Let’s bring wonder back to education
When was the last time your child arrived home from school and declared there is “wonder, joy and beauty” in mathematics? During a road trip, when was the last time you marveled over patterns of numbers with your children? In addition to reading a bedtime story to your child, have you ever tried bedtime math?
Most likely, you are chuckling as you read these scenarios since the discipline is often considered a four-letter word, a well of resentment and far removed from our lives. Many children (and adults for that matter) have a skewed vision of mathematics. Too often, they describe math as about “getting the correct answer” — not about deeper learning or a way to understand their world. Math is seen as the worksheet of 20 problems, not a sense-making endeavor. They feel the field is disconnected from their daily lives and view it more as drudgery or an impediment rather than having meaning.
I would love to reimagine mathematics in public education along the lines of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ threefold purpose: “(1) expand professional opportunity, (2) understand and critique the world and (3) experience wonder, joy and beauty.” Of course, mathematics would still serve as a pathway to post-secondary and STEM professions, but under the expanded purpose it becomes a human endeavor. Math classrooms would come alive with ingenuity, creativity and collaboration. Students would use mathematics as a way to contextualize their world and explain a complex phenomenon. They would find delight in the journey of thinking deeply about a pattern and be bold risk-takers in their thinking, not traumatized by timed tests or bored by senseless worksheets.
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As often experienced by K-12 students, mathematics devolves into a gatekeeper preventing young people from realizing their potential and a sorting mechanism labeling some students as “math people” and marginalizing everyone else. Changing mathematics education in public schools would have a profound impact. No longer would it act to exclude students, but help them form positive identities as doers of mathematics. The scholar Rochelle Gutierrez says mathematics should be a mirror, reflecting the lived experience of the student, and be a window, a portal to others’ lived experiences. Policymakers and stakeholders talk of diversifying and growing the STEM pipeline, but rarely advocate to change the daily learning experiences of the students in K-12 in order to revolutionize mathematics education.
Unfortunately, no magic wand exists to transform mathematics in public education. This effort requires a financial and a heart-and-mind investment, yet it holds the promise of truly empowering the next generation of students. There are bright, shining glimmers of this practice happening in our county. We need to collectively