Let’s Not Kid Ourselves … and Help Our Kids

I appreciated reading Chris Hunter’s reflection on Manitoba’s recent math curriculum revisions.

I also appreciated his link to, and the contents of, Professor Keith Devlin’s response to the New York Times article on math wars’ faulty logic.

Even more so, I appreciated Frank Noschese’s blog post “This Video Will Solve the Math Ed Crisis“, certainly tongue-in-cheek but a reality check for many.

What follows in no way implies that the aforementioned much-appreciated bloggers’ responses fall into categories mentioned below, as readers will understand if they follow the links above and read the posts.

It fascinates me that there is such a visceral, emotional response to mathematics education reform from all venues – politics, education, media, public. It fascinates me even more that there seems to be a core group of individuals who truly believe that “if we just revise the curriculum” or “if we just create better resources” (or textbooks, or videos, or …) or “if we just reform teacher training programs” (or provide more PD or …) that this will solve the “math crisis” of “kids these days can’t do basic math”.

Reforming (math) education, training, curriculum, methods may be admirable pursuits, but it won’t address overarching societal issues of ever-increasing child poverty, burgeoning child mental health needs, and a complex adult world within a growth-oriented economy where parents desperately seek multiple jobs to cope with growing debt in a set of world-wide systems (politics, economics, business, education) that will prove to ultimately be unsustainable.

“Just as we learned decades ago that hungry children do not learn well, it stands to reason that sleepy children are not optimally responsive to educational intervention, no matter how qualified the teacher and no matter how much empirical support exists for the teaching method or curriculum.” (Joseph Buckhalt, Auburn University)

With such a focus by some mathematics education reformers on “basics”, I propose that there be a new definition of the basics. We need to focus on the basics as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (what follows is quoted from the UN Cyber School Bus):

1. All children have the right to what follows, no matter what their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, or where they were born or who they were born to.
2. You have the special right to grow up and to develop physically and spiritually in a healthy and normal way, free and with dignity.
3. You have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.
4. You have a right to special care and protection and to good food, housing and medical services.
5. You have the right to special care if handicapped in any way.
6. You have the right to love and understanding, preferably from parents and family, but from the government where these cannot help.
7. You have the right to go to school for free, to play, and to have an equal chance to develop yourself and to learn to be responsible and useful.
Your parents have special responsibilities for your education and guidance.
8. You have the right always to be among the first to get help.
9. You have the right to be protected against cruel acts or exploitation, e.g. you shall not be obliged to do work which hinders your development both physically and mentally.
You should not work before a minimum age and never when that would hinder your health, and your moral and physical development.
10. You should be taught peace, understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people.

Universities are beginning to experience what K-12 educators have been dealing with for decades already – systemic, systematic overarching needs of students and families that won’t be “fixed” with adjusting curriculum, content, methods, or training. We need to start asking tough questions of our systems, like:

1. why do we have increasing numbers of children living at or below poverty? and what can systems do to change this?
2. why do we have increasing numbers of children living without clean reliable drinking water in Manitoba and Canada? and what can systems do to change this?
3. why do we have increasing numbers of children living with mental health needs? and what can systems do to change this?

For all our emphasis on 21st century learning, we have a large population of children living in 20th century conditions with 19th century supports. We need to work to change those “basics”.

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About tjthiessen

explorer, administrator, consultant, student, leader
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