Column #32, posted March 18, 2007

Now I am Disgusted

Usually I am simply angry about the state of American education. Now I am disgusted.

I attended a meeting of philanthropists last week whose main concern was math and science education in the U.S. People who had achieved ”success” in math and science education were brought out to show their wares. They told of how they got math scores to be higher and how they helped kids “prepare for college.” So, of course, knowing that all this rests on the assumption that drilling kids for tests is useful – when no adult actually could pass any of these tests - or that college life requires geometry or trigonometry, which it never does (or at least shouldn’t), I was my usually angry. But then…

The lunchtime event included 10 kids in uniform who were marched on stage and began to sing. A little entertainment I thought – too bad they look so uptight. But then the song…

They sang a song about multiplication. It seemed to go on forever and listed every multiple of every number up to 13 or so. The kids were very excited to be singing this song. Then the kids were asked questions.

Was this a good way to learn? --A resounding “Yes!”

Did they like working longer hours and on Saturdays? –“ Oh yes!”

Did they like the system that this school employed that meant that no lesson was completed until the weakest student had mastered this lesson?

“Oh yes!”

I wanted to ask them if they were allowed to express actual opinions in this school. I wanted to ask if whenever they actually multiplied did they have to sing the whole song to themselves? I wanted to ask them if they felt like killing the dumb kids and how they coped with the boredom of this school. I wanted to ask them if they realized that memorization, apart from the multiplication table, basically is unnecessary throughout life?

But, I didn’t. I was too sick to ask anything.

This is an example of a very successful school. Why is it successful? Because these kids get into college at a better rate than their peers in other schools. The fact that this same effect would probably occur if these same kids were paid attention to and allowed to think for themselves was not mentioned.

We are producing robots and proud of it. More money for math and science test passing!

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