Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Oh, education. Jon and I probably have more discussions about this than about most in-depth topics. Tonight he read an article that essentially said that algebra, being a difficult subject and one that most people don't use in everyday life, should be dropped as a requirement in high schools because it's driving students to drop out. It also said that it could be replaced by social sciences that have a math element to them, to make math more accessible. The counter-article said something along the lines of, "Well, if you decide that algebra isn't worth keeping around, what about basically every other public education subject?"

I feel like a high school education is all about choices - giving students the tools and knowledge base to go any direction they want to after they graduate. It seems silly to drop a subject from a curriculum because it's hard (and this is coming from someone who only just figured out that math should be learned with puzzles instead of flash cards - math was ALWAYS hard for me).

However. I don't love how our high school system is so narrowly focused on English, math, history, and science. (Although I think science does it best by offering biology, physics, chemistry, etc.) I remember everyone asking me what I wanted to do in college and saying, "Well, are you better at English and history, or at math and science?" That was both limiting (establishing that I'm good at one and not the other, so I should only consider things in one direction) and vague enough to feel pretty directionless, especially when I can think of relatively few majors that have clear English-as-taught or history-as-taught roots, etc.

I kind of wish math growing up could have always been related to practical things (starting in elementary school). I will never care how many apples Sally has, but I do remember how cool it was to have to come up with an invention in elementary school. In the same vein, I wonder if people who didn't like English classes wish that English could have been presented in a more practical way with an end in mind (i.e., journalism) - to give them more of a reason to care.

But would that work? I know these kinds of classes often exist as electives, but would more kids be more successful in them if they completely supplanted the pedantic "this class is mostly about parts of speech" sort of class? Part of me thinks I would have been better at math if it had always been presented in an engineering sort of fashion - "here's what you can do with math" instead of "learn this irrelevant equation." However, the other part of me wonders if adding math to my invention project (I "invented" a new kind of fishing pole by hanging a purse over the end of Mom's old twirling baton - sue me, I forgot about the project until the night before) would have opened my eyes to the fact that I was being taught a tool with which I could actually figure out how to make an idea real, or if it would have just sucked the fun out of everything.


  1. I enjoyed math a lot more when I was doing it in the context of physics, even in a homeschooling setting. So I'm totally down with this idea.

  2. This is actually how they're teaching new teachers to teach, at least at BYU. One of the big things being stressed now is contextualization - getting subjects out of the abstract and making them relate to what's really happening in students' lives. One of my favorite examples came from an elementary-age lesson my friend was teaching. Because of what students were reading, they had to learn about good citizenship and misdemeanors. The teacher started bringing up (and asking for) examples from kids' real lives where they may have seen those things happening. She asked about playing on the playground - "Do you sometimes see people being mean to each other? What's something mean you've seen on the playground? Could that be a misdemeanor? What's an example of being a good citizen on the playground?" type of stuff. It was very well done. It can be easy-ish with teaching vocabulary, but teachers are learning how to do that more with maths, sciences, and English classes, too. (and Spanish! :)

    1. Somehow I just saw this comment. That is great. I hope most schools do that.