Monday, October 27, 2008

Raising the bar in New Jersey

New Jersey has a plan.

New Jersey has a plan to require all students to take pass chemistry, to pass Algebra II, to be ready for college or the workforce.
In order to ensure that students succeed in college level courses without remediation, or they are ready to enter the workforce to learn job-specific skills, their preparation must be the same.
No, it need not be.

I do not need to know quadratic equations to fix pipes, teach history, repair a car, enforce the law, raise chickens, sell appliances, lay down asphalt, write a book, practice medicine, or put out fires.

And while the pursuit of higher education can be useful beyond the "MAKE MORE DOLLARS!!!" mentality, not everyone benefits by going to college.

I happen to love clamming. Maybe I'll pursue it professionally someday. I bet I learned everything I need to clam (and be happy) by the time I finished 8th grade.

The vision statement of the NJ STEPS starts with a lovely sentiment:
New Jersey will educate all students to prepare them to lead
productive, fulfilling lives.

My mistake was interpreting "productive, fulfilling lives" to mean the students' lives--turns out our job is to produce "productive" workers "fulfilling" orders for the lives of others.

A couple of years ago, I had a nice chart with Dave, my apple farmer friend. Dave is bright, and he knows a lot (they're not the same thing). He is a self-educated man, or rather, a man educated by great minds without the filter of an "expert." I've had a few Daves in my classrooms--my hope is not to turn off their curiosity.

Dave never turned off his curiosity, and as a result never finished high school.

Dave knows a lot more than just about anybody else I know who did happen to finish high school. And college. And post-graduate programs.

A lot of somewhat bright people with shiny degrees developed an economy based on derivatives and other types of peripheral madness (if you define madness as no basis in reality).

In my chat a couple of years ago, Dave pointed out the obvious--the economy was rising on an empty house of cards.

Farmers have a bad habit of reducing economics to tangibles--food, water, energy, love. OK, the last is not so tangible in economics, but it's certainly tangible in his home.

"Mike, it's all based on [excrement]. It can't last."

It didn't.

An economy based on its citizens buying (on credit) things they don't need (or even want) could not survive if Dave's approach to life ever took hold again in this fine land.

Dave, of course, was right. And just as his family has survived a few other recessions in their 160 years on the same acres, they'll survive this one as well.

Farming's based on shit, too. At least it used to be.

I want every person pushing for high school students to have a working knowledge of quadratic equations (which is what you're asking for in Algebra II) take the American Diploma Project Algebra II test.

A little rusty? Drop $500 and take a review course.

"But I'm a Senator/doctor/lawyer/teacher/plumber/mayor/candlestick maker....I don't need to know this stuff."

Now tell a 17 year old kid he needs to pass a course the POTUS couldn't pass with a calculator stuffed into every one of his silk-lined pockets.

This is not a diatribe against education, the elite--we have FOX news for that.

A few students have the tools and the drive to become fine scientists and mathematicians, and they need all the love and support we can give them (both of which can be found in most public schools).

The funny thing about the top, say, 1% of the population in intellectual ability--it excludes, by definition, the other 99%.

We cannot all be there.
Nor need we be.

The photo is stolen from Bill Bynum's site--buy the CD. Dave is picking up Dobro tips from Mogli.


Louise Maine said...

I needed Algebra at several points along the way but unfortunately had to relearn it at that point. I still don't understand what I needed to learn it for. My son was just complaining about why he needed to know the associative principle in Algebra I.

I would rather he be able to use Algebra to determine if he ever will be able to afford a loan for a house on a given salary.

As part of our CFF grant, we are taking a class on Inquiry - do you think any of the math teachers will get it? But even if they do, how do we get around the absurd State determining what everyone can do? I have 45 of my students at a 3rd - 7th grade reading level (they are 11th graders). They cannot handle chemistry let alone algebra II. We go very slow. I ask them to think, research, reason, question... I am hoping that they think on their own when they leave. What has happened in our society has been marketed to them. Flimflam schemes, buying things you can't afford, ridiculous rates for cash advances...

doyle said...

Algebra's fine--even occasionally useful. (Being useful does not translate into being possible to do for 100% of our students, but I can see why it's worth knowing, especially for loans and such.)

NJ wants Algebra II taught.

Quadratic equations matter for some, but not for most.

The flim-flam schemes worked even among the very bright among us. Our governor (Jon Corzine) used a chunk of the pension funds to invest in Lehman just a few months ago.

And congrats on your Google University acceptance!