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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 6 2012: An interesting suggestion but warrants more research. Studies suggest that the time learning should be of high quality not quantity. Kids do not retain more given more time. They retain given the quality of the input suggesting that more time is not the answer. From my perspective, I want to spend time on my strengths and interests. Success breeds success. The problem with current school system is that they are constrained to teach to a students weakness. Teaching to meet testing standards. If I am a poor reader and writer, I have to spend less time on my strong subjects and more on my weakness. Remedial work lowers interest and overall intelligence by focusing too much on what student are not good at. Think of a jeep on a race track or a ferarri off road. Not the right fit. Look into Harvard Professor Howard Gardeners multiple intelligences theories. Fascinating material suggesting that we are all capable of quality learning if the input is not in conflict with our inherent intelligence. For example, Michael Jordan was lousy at reading and writing but superior in kinesthetics. I.M Pi is gifted visually and spacially and with math but not the written word. Einstein as well. No gift for sitting at a desk learning to read and write. He flunked out of school. All the hours in the day spent on reading and writing would not make a difference. Let him spend time on his interests of math and science and the quality value shoots to the moon. Look at the contributions he made. Stephen King, self professed that he cannot balance a check book. Richard Branson cannot read or understand his many companies financial statements.

    Just imagine what a tremendous impact schools would have on society if they were able to teach to a students individual abilities and strengths. much greater productivity and far less troubles, Kids would want to go to school.
    Teach to a kids weakness and all falls, teach to their strengths and the weaknesses will rise, pride too.

    Quality not quantity
    • Jan 6 2012: Good points Andrew, but fundamentally flawed. You point at a few focused studies. My perspective comes from my personal observations, having had the first few years of study in Germany before coming to the US, and from a multitude of data that seems to pour in from all over the world, i.e. how our kids are simply not competitive anymore.

      Look at some college campuses. Ever notice that there are more and more foreign students enrolled in the US? Ever talk to a college professor about the quality (or lack thereof) of our High School Graduates? The average High School Graduate, after 7 hours * 5 days /week * 32 weeks / year * 12 years = 13,440 hours of schooling still sucks at basic arithmetic, can't do word math problems correctly, can't figure out basic science problems, and have trouble with basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

      Call me crazy, but I'm *pretty sure* that sports, music appreciation, painting, photography, wood shop, and all kinds of other niche "arts-and-crafts" type courses aren't going to resolve any of that. I've listened to too many silly studies that proclaim that listening to classic music will turn someone into a math genius, or that kids need to be exposed to every possible facet of our society.

      Kids make up their mind about what they'll become sometime between age 16 and age 24, not between age 6 and 16. We are a sum total of our experiences. But...if those experiences are finger painting and etch-a-sketch until we're 16.... well, no wonder we still can't multiply 12x12 without the help of Siri...?!
      • Jan 9 2012: Haro,
        You missed my point and you obviously have not researched this very deeply or you would find that there are hundreds if not thousands of studies that are inline with my thoughts. You assume that kids don't want to do anything but arts and crafts. Wrong. All kids inherently want to learn. We as a species are wired to direct our learning toward our curiosities. Observe any child at play, in the woods, at a beach, in their back yard or with a box of legos. Most will be focused on something of interest to them. I watched several children on the beach last summer completely focused on a tide pool. They spent several hours, until the tide rose, fully consumed in that square yard of life observing, experimenting and playing. I know that opportunity exists in those moments when their brains are most open to learning and believe that retention will be at its greatest.. People have a predisposition to excel where their interests lay. Haven't you been so engrossed in a book that you couldn't put it down? I will wager the book was not war and peace. Read up on the methods of the best private schools or simply their mission statements. The majority that their goal is to find where a childs interest lay and expand upon it. Look to experts like Dr Mel Levine, Dr Sally Shawitz,Dr Howard Gardener. Gardener has developed the multiple intelligences theory which explains this as fact after decades of observation. Evaluation of his theory is significant so much to the point that many private schools have developed highly successful curriculum based upon his theories.

        I I believe that current methods in the public system are at fault. Teaching to standardized tests is where the greatest flaw resides. So much time is spent on rote memory rather than experiental learning. I look back on my education and the most prevelant memories are from my hands on classes like biology, chemistry, photography etc..

