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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION PART 1

My son plays cello in the orchestra in middle school, and he also
takes private drum lessons. My middle daughter, who I forgot to tell
you in my last piece, just turned sixteen, has played the violin for
seven years. And my oldest daughter took piano lesson for a couple of
years, and sang in the chorus at school for a year or two. Every time
I take one of them to a lesson at a music school I find a bulletin
board with an article about how kids who study music are better math
students, and yet, for all three of my kids, math is their most
difficult subject. Maybe they don’t mean classroom math, maybe they
mean practical math. Because my son can make up a time based lie about
how long he practiced faster than any computer could hope to
calculate.
It is so hard to know what to teach your kids. I am convinced
that much of what they teach in a classic education in this country
has no real use. I’m not saying that I’m right, by the way. I’m always
open to the possibility that I may be wrong. The energy from my brain
can’t exactly light up a room. Every so often I’ll be working in or
around Washington D.C., and happen to be driven by the building that
houses the Department of Education, and I long to go in and ask some
questions. I’d love to see what skills from their early education they
are using in there.
I mean, I know that higher levels of math lead to higher levels
of math, and that if you get off the bus too early, you lose your shot
at going where that would take you. So, don’t get me wrong, I’m not
one of those people who brag about not knowing math, and think that’s
a good reason to pass my ignorance along to my children. I’m sure it
has value. I’m just not always sure what it is.
I’m sure there are studies somewhere that show that having a high
school English department that does not teach writing skills leads to
higher thinking, and better nutrition among the student population. I
just looked at a piece my daughter had written for her English class
that she had obviously not checked at all.
I said, “You need to look this over to see that it makes sense.”
“We don’t have to turn it in,” she answered, as if that was a
good reason to make no sense.
“Well, I notice it has a staple in the corner, and a heading,” I said,
“We do that for notes.” she shot back, staggeringly quickly.
I couldn’t have taught her that, that. That takes a good English
department.
Will lying serve them in adult life? I think it’s a bad idea,
but that may be a bit Pollyanna-ish of me.
I went to the principal of our high school last year. I had a
small bag of problems to discuss, and one of them was the fact that
they don’t teach writing there. His response to that was, “What do you
want me to do about it?”
Unfortunately, I hadn’t a curriculum on me, so I didn’t know what
to say, but I can tell you that, a week later, I was at the high
school orchestra concert, and the principal was there accompanying
the orchestra with his pan flute. That guy must be a goddamned
mathematician.
I kind of feel that my whole life and work are about figuring out
what is important, and therefor what would be important to teach.
Lefty loosey, righty tighty comes to mind. I’m not saying that’s it,
but it’s in the ballpark.

Comments

  1. akonopasky says:

    I’m with you! Check out the California State Education standards (http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/) — in 84 pages of English standards teachers get oh-so-specific helpful nuggets like “[students should] demonstrate control of grammar”. I used to be a writing professor and have switched gears totally in part because I think what’s important (and what’s important to teach) is a lot about how to be decent to yourself and others. Let me know if you want me to send you one of the curricula from the nonprofit I work at, Project Happiness. And I looooove listening to you on Wait, Wait and loved your book – looking forward to listening to the CD!
    -Abby

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