Friday, January 25, 2008

If I Ran the School

My Teacher Sees Right Through Me

I didn't do my homework.
My teacher asked me, "Why?"
I answered him, "It's much too hard."
He said, "You didn't try."

I told him, "My dog ate it."
He said, "You have no dog."
I said, "I went out running."
He said, "You never jog."

I told him, "I had chores to do."
He said, "You watched TV."
I said, "I saw the doctor."
He said, "You were with me."

My teacher sees right through my fibs,
which makes me very sad.
It's hard to fool the teacher
when the teacher is your dad.

by Bruce Lansky
If I Ran the School

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pourquoi l’Ecole?

In case you're thinking that North America has the monopoly on the education crisis, think again. Professor Ralph A. Raimi of the University of Rochester has, in a labor of love, translated an essay by the French mathematician, Laurent Lafforgue.

The following is excerpted from "Why the Public Schools?"

That parents should go so far as to remove their children from school, to teach them themselves, at home, or to form parallel classes for them in which they, themselves, are the teachers, to prefer a school to which they must pay the fee to the free public school, or to impose on their children and themselves the burden of a night school added to the day school they consider to be nothing but a holding pen, all this became and remains for me a theme of profound dismay. And I notice as well that these are surely the parents who enjoy a high level of education and – for those who can pay the fees of a private school – of income. And then I think of the other children, who do not have the benefits of having been born into families similarly favored.

Since we have said that it is necessary for us to make choices, let us look for some hints or directions that would help us to choose what must be taught. But look, we already have them in the definition we have just read – a definition much more helpful, to tell the truth, than what one may read every year and every month, as penned by those who govern our national Education system.

For years now, these last have placed at the top of their page that the school must no longer teach “knowledge”, as the dictionary has it, but “competencies” and “skills”. Just a few days ago, a member of the Academy of Sciences who specializes in education wrote to me that in school “one acquires abilities, such as thinking skills”. Well, yes, Mister Academician: in school one acquires, or rather ought to acquire, the ability to think. But, contrary to what you prescribe, only knowledge, not thinking, should appear in the curriculum. For thinking cannot be taught.

What can be taught are the words, the vocabulary, the verbs, the conjugations which render thinking possible and which give it form.

What can be taught are the rules of grammar, which provide a considered mastery of the language, that open the way to the rich language of books and to the precise, structured and abstract language of the sciences, which are the introduction to logic – that basic logic which is today so lacking among the majority of today’s university students.

What can be taught are the organized forms of reasoning such as: in mathematics, the careful writing out of the solution of prosaic problems in arithmetic, and later of proofs;

What teaches is still the culture, the knowledge of those great works which will become the material for thought.

What teaches is still and forever that well defined knowledge that is the means and the conditions of thought, but not thought itself.

Mister Academician, Ladies and Gentlemen who have brought our school to where it now is, have you ever asked yourselves if it is possible for a teacher to say to his students, “For tomorrow, you will learn how to think”? Thinking, like all other aptitudes, is only cultivated laterally, indirectly; one doesn’t teach in the hope of developing it except in looking at it from the side while speaking of other things infinitely more modest and infinitely more precise.

In the definition of the verb “to teach” given us by the dictionary, one must presume that the student “assimilates” the transmitted knowledge. The student must assimilate the knowledge as an organism assimilates food, and not at all the way a computer receives a program. What the verb “assimilate”, with its underlying metaphor of nourishment, is saying is that a student is not a machine but a living being.

This is an extremely important point, one too much forgotten by the technocrats of education imbued with a scientistic vision of man, something they reduce to a mechanism whose functioning is something that needs governing. It is this vision that has made possible the domination of the schools of education by the so-called “sciences of education”. It is also what leads to the incessant questioning of whether what is taught in school will be useful in later life.

-- Laurent Lafforgue, Why the Public Schools?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Protractor Passion

My kids usually get pretty excited when a package is dropped off at the door. Now that Christmas is over it's practically a mob scene because it's a rare happening.

Well today we received a package. Of course, they wanted to know what it was.

We opened it right up to find it filled with protractors of different types and sizes. You'd think it was filled with candy and video games they were so besides themselves with joy.

It warms my heart.

I'm raising three little nerdy kids who find great happiness in mathematical tools.

You gotta love it!