        Experiential education takes time but has a far greater impact
      • Jan 9 2012: Lastly, you ignore the fact that in many countries students are distributed to schools that are more focused to their aptitudes. You use Germany as an good example. Students there are segregated at the age of 10 by their strengths. They are transfered to focus programs. (sound familiar?) Science. Language, Math, Tech and, yes, Art. Each year after, their education is further refined until college. I have German relatives who complain about that system too. Students may graduate with excellence in math and science but are dismal with language. In the US, kids have to succeed in all areas of study in order to graduate.

        In conclusion, the current US public school system did work but is now a half century behind business. It is innefective in most cases. There are exceptions. However, we are falling farther behind the developed world. Attitudes of most students is terrible. Until we reach kids where their interests lay, we will continue this decline.s Change is on the horizon as more choices become available. There are amazing statistics appearing that suggest students continuing on from public focus/charter schools and home school are as successful in college as those hailing from private schools. Also suggested is that a greater percent of these kids persue higher education.

        Maybe the specialization of the school system isn't such a bad idea. Privatization is a great model. Supply and demand, succesful systems will thrive and the bad will vanish.

        What are your thoughts?

        Thanks

        Have a great day
        • Jan 11 2012: Andrew, my experiences in Germany propelled me to the top of my classes here in the US. I'll never forget the first few times my American teachers called me to the blackboard for some math problems, specifically geometry and algebra. It's been 30 years, but I still can picture how flabbergasted their faces looked when they saw my scribbles on the blackboard. In retrospect, I believe that they may have tried to point out the superiority of the American education vs. what they probably thought of where I came from. Aside from making a "1" look like a "7", i.e. German script vs. American script, I think they didn't teach me a thing I didn't already know for the first 2 or 3 years. That's scary. I completed 7th Grade in Germany and began 8th Grade in the US. By 7th grade, I was years ahead of my American peers. That was Long Island, NY, and upstate NY, not some "hick-town" USA. Good teachers, good programs, good schools. And they sucked compared to my little Kreis-Gymnasium Heinsberg, which is located out in the deepest cow-infested corner of Germany near the Dutch/Belgian border. And, let me add this: I certainly wasn't the best student in Germany. Honestly, I believe this is a little more than anecdotal in quality. In fact, my opinion was confirmed a couple of years later when a foreign exchange student from Germany befriended me in one of my math classes near the end of High School (jr or sr year). He too didn't learn a thing here. He, again, was ahead of the class and ahead of me, as by then I had become fully integrated with the course work here in the US. He had been doing Calculus and high level Statistics when he came over. We were starting to learn Trigonomety. Think about that for second. He was going to enter university with several years of exposure to calculus! Calculus wasn't even offered in my (american) school! But hey... I had a huge choice of art and drawing classes, music, and home ed courses, which he didn't have.
        • Jan 11 2012: In Germany, there were two sets of choices. First, just like you pointed out, beginning with 5th grade students are classified into 3-4 groups: Gymnasium, Real Schule, Hauptschule, and Sonderschule, which, roughly, classify kids from University-bound down to special education, respectively. Secondly, at regular intervals, i.e. beginning with 5th grade and then again at 7th grade (for Gymnasium students), students are put on various foreign language tracks. I had 3 years of English and one year of French by the end of 7th grade. I believe Real- Sonderschule students may not even have that, i.e. only one foreign language. In terms of focus programs? I have no clue what you're talking about. There was a chess club. Most schools had chess clubs.Here, it was/is a little different. There are 20 or so art classes to choose from, including the prerequiste/corequisite courses. A lot of technology courses. A bunch of programming courses (my schools had close associations with IBM). A zillion gym classes to choose from. Social studies, health, etc. And don't get me started on afterschool sports/clubs/activities. It was a wonder I knew where to go half the time. You can't imagine my perplexed look the first time I had to deal with a "school locker". Little things. Here, we have so many classes that you end up with so many books (books on how to paint and take photos and turn clay pots), that you can't carry them all at the same time. I never had that problem in Germany. I had 7 periods and kept all my books in a "ranzen" which I carried around. Teachers came to our classroom, not the other way around. My notebooks were the size of a thin paperback magazine (Germany), not the size of of a phone book (US). I think just the savings in books could make a reduction in "extraneous" classes worthwhile. Think of the trees we'll save.

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