In my last blog, I left you with the notion that I may have the answer to why we (United States) are not succeeding in the area of education, or math education specifically. In order to explain what I believe to be the crux of the problem, let me illustrate with an analogy I express to my students each year.
Step 1: I want you to take a piece of paper, and I want you to write down every single thing you do, from basic personal needs (showering, personal hygiene, etc) to every daily activity and responsibility you have (sports practice, homework, chores, hanging out with friends, etc.). If you come up with anything less than 40 things I would be extremely surprised.
Step 2: After you think you have an exhaustive list, write each item on a separate piece of 8.5 x 11 paper and crumple it up into a ball. (Please don’t get mad at me for wasting paper, I think it is a useful exercise. )
Step 3: Next, take each of your paper balls and place them into a standard 2 quart pitcher.
Summary: Most likely, if you did a good job thinking about ALL of the things you do, or are responsible for, you realize that there is not enough room to fit all of your paper balls into the 2 quart pitcher.
This is the point where great conversations can ensue regarding priorities, lifestyle, balance, goal setting, and identifying what is really important. It is a fantastic exercise in helping students to see that they only have so much time in the day, and therefore,need to make some tough choices regarding what is good, and what is best. (Perhaps it would be a great exercise for adults too. )
So, what would happen if we took this activity and applied it to the way we look at education today? It might look something like this.
United States school system priorities:
- Educate ALL students to the level that 100% of them are proficient in core subjects
- Provide social education and build social and communication skills
- Teach students how to behave in a professional and public environment
- Provide for the physical needs of neglected or less fortunate students
- Teach special education students life skills and prepare them to integrate into the real-world
- Teach each subject using a wide variety of strategies that address various learning styles
- Provide extracurricular activities for students from clubs to varsity athletic sports
- Provide opportunities for weight training and physical fitness
- Provide access to technology and education on how to use it
- Give students opportunities for individual, subject specific tutoring
- Provide counseling and social services for students in need
- Provide college counseling and career guidance
- Create a disciplinary structure that will keep students from taking away from others’ educational opportunities
- Identify individual learning needs of each student in the school, and develop an individualized plan for remediation or advancement
- Provide services for gifted and talented students
- Prepare students to be influential, globally-minded, productive citizens
- Blah, blah, blah, blah….
I’m quite certain that you stopped reading LONG before you got to the end of that list, and realistically I could add to it or be more specific, and it would literally take me days to finish.
The truth is that teachers and schools have been asked to fill in every gap that has been left in students’ lives emotionally, physically, educationally, and even spiritually.
It would take reams of paper to write everything down that society is asking schools to do. It wouldn’t be “green” or responsible of me to do so, even for an illustration.
We might fit a quarter of the paper balls into the proverbial 2 quart jug, and we begin to realize that there is little hope for fulfilling all of these goals.
I don’t know how it has happened, but somehow the American society has adopted a spectators view to raising a child. Much like the guy who screams and yells at the coaches for a struggling football team (without actually doing anything to help), society is now yelling at the schools and teachers, without really understanding what they are being asked to do, and once again they are doing very little to help the issue. Still, everyone from politicians to angry community members claim to be the experts; without having stepped foot into a classroom. People often start to throw out simplistic solutions to a situation that is far from easily solvable.
In my next few blogs, I will address some of the proposed solutions, issues with those solutions, and why asynchronous learning options like Stinky Kid Math are going to become more and more important.