Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mr. Spock, please call home....


The New Jersey Board of Education may adopt requirements mandating that all high school students pass Algebra II and Chemistry in order to get their sheepskin.

On Monday, a few high voltage proponents of the change spoke to the NJ Assembly Education Committee.


"We are no longer at the forward front here."
Lucille E. Davy, Commissioner


Ms. Davy is the Commissioner of Education for New Jersey. She majored in mathematics as an undergrad. I assume she once had a handle on Algebra II.

She subsequently went to law school, and is now the New Jersey Commissioner of Education.

Commissioner, when was the last time you needed advanced algebra to tackle your duties?

Requiring all students to take increasingly complex courses simply because we're embarrassed that another state might have more rigorous requirements does not explain why it should be mandatory.

(I could take a cheap ad hominem shot at the redundancy in "forward front" but I fear it might lead to a mandated courses in Rhetoric 101.)

Here's a stunning mathematical fact: one out of five of our high school students are less intelligent than 80% of our student population! About 1 in 2 are below average. You could look it up.


"Business needs this. . . . Business is not
seeing the employees that it needs."

Chris Emigholz
Director of Education Policy, NJBIA


Mr. Emigholz is a lobbyist, a registered governmental affairs agent for New Jersey--Number 49-14 if you're interested. He works for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

He talks a lot. He processes numbers. He politics. He gets things done.

Let's look in his briefcase. Notepads, yes, fancy pen or two, lots of documents, a few scattered CD's, maybe even a laptop computer (or two), business cards, a Blackberry Gold, and, oh look, some mints, and, whoops...how'd did that get in there?

What you won't find, however, is a TI-83 Plus Graphing Calculator.

He doesn't need one.

Yes, Mr. Emigholz, business is not "seeing the employees that it needs"--hard to find folks who can afford to work minimum wage and raise a family here in the Garden State--but jamming every child with algorithms isn't going to make them more likely to work for less than a liveable wage.


Now, before my education friends jump all over me, I am all for pushing kids to their limits, encouraging them to explore all kinds of worlds that can only be seen through mathematics. (I must be getting strident, I keep italicizing words.) I've been accused of holding my lambs to standards, and I growl a lot in the classroom. We get things done.

Still, I managed to get through several jobs (stevedore, lab tech, warehouse checker, pediatrician, and, by golly, science teacher) and not once have I ever needed to whip out Algebra II for work. I will sometimes play with it for fun, though....shhhh.


(I did use a little chemistry when working at Laird and Company bottling apple jack and other bottled pleaures, but I took chemistry in high school because I loved it.)

If you want a child to study something perceived as irrelevant, something most adults, even successful ones, cannot do, simply to increase a potential pool of engineers who will compete with each other and keep labor costs down, then shame on you.

Here's some math for you--there are over 1.1 billion Indians alive today. China has over 1.3 billion people.

India has over 340 million kids under 15 years old. As of 2000, the United States had less than 60 million in the same age bracket. Unless you accept eugenics, the only way we're going to catch up with absolute Indian brainpower is start a Swiftian campaign of pregnancy early and often. (It would put a whole new spin on sex education.)

Would that be acceptable, Mr. Emigholz?

I have a better idea--let's mandate a logic course. Maybe then our children will make better choices than we did on who to empower in government, and no longer tolerate what passes for "reasonable" discourse in politics today.


Quotes are from "An official call for tougher curricula" in yesterday's
Philadephia Inquirer
, written by Rita Giordano

6 comments:

Tracy Rosen said...

Oh, you were in fine form when you penned, ok, typed, this one.

Chemistry?

Does that mean that I would not be considered a competent graduate in your fine state?

I never took chemistry. But somehow I have managed to land a job, one that I love and am successful at, and have even managed to wrangle myself a spot in a PhD program.

Imagine. Must've been a fluke.

doyle said...

Dear Tracy,

Thanks for the words.I got a bit steamed when I saw the quotes, and the words just flew.

If the state is going to require something beyond biology, at least Newtonian physics has some practical use--teaching chemistry, which relies heavily on mythology (in the classic sense of the word) is too much for many of my kids.

I hope the Commissioner sees your reply.

Paul said...

As a philosophy major myself, I'd be thrilled to teach a high school logic course, but I don't think the only consideration should be whether a particular skill will likely be of use in a given individual's future occupation.

For one thing, even if we grant that other states' standards are excessive in requiring a given course, it doesn't follow that your state shouldn't follow suit. If your state's students will be judged in comparison to students from those states, then it might very well be in their best interest to require them to take the courses. Much education is really aimed at acquiring credentials and, like it or not, graduates are often judged on what courses they've taken rather than on what they've learned.

Additionally, as I've argued before, shutting doors on students early on effectively shuts doors in their future. Catching up is just way too hard.

And finally, a well-taught math class really should teach kids logic anyway.

doyle said...

Dear Paul,

I'll take your thoughts point by point:

"I don't think the only consideration should be whether a particular skill will likely be of use in a given individual's future occupation."

Of course not--we agree here. A course in logic could help a student in life in general.

"For one thing, even if we grant that other states' standards are excessive in requiring a given course, it doesn't follow that your state shouldn't follow suit. If your state's students will be judged in comparison to students from those states, then it might very well be in their best interest to require them to take the courses.

If you believe a requirement is "excessive" (and by excessive I mean more than a handful of kids across a normal range of intelligence will not be able to pass it), then following another state's lead because you fear they'll be viewed as less qualified results in an escalation of credentialing craziness.

The public high school diploma tells the world you have met the the minimum standards your region has set. If you want to check credentials, look at the transcript. Forcing kids to attain higher levels of math will result in fewer kids getting diplomas, kids that would have been fully qualified for a 1980 diploma.

"shutting doors on students early on effectively shuts doors in their future.

Excessive standards effectively shut down doors--some kids will not be able to grasp some mathematical concepts, no matter how you teach them. I was never going to break a 7.6 second 50 yard dash no matter how much coach yelled (though I still managed to be captain of a couple of soccer teams, slow as I am).

And finally, a well taught math class indeed requires practicing specific forms of logic. It will not, however, serve well as a way to broadly expose logic in its varied forms. You could make a case, though, that every beginning computer course start with a crash course in Booolean logic.

Barry Bachenheimer said...

Did you find it interesting that the committee charged with "Redesigning our High Schools for the 21st Century" did not have represrntation from teachers or administrators? Instead the committee is comprised of university and business folks who see the purpose of school is to get students ready for work.

Hmmm...what happened to the Dewey approach where the purpose of school is to create productive citizens?

doyle said...

Dear Barry,

What happened indeed. I ask this question all the time.

Ironically the cloud (or whatever new word we're using this month) may not only reinvent public schools but also return them to their rightful function.

"Public" is not a four-letter word.