Another problem is method. History is often taught in categories - women's history, Africa American history, environmental history - so that many of the students have no sense of chronology...What's more, many textbooks have become so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back [such as] Tomas Edison are given very little space or none at all...and they're so badly written. They're boring!
...talk about history, talk about the books we love, the biographies and histories... take our children to historic places...and teach history with 'the lab technique'[giving] students a problem to work on. If I were teaching a class I would tell my students, 'I want you to do a documentary on the building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street [The New York Public Library]. Or I want you to interview Farmer Jones or a former sergeant Fred or whatever...I'd take one of the textbooks. I'd clip off all the numbers on the pages. I'd pull out three pages here, two pages there, five pages here - all the way through. I'd put them aside, mix them all up, and give them to you and three other students and say, 'Put it back in order and tell me what's missing.' You'd know that book inside out.[Please see my recent post for great non-fiction/ history reading suggestions.]
|Image by Adam Hayes|
To our nation's shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school... Most of the educators I've talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.
Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call 'citizen statistics'...it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.
How in good conscience can or should we dumb down the curriculum because students are failing? My suggestions:***
- Much like McCullough talks about teaching history in a 'lab technique' so too should math be taught as meaningful projects and 'thinking playgrounds' (see Lockhart's Lament ) and not as wrote formula memorizing. Algebra lends itself to this kind of study - even Hacker notes algebra is used in airline ticket pricing, animated movies and investment strategies - let's teach using these meaningful examples as algebraic 'labs'.
- Many are failing high school algebra because they have not mastered long addition and multiplication. We must make sure our students have mastered the basics.
- Eliminating algebra or making it optional will restrict math-phobics (who opt out of algebra) from many careers. It also models a 'cop-out' strategy - something we definitely do not want to teach or reinforce. High school students are not ready to make those decisions nor are they ready to be hindered from such consequences. Instead we must teach to various learning styles while raising (not lowering) demands and expectations.
The bottom line: Stop the dumbing down of our students. Raise the bar don't eliminate it because it's hard or because kids fail. Observe WHY they fail and address student needs (are they visual or verbal learners, do they have short attention spans - teach in shorter 'bits', use teaching multiple modes and examples of a particular content), but don't eliminate algebra or educational options because they're too challenging.
And while I mean no insult to Miss South Carolina Teen (who I am sure was incredibly nervous when responding to her question which probably effected her response), we certainly don't want to raise inarticulate students who can't locate US States, or recall when the War of the States occurred. And, if we were to follow Dr. Hacker's suggestions - would we make geography and map-reading optional?
What do you think?
Thanks for your visit and please share your perspectives in the comments.