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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 11 2012: I was struck by your comment because of a video I recently viewed on TED by Ken Robinson in which he talked about how schools stifle creativity by way of reduction in arts programs. I agree with this and would not like to see future generations creativity lacking because of something that could be so easily fixed.

    Clearly this implies that I was glad to see you mention that we shouldn't entirely disband the arts programs, also, because of the enjoyment a lot of kids get out of these classes perhaps it would be wise to require that a student maintains a certain grade level in order to take higher level courses of these classes. This would create an internal incentive for the students to do well in the fundamental courses in order to join and enjoy these classes.

    Clearly the above requires fine-tuning to be useful and more fair.

    Also, I disagree with your entire final paragraph. If anything I feel school days should be lengthened, at least, if they are to remain the same, the students should be expected to do more homework. I honestly feel like many schools are too lenient with the quality and quantity of student's work. The issue is certainly not only within the school or the children themselves, but us as an entire society. We should work on being more strict about our children in schools, that is, not being alright with C+ work. We should also emphasize the mindset that people are not simply born more intelligent (though it obviously plays a role in it) but that anyone can do just as well when they are willing to put forth the effort and work hard.

    I apologize if any of these ideas or issues have already been raised and confronted.
    • Jan 11 2012: Someone will advocate for whatever when decisions are made to reduce or eliminate something. Ken Robinson, of course, is no different. If we were to discuss making laws that will reign in Wall Street, I bet that we'd see commercials on TV extolling the virtues and all the wonderful jobs that get created whenever Wall Street gets to do whatever they want without any Government restrictions. When we want Landmines removed from our arsenals, we'll see Generals parade up and down Congressional hearings to tell us how they "save lives". When we want clean gases to spew out of industrial chimneys, we'll hear all about how all those healthy residents are now going to have to pony up higher taxes to help pay for those filters.


      The idea that creativity is born in fingerpainting and kite-flying is nonsense. Creativity is born in all kinds of things. It is born in the engineer that goes to the model shop to build a new bracket for the servo he's about to install. It's in the secretary that learned a new feature in MS Word to help her line columns up in her report. It's in the kid that's staring at a geometry proof, trying to find the logical steps that get him to show that the angles are indeed right angles. It's in the student that is trying various iterations of code to get his program to run correctly. It's in the kid that is trying different sequences of adding single digits to add those five 6-digit numbers together. It's in the teacher that is using a smart-board to bring video and sound to a 40-year old chemistry presentation.

      Budgets tend to be fixed. You can try to get creative (see $14B federal deficit), but in the end you have to fit so much into so many dollars. And yeah, when a school has to cut something, they need to look at their programs. Cut math, or cut music? Cut football, or cut the yearbook? If Ken can only point at "creativity" as a reason for keeping arts, let me ask this.... why do we have it in the first place?

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