School system short-changes children and society both

“…Tower of Babel, where teachers can’t understand textbooks, students can’t understand teachers, and parents and children have no idea what the other is talking about” – Cynthia Reynolds, Maclean’s magazine.

There’s no need to complicate education, no more than there is any need to assume that children are incapable of grasping ‘basic concepts’ at an early age.

When I first went to school in 1951 at the age of five, during our first year we were each given a small pouch with draw-strings in which were two dozen or so small, colourful shells which we could play with, and we were  soon taught how to count by grouping the shells together.

By the time we were seven or eight, we were given small amounts of money and the teacher set up a ‘shop’ where we could buy things, and pay for them and count our change – not bad for third or fourth grade, considering there were twelve pennies to a shilling, and twenty shillings to a pound then.

‘Multiplication tables’ were taught by mass recitation until they were firmly jammed into our heads, and we all became mathematically competent to the maximum our abilities would allow.  And around that time, we also learned how to cross the street safely, and how traffic lights worked, with streets and ‘Zebra crossings’ and ‘Belisha beacons’ all laid out on the classroom floor.  We even had a visit once from a policeman, who explained in a rather grim but kindly way that we would get squashed all over the road if we didn’t pay attention. 

It worked like a charm, although I shudder to think of the response if that were to be done nowadays.  Kids would need extensive counselling, minimum. 

“Oh mother dear, what have we here, it looks like strawberry jam.  Hush, hush, young lad, ’tis your poor dad, run over by a tram.”  Right.

It all worked very well, and although I never could figure out sines and cosines, let alone calculus, I spent my entire employed life as a clerical worker and bookkeeper.  When using an adding machine, I still have a tendency to add up the figures on the tape by sight, because I trust myself more than I trust machines. 

It’s not just that children today are being grievously short-changed when it comes to basic education, but the country as a whole, and our societal efficiency, are being very negatively impacted as well.

Time to get back to the basics!  They worked just fine then, and they will work just fine now.

Jeff Goodall.

It doesn’t add up

Toronto Sun
Christina Blizzard: March 17th, 2012

 – Parents have to teach their children basic math skills no longer taught in schools.

Maclean’s magazine had a thoughtful piece last week under the provocative headline, “Why is it your job to teach your kid math?”

Reporter Cynthia Reynolds detailed how two University of Winnipeg math professors became utterly frustrated trying to help their children with their homework.

Simple tasks, such as addition and subtraction, have been over-complicated in a misguided attempt to avoid rote learning.

It’s not just Manitoba where it’s happening.

According to Reynolds, in this province, educators are creating a “Tower of Babel, where teachers can’t understand textbooks, students can’t understand teachers, and parents and children have no idea what the other is talking about.”

Basic math functions — such as “carrying” numbers from one column to another when adding — are no longer taught, because some educators believe the concept is too difficult for kids to grasp.

Critics say higher order learning is happening far too early, at an age when kids haven’t learned the basics of math.

“Fractions are the first complex thing they have to know after basic number facts,” explains Doretta Wilson of the Society for Quality Education. Everything follows from that.

“If they don’t get those number facts, they can’t do fractions. If they can’t do fractions, they can’t do algebra. If they can’t do algebra, they can’t do calculus,” she said in an interview.

Wilson says it’s vital for math to be taught in a structured, sequential way. Kids must learn one concept before they can move on to the next.

Wilson sees the latest move towards teaching concepts rather than math basics as yet another of the pendulum swings that happen constantly in education.

Decades ago, teachers wanted to move away from practice drills needed to learn things like times tables because they were viewed as boring.

“What we did was take away the groundwork for fundamental math skills,” says Wilson.

If those math basics aren’t taught in schools, parents have to pick up the slack.

We can all tell horror stories of check-out clerks who can’t perform the simplest addition and subtraction.

When my kids were in school, I can remember the frustration I felt when they’d come home with homework they hadn’t been taught how to do.

I was able to help them with simple tasks, but reporters are notoriously poor mathematicians.

If my ex-husband hadn’t been good at math, they’d never have learned complex concepts.

We got to the point where we hired math tutors, at great expense.

I often wondered if this entrenched a form of classism in education.

What happens to kids whose parents only went to Grade 8, and who can’t help teach their youngsters? What happens to kids whose parents can’t afford tutors?

Some elementary teachers are not math specialists and have difficulty teaching the topic.

That’s a good argument for putting grades 7 and 8 in high school, where there are specialist math teachers.

Another notion that was fashionable when my children were at school said children whose parents were involved in their education were more likely to succeed.

You have to turn that one on its head.

Parents who are involved in their children’s education are probably better educated to start with, are middle class and can provide their kids with every support and advantage.

They tend to be pushy and demanding with schools when it comes to their children’s needs.

Schools should ignore such parents and keep them out of the classroom.

Teachers should teach every child as if their parents are uneducated and unable to help them at home.

It’s odd how school boards view themselves as agents of social engineering. They see teachers as “co-parents” of their students.

Apparently, they also see parents as co-teachers.

Here’s how it should work:

Teachers teach.

Parents have responsibility for everything else.

Now go figure.

See original here.

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