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Harro Penk

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Reduce the number of classes and refocus on fundamentals: Math, Science, and Language.

Modern students in America are bombarded with many class choices. It seems that we try, unsuccessfully, to turn our students into a swiss army knife of sorts, i.e. exposed to all kinds of various topics. Everything from basket weaving to ping-pong, with an equal sprinkle of math and science thrown in just so we can still call it a "school" instead of a playground.

I propose the following: Extend the time spent on Math, Science, and Language to 70-90 minutes. Get rid of classes that simply don't have a place in PRIMARY education (photography, art, music, etc). Focus our kids on the important subjects early on with a boatload of exposure to them, so by the time they enter High School they will have mastered Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, Writing, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking, and Scientific Principles.

Now, let me also expand on this and say that I don't advocate cutting out music, art, etc completely. But they should not be given equal time to the fundamentals. They should be incorporated as learning tools - for example using music and sound in science class. Using art in math, performing plays in language classes, etc.

I don't know if things changed in the last 30 years, but I very much remember many of my peers choosing one class or another simply because the workload was easier or the expectation was that the class would provide ample "nap time".

This proposal would create a highly focused early education, which would provide kids with more time on the fundamentals, expose them to critical thinking as they would connect fundamentals with applications in the real world, reduce the variety of teachers and all the costs associated with that, (perhaps) reduce the school day, reduce the number of materials needed to support classes (books, presentations, technology, etc).

Any thoughts? Good/Bad idea?

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    Jan 8 2012: Maybe instead of turning one child into a "Swiss army knife" the options are there so that different children can better themselves in their own niches.

    While yes, I agree that everyone needs fundamentals, let's face it, most people don't really require algebra, trigonometry, AND calculus. If you haven't given people the fundamentals by grade 9, maybe 10, then something is screwy with the system. (Which it is.)
    • Jan 10 2012: Gisela,You make a *fantastic* point. Somewhat tangent to my underlying thoughts, but you definately exposed an important nerve in your comment. "We don't all need algebra, trig, and calc". But we should have at least as many varying subjects in math as we have in art?! We should have a semester for each of the various levels of statistics. Several semester courses on the various levels of geometry. Maybe a class in "geometry in architecture and art". Maybe a class in "the science of sound" instead of "percussion instruments I, II, and III", or a series of photography courses.You do agree that we need the fundamentals, and I can't imagine anyone successfully arguing the opposite. But that exactly hits the nail on the head. Our kids don't have a grasp on those same fundamentals you're mentioning. Those fundamentals aren't taught in that semester or two that they're on the curriculum. I spent about 5 months on algebra, and the other 3 on "other" math subjects my 1st year in the US. And then, the next year, we pretty much did the same. Contrast that to my experience in Germany. I spent 2 whole years with the same Math teacher on algebra, and nothing but algebra. And then 1 year on Geometry and Geometric proofs.Even now, 30 years later I can honestly look at most of my peers and "geometrically" and "algebraicly" (is that a real word?) fly circles around them. Most couldn't tell you the difference between a circle's diameter and tangent line or recite the angular relationships. I haven't taken a Math course in ages, but those fundamentals were so deeply ingrained in me that I still understand them today. And these very same colleagues of ours are now looking for a new economy, a new culture. And that's why companies are leaving our shores, and we're $12B (or more) in debt. Heck, one could probably argue that not even our leaders are good at math, although that would probably thread more on political lines than actual facts.
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        Jan 11 2012: Your syllogisms are baffling.

        "We don't all need algebra, trig, and calc. But we should have at least as many varying subjects in math as we have in art?!"

        Did I say we shouldn't offer all three types of math? Did I say we _all_ need multiple types of art? Does anything I said actually imply either of these things -- from the actual text, not from some additional premise you are pulling out of your ass?

        One of the classes I would like to see become mandatory is a rudimentary logic course (rhetoric and reasoning, specifically). I think it would help with media literacy and make for a much better-skilled population in deciphering what politicians are actually saying.
        • Jan 11 2012: Added two quotes around the 3rd sentence. Hope they help decypher my post a bit. Apologies for not including them in the first place.

          Your implication of kids bettering themselves in their own niches is a reference to allowing academic freedom, aka ... "fluff". Isn't that what we're talking about here? The fluff that right now is around music and art and non-fundamentals. That same money, effort, time that could be spent on teaching fundamentals. When you're describing a failing system by 9th and 10th grade, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Hence my proposition of reducing "fluff" and spending more time on basic, classical skills ("math, science, language") to get our students to a level where we can then "fluff" them up in High School. 4 years before entering notions of college. As much as 8 years before entering the work force. Why do we have all kinds of classes in art? Why do we have all kinds of classes in music? Is the end effect that our kids are going to be more creative (references posts by several other authors here)?

          There's some weird notion that perhaps not in this particular thread but certainly is found just about everywhere else in discussions about education: "Teaching fundamentals crushes creativity, limits children in their aspirations." Heck, maybe it causes global warming according to the teacher's unions?!

          Why do we have niches for 12 year olds? Shouldn't we have everyone that is 12 have some grasp of fundamental math, basic scientific principles, and a unifying language? How about being creative, niched, specialized, etc from 14 to 18? Wouldn't that help focus our kids and education dollars a little more?

          Another direction for thought - how many college students go into college with "general studies" or "undeclared majors" into the sophomore and junior year? There are a few colleges in the city of NY that have 4 year graduation rates in the single digits. And... yes, those are tax dollars too.
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        Jan 14 2012: Your reading comprehension is as bad as your logic. "Shouldn't we have everyone that is 12 have some grasp of fundamental math, basic scientific principles, and a unifying language? How about being creative, niched, specialized, etc from 14 to 18?"

        That's pretty much what I said. "If you haven't given people the fundamentals by grade 9, maybe 10, then something is screwy with the system."

        If you are waiting until the end of high school to have basic writing and math skills - not talking about being a specialist, but enough to do a wide array of jobs - then you are leaving it too late. Do you really think that someone who hasn't 'got it' by grade 6 or 8 is magically going to be able to acquire it in another four years? Those are years for expanding on what you've learned and both gaining depth and breadth.

        On top of that, what you're calling "fluff", I call "differentiation".

        In high school, my version of fluff was Latin (took it from grades 9 - 12 though it was slated for grades 10-13 - and despite being with slightly older students, I won 3 out of the 4 awards).

        But it's entirely latent now, I haven't had call to use it in years (though, I don't think I've ever signed a contract without striking at least one clause based on the fact that I can read legalese like plain English). It's a dead language. It's not particularly relevant or even directly useful, but it does have a wide range of tangential applications in my life.

        I didn't take a lot of art in high school, but I studied philosophy and film theory at university and the latter did have a shitload of art history & theory involved. Both of these have enriched what I do on a daily basis, even though they are not "fundamentals".

        "Another direction for thought - how many college students go into college with 'general studies' or 'undeclared majors' into the sophomore and junior year?" Who cares? I didn't even finish my BA. I got hired in my third year and never went back.

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