27 May 2006

Demon Math

This Michigan sociology instructor is up in arms because the governor is proposing a law that requires all high school graduates to pass four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, and two years of foreign language. According to him, this amounts to "demonising" teenagers, and will result in far fewer of them being able to obtain high school diplomas.

The latter may be true, but if the law passes, a high school diploma may, for the first time since the 1950s, actually have some value. Granted, there are many teenagers (this teenager would have been among them) who would insist that any forced study of English, science, or (especially) math constitutes a form of satanic ritual abuse, but teenagers have seldom been the best judges of what they should learn (or eat, or drink, or wear, among other things), which is why, presumably, we have parents and adults.

I didn't always enjoy my school days - in fact, I spent most of them complaining - but I can't honestly think of any ways in which being required to study English, math, science and foreign languages did me the slightest bit of harm. Yes, it did cut into my beer drinking and hanging around on street corners time, but I was able to more than make up for that in my post-graduation years.

The protesting sociologist reasons that studying such highbrow concepts as the three Rs is an attempt to "force" all students into a college-bound track, and is especially concerned that "urban youth," specifically those from Detroit, will be harmed. By "Detroit," of course, he means "black," since there can't be more than a handful of white students left in Detroit's public education system. Apart from his (presumably unconscious) racism in assuming that black children are incapable of mastering English and math, he fulminates against educating students for jobs that don't exist because of "our corporate-profit dominated economy." Um, hello, Mr Teacher, but isn't it just possible that any kind of economy, corporate-profit dominated or not, is more likely to thrive with a literate and numerate population?

He's also worried that teachers will be blamed should they fail to motivate students to "care about their least favourite courses." As they should be; it is, after all, their job. And a big improvement over handing out meaningless feel-good diplomas to generation after generation of dysfunctional illiterates.


Patrick said...

The link you posted to (I presume) the original article doesn't work, so I have to ask: does he say why he's against it (other than the demonization part)?

Is his point that requiring more of those classes takes away students' ability to take specialized elective classes in which they might be more interested?

Larry Livermore said...

Hopefully the link is fixed now (in case it still doesn't work, it's: http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia05272006.html). If he had laid more emphasis on your point, that it might limit students' ability to take specialised electives (or vocational classes), I might have more sympathy. But apart from a passing reference to vocational and technical schools being closed in Michigan, he seems mostly to be operating from an ideological point of view, claiming that the new system is "setting students up to fail." My own point was that in order for a high school diploma to have any value at all, some standards have to apply; if being literate and numerate are to be optional, then it means nothing except that the bearer has managed to turn 18 years old without either being expelled from school or sent to prison.

The author also smugly states that what he calls the "college prep model" (and what used to be called a basic high school education) worked for him and the college students he teaches (with whom I sympathise), but somehow will be disastrous for inner city and, especially, black students. I detect more than a whiff of racism here, whether or not Garcia is aware of it. But considering that one of the sources he cites is the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick In The Wall" ("We don't need no education"), I'm not sure how much he is aware of, except, perhaps, where his next joint is coming from.

jenna alive said...

You know, considering that you can pass all of the stated classes by pretty much just showing up and not being severely disabled, I don't get all the fuss.

I've known quite a few people who are moderately intelligent but can't form a sentence, and claim that the education system failed them. It seems to me, that the smarter you are, the more it's your own damned fault if you didn't glean the basics from your K-12 experience. Garbage in, garbage out.

It really boggles my mind how anyone could flunk out of high school, really.