Wednesday, March 16, 2022

No, We Shouldn't Replace "Algebra" with "Home Maintenance"

Okay. Enough is enough with this "they should stop teaching (academic subject) and start teaching ("real life" subject) in school.

No, Social Media Guru, we should not replace Algebra, Physics and World Literature with "Laundry 101," "Home Maintenance" and "How to Balance a Checkbook." (Who even does that anymore, anyway? What's a checkbook? For God's sake, if you are going to be critical, at least be up to date!)

And, no, the fact that you were never asked to solve a quadratic equation after high school does not prove that you wasted your time in learning about it. Do you really think that any educator ever seriously thought that knowing how to explicate a Shakespeare sonnet was going to either save your life or put food on the table? Not a one, I can assure you. 

The purpose of all of those "useless" classes is to strengthen your brain. (If football players are never asked to do push-ups during a game, why, in the name of Jehovah, would they ever do them in practice?) 

See, miraculously, I was able to figure out how to do laundry, to operate a toaster and to apply for a mortgage without coursework on it. This may be because I can explicate a poem. It may be because I wrestled (admittedly, without success) with the Pythagorean Theorum. Whatever the cause, I can read a box and make macaroni and cheese and I never had one culinary arts class! 

Education is not just about the dissemination of facts. It is not just skills and memorization. It is the development of the human brain through challenge and intellectual exercise and critical thinking exercises.  

And if we want to take it a step farther, what's the point in taking a class in which you learn something you can master by watching a six minute YouTube video? (I never had a home maintenance class, but I have done plumbing and electric work because (1) I can look things up and (2) I can think.)

The last thing we need is to turn education into an entirely practical and superficial pursuit. I loathe math, and I even had to go to summer school for Algebra II, but I am still glad I had to take it. It expanded my brain. It helped me to grow new synapses. (Synapses? Psychology? When am I going to use that?)

Would it be nice to teach high school kids how to manage their money? Yes. How to change the oil in their car? Yes. But should these things replace traditional academics? No. Electives? Sure. 

A famous guy in education is Professor Harold Bloom. His learning pyramid is almost sacred in the field. (The lowest levels of learning are at the bottom; the highest at the top):

We want kids to approach the top of the pyramid. Some people need to fix the cars, sure. And there is nothing wrong with becoming a mechanic, don't get me wrong, but we won't get any innovation in cars if kids don't reach for creativity, analysis and critical thinking in school. 

There is a reason why the most successful people are readers, lovers of art and philosophical types, even if they are scientists. 

Once, a local celebrity, Pat Croce, who, at the time, owned the Philadelpha 76ers, came to guest teach my sophomore American Lit. class. When he got there, he asked what we were working on and I told him: The Transcendeltalists. He turned around and quoted Emerson. (What? A sports team owner? Shouldn't he have have stuck to finance and business classes?) 

If we teach kids nothing but the practical, we're setting up for a pretty lame world. 

So stop it. Really. It's a foolish and short-sighted argument. 

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