The world, for parents, is changing way too fast.
Who among us hasn’t pulled at the hairs on our heads over attempts to help our children with schoolwork? The kid comes home and wants help with chemistry, or geometry or, worse yet, algebra.
Algebra. Are you kidding? I didn’t understand it in ninth grade any more than I do now, after having forgotten everything I thought I learned then.
Thirty-odd years since high school, the realization of our ignorance is stunning and complete. The homework problems our kids present to us are as clear as the Hammurabi Code. There are three choices:
1. Make a sincere attempt to help.
2. Tell him or her that to help would defeat the very purpose in which the homework was given.
3. Say, “This is your mom’s specialty. Ask her.”
After experiencing these growing pains with three of my own kids, I can confidently say that options Nos. 2 and 3 work only occasionally. Option No. 1 works hardly at all.
Now fast-forward to 2007. Today we are being told that to compete in the increasingly competitive international marketplace, Minnesota students — who already seem to have been fed knowledge that did not exist in the 1970s — need more aggressive, rigorous training.
Education Commissioner Alice Seagren was in Mankato last week to tout Gov. Pawlenty’s brainwave that public schools need to retool to produce “world-class students” capable of competing with the best the world has to offer. Among other things, the initiative would require every student to take at least one year of post-secondary education while in high school. Support for advanced placement classes, career and technical courses for high-demand fields, and partnerships with business and industry would be accelerated.
Proponents of increased educational rigor make a good case, actually, in a society where too many students think Abraham Lincoln was our first president and George Washington fought in the Civil War. The workplace is indeed getting more and more technical. You can’t go into anything these days, from farming to engineering, from working in a factory to starting a business, without needing to know way more than we did when we were teenagers.
At this stage, however, there seems to be an unexplainable disconnect. Studies indicate that one-third of students entering Minnesota post-secondary institutions need remedial math. And yet, there are some educators today who want to dispense with traditional math training altogether because cheap calculators do so much of the work, anyway.
There’s also the problem of grades. Seagren says that, self-esteem issues notwithstanding, it is better for students to take a difficult class and get a “C” than for them not to take the class at all. Even if not all the knowledge sinks in, it’s better to have it than to avoid the experience.
This, of course, makes perfect sense. But I’ve got a funny feeling that there are a lot of kids out there — and more than a lot of parents — who still see the grade as an end in itself.
Ah, but so determined is Seagren that the lessons must be learned, she advocates that all eighth-graders be introduced to algebra. Yeah, I was introduced to algebra, too. I still have the scars to prove it.
Doug Wolter is Free Press night news editor and a member of the editorial board. He can be contacted at 344-6384 or dwolter@ mankatofreepress.com.
The world, for parents, is changing way too fast.
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