Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Education double-dipper

My, what a day. First you shall get excerpts of two of the four letters pointing out the flaws in the Finnish-kids-are-better-educated-than-ours article (which I talked about here); next, a synopsis of a heartening news flash about math education. Here goes. All emphasis is mine.

From Rachel K. in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho:

Your article...extols the virtues of Finland's educational system by showing a correlation between high test scores and all of those things that conservatives have been desperately resisting for the past 30 years in education, namely, a student-centered environment filled with what Eric Hoffer called the "self-consciously alienated"...The only explanation I could find in the article for this amazing feat is that Finns read a lot.

Near the end of the article, however, is the real reason: "Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school."...

When looking at the country rankings, I noticed something rather telling: Finland did outscore all other countries in science, but Taiwan beat Finland in math, and South Korea won over Finland in reading. What are the chances that South Korean and Taiwanese students wear stilettos and call their teachers by their first names? It seems that the 1960s-style Finnish model as presented in the article tells us nothing of significance about education, but a lot about our continuing love affair with socialism.

From Tristan K. in Monarch Beach, CA:

As a thoroughly Americanized, Finnish-born septuagenarian, I have long been amused by liberals pointing to the arguable "success" of Scandinavian socialism to support their neo-Marxist agenda. They conveniently overlook the homogeneity and genetic differences that characterize the Scandinavian populations and make the political climate for socialism in these Nordic regions more suitable...

Now on to the article. The first sentence is the best:

A presidential panel, warning that a "broken" system of mathematics education threatens U.S. pre-eminence, says it has found the fix: A laserlike focus on the essentials.

Does this mean making kids actually (gasp) memorize instead of discover certain concepts? My goodness! Among these "essentials" are "'quick and effortless' recall of arithmetic facts in early grades, mastery of fractions in middle school, and rigorous algebra courses in high school or even earlier." Those first two items I agree with wholeheartedly; after all, as the classical-education advocates like this one teach, the first six grades or so are the "grammar" stage - i.e. straight memorization. Higher reasoning isn't that strong until later anyway. The context of these impending decisions:
...For two decades, advocates of what has come to be known as "reform math" have promoted conceptual understanding over drilling in, say, multiplication and division. For example, to solve a basic division problem, 150 divided by 50, students might cross off groups of circles to "discover" that the answer was three. Some parents and mathematicians have complained about "fuzzy math," and public school systems have encountered a growing backlash.
Still, the article includes a caveat: that neither method (drilling vs. discovery) works 100%. Also, it exhorts writers to "shorten elementary and middle-school math textbooks that currently can run on for 700 to 1,000 pages and cover a dizzying array of topics. Publishers say textbooks often must cover a patchwork of state standards." Essentially, the report says, there should be national benchmarks, hopefully higher than the ones we currently have.

My parents used Ray's Math in the beginning with us, quite informally. We moved on to Saxon; for the discrete geometry course required by our local community college, we used UCSMP; what is the net result? Participation in several home school math team victories (junior and senior high) for each of us four children; the three oldest have completed at least three semesters of college calculus with high (B+ or better) averages; and flourishing in either engineering or computer science majors. How about you, readers?

1 comment:

Aurora said...

Fascinating post, Hannah. I must confess that I thought in your previous post you were praising the Scandinavian model whilst I have my issues with it (which is why I didn't comment on it). I've read some articles on disturbing socialist experiments going on in the schools there. I'm positive that the MSM praises Scandinavian schooling because of its Marxist bent. Your post here is a really interesting critique. I fully agree on your analysis of the use of rote memorization and 'discovery'. As a teacher myself, it's what I have come to believe about second language acquisition. You can't learn the word 'policy' for example and not understand that it goes with 'GOvernment'. If you don't want to make the mistake of saying 'Government politicals' or 'Government laws' you have to actually memorize the whole chunk together.
May link to this.