Friday, February 22, 2008

Geek 2.0?

Juan and I have often joked that we've set poor Luke up to hate school. With an MD/computer geek father and an English teacher/history nut mother, we're both clearly a little obsessed with learning and want to pass that on to him and his (future, someday, WHOLE DIFFERENT POST ENTIRELY) siblings. Whether or not he'll love school is something we obviously can't know yet, but hopefully he'll at least be interested in a subject or two and motivated to get good grades the same way we were.

I worry about his educational experience, though, because as a high school teacher I see every day just how much the No Child Left Behind Act is sucking fun and innovation out of our classrooms. By way of example, at every high school in our city students spend 6-8 weeks in every core class (English, Science, Math, and Social Studies) doing nothing but preparing for the state assessment test. In English we teach them to compose formulaic responses that wring all creativity out of their writing. In history they memorize dates of "important" historical events that have a decided Western/European bias. In math and science they memorize formulas and have less time for practical projects and experiments than they did pre-NCLB. In short, even students who generally enjoy school hate it from January through April because the focus is on passing the test rather than genuine learning. Things are worse on the elementary level because many schools throw certain subjects out the window entirely for weeks before a different subject test to just focus on skills needed for that test alone. No science in the weeks before the English test, no English in the weeks before the math test, etc... It's appalling.

Frankly, it worries me to think that Luke will have to deal with the repercussions of this era of "standards" in education. To be clear, I think we do need to measure student achievement in some way that doesn't involve report cards. Standardized tests are simply not enough to measure that success, though, particularly when you consider the things that a standardized test simply can't measure such as creativity, an individual's unique learning curve (since not everyone learns at exactly the same rate), and intellectual curiosity.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I am rather concerned that by the time Luke gets to school there won't be any room for the types of fun and innovative learning that Juan and I were exposed to as students, particularly in the areas of math and science. I confess that I wasn't a fan of math and science classes when I was in school. English, history, art, and drama were where my talents lay, whereas I struggled with concepts that involved numbers. I still do, as a matter of fact. Juan, on the other hand, excelled across the board in school but he was especially gifted in math and science, and thanks to some excellent teachers he decided he loved them enough to major in Biology and go on to medical school.

I want Luke to have that experience if at all possible. Not necessarily the majoring-in-biology-going-on-to-medical-school bit, but the fun and interactive math and science lessons that can really capture a child's imagination and give them insight into the genuinely cool real world applications for these disciplines. We all need to understand basic math and science principles to function in today's world, and a more advanced understanding (and passion) only helps people who have passion for those subjects. I doubt many parents or teachers would disagree with me, and yet here we are. We're losing the point of so many subjects--teaching children how to think critically rather than just memorize facts--so we can evaluate how much they're learning. In what twisted world does that logic make sense?

Hopefully the educational pendulum will have swung back in the direction of sanity by the time Luke is in school. If not, well, I guess we'll be investing in some home chemistry, biology, and practical mathematics lessons in addition to the hundreds of books we already own. It just makes me sad that we even have to think about how his education may be lacking the very things that made school so enjoyable for us.

This post was inspired by the Parent Bloggers Network's Bringing Science Back blog blast. Go to PBN and read more about it!


M said...

Oh man, oh man. I have been meaning to post about how the fun has been sucked out of even KINDERGARTEN. Even though C loves learning new things, she does not care for school.

They have to be able to write their numbers from 0-50 before they can go to first grade and are asked to practice it in a grid. She has been transposing 12 and 21 and even though we have been working on it, it hasn't quite clicked yet. Her teacher recently told me to forget about teaching her the actual numbers and work on a grid pattern so that she can pass the test. "Knowing the numbers IS important, but she has to be able to fill out the grid to go on to first grade." You should have seen the look on my face.

Ugh. I'm with you on this one. The only problem is that you practically need to be subsidizing with 1-2 hrs of work at home and they are just zapped by the time they are done at school...its going to be a big struggle.

ewe are here said...

This post make me so angry and sad at the same time. NCLB has been an UTTER failure... and, liked you point out, schools are teaching to tests, nothing more, nothing less. The long term effects of this will not be pretty.

UK isn't doing much better, btw... teaching to tests as well to meet 'standards'... very similar.