Imagine for a moment that you are a kindergarten teacher. Today you are going to begin an educational assistance program for your students and they’re going to love it. (As we all know, “they’re going to love it” is the best way to judge the effectiveness of pedagogical techniques.) It’s even easier than all the hard stuff associated with memorizing and learning.
Here is the plan: you are going to shoot each student up three times with heroin. Although you know that this won’t help them developmentally, your professors told you that heroin is the best way to motivate student learning. As long as the kids’ teachers continue to give them heroin through the years, students will learn anything you give them. If you stop injecting the heroin, they won’t learn anything.
Let’s have an honest show of hands: how many of you wish school had really been like this? Sounds fun, doesn’t it? (Legal Disclaimer: don’t try this at home.)
Unfortunately, we all know that heroin does not assist learning even though withdrawal from any drug (including alcohol) can cause a person to lose knowledge or skills gained while under the influence. The same goes for the incessant boosting of the students’ self-esteem and curricular dumbing-down. It starts early, so teachers of older kids run the risk of losing their students’ cooperation if they don’t coddle them. These teachers are informed that the student audience has changed; this is coupled with demands that teachers change their methods to “adapt” to the new student shortcomings. I don’t mean to imply that everything was perfect in Education Land 75 years ago, but these demands miss the mark. To see why, let’s go back to Kindergarten:
You just gave your kindergartener a shot of vodka today and he’s a little dizzy. What’s the solution? Correct! You give him another shot of vodka.
Now he’s throwing up, but he likes the taste and wants more vodka. What do you do? You guessed it! Two more shots!
And the little boy passes out in a puddle of his own vomit. When he wakes up in the morning, you tell him that you’re proud of him because he handled the vodka very well. He asks for more, so of course you’re supposed to give it to him. You might as well hand him the whole bottle because he’s just so talented.
An hour later, his liver has decided that this isn’t funny and it’s no longer functioning. Junior is now a dazzling shade of yellow. (It makes him look so handsome!) Unfortunately, you’re out of vodka so you decide to go see a doctor to ask about Junior’s lack of hand-eye coordination. But you’re not looking for real medical help because you already know the right answer: a prescription for vodka!
And so it goes with inflating students’ grades and self-esteem while ignoring their reduced skills and ever-shortening attention spans. The solution parents demand, the one colleges demand of professors, and the one students expect is MORE VODKA! Um… I mean more dumbing down and more fueling of students’ self-esteem.
I think we can all see how that turns out. In the end, the self-esteem addicts face the same results as the heroin addicts and alcoholics: their brains are fried.
The only place it’s politically incorrect to call someone a dummy is in the classroom. Just go to the bookstore and find the “For Dummies” book series. Outside of our educational institutions, people often have a sense of humor about what they’re good at and what they’re not, even if they’re a little sensitive about it. I think it’s time for us to permit this kind of forthright honesty in our classrooms.
Therefore, I would like to propose a course called “Pre-Algebra for Dummies.” If you don’t know what entering college students can do these days, you can’t understand how much this course is needed. Pre-Algebra is normally a course that is taught in Junior High, but I think we can redefine it so that it fits the needs of today’s students. “Pre-” means “before,” and today’s kids need just about everything they were supposed to learn before Algebra: long division, multiplication tables, calculating averages, etc. If we wanted to be really thorough, we could add some lessons like “I am not the center of the universe.” The only problem is that their parents haven’t figured that out yet. (Stupidity is obviously hereditary.)
But you may object! Many students won’t need math in their professional lives and giving them a Pre-Algebra course in college will make them feel stupid.
First news flash: they can feel stupid now or they can feel stupid later, but they will feel stupid sometime. I wonder how many people wouldn’t have had to suffer through a foreclosure if they could have understood the math behind the exploding ARM and other financial arrangements they were making. You can’t dumb a mortgage contract down to such a low mathematical knowledge base. However, you can make ignorant people feel good about an unwise decision that lets them “own” a house.
Second news flash: Even English teachers need to know how to calculate an average. Their students will make them feel stupid if they botch that. Trust me; students are fantastic at math when it comes to getting every last point they think they deserve.
Third news flash: Math majors from some universities (including state flagships) are not sufficiently proficient in math to teach the subject in middle school. I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere, but it looks like the joke’s on the 13-year-olds.
Fourth news flash: The only way you’re getting these kids through a “college-appropriate” math course without this extra preparation is to inflate their grades beyond all recognition. Oh, wait… you’re doing that already.
Fifth news flash: You’re a dummy if you think protecting the kids’ self-esteem now will help them in the future, psychologically or professionally. Just please don’t report me to the college’s diversity office for calling you a dummy. From now on, I promise to respect and celebrate people of all intellectual capabilities.