Friday, November 13, 2009
One Size Fits All
I got an e-mail asking me to look at this video and give my thoughts, which I did. But, I've been thinking about it since, and I am not sure what I answered was even totally what I believe.
For those of you who don't want to watch the video, I'll summarize it here. Ted believes that everything we teach in math leads to calculus, the top of the math pyramid. He believes that instead of calculus, we should put probability and statistics, which are more useful and more interesting at the top. While I do agree that these two subjects are more useful and interesting, I'm not sure there should be a top at all.
This semester I am teaching a four term algebra course. The problem, as I see it, is that most of these kids do not see either of these subjects as the top of their pyramid. Some are struggling just to master the basics needed to pass the regents and get their diploma, some are not even doing this much and opening a book is too much effort for them.
The whole "one size fits all" education philosophy is the biggest obstacle to education today. Until people like Obama wake up and realize that not everyone is meant to go to college, nothing will change. We are all born different and have different strengths and weaknesses. Until we start embracing these differences and building on individual strengths, nothing will change. We need to value the person who cleans the toilets as much as the lawyers and doctors that use them. Making them shine is a skill that I and I am sure Obama does not have.
The other problem with education, as I see it, is that we don't teach critical thinking, we only teach the mechanics of problem solving. Even my top students break into a sweat when I ask them to think outside the box. But, even as I write this and think about my own education, I realize that critical thinking was sorely missing then too. It was only after I started teaching that I finally understood why things worked out the way they did. It was only after I had to teach a class how to factor that I understood the rational behind what I was doing.
Ted makes some great points in his video but, Ted is a college professor and a performer. I don't know if Ted teaches any remedial classes or if Ted has any real concept of how lacking today's students are in the field of mathematics. If he really wants to change math education in this country, he needs to start at a much lower level than he is presently talking about.
I'm sure the person who e-mailed me this video would appreciate others opinions. Any comments left will be greatly appreciated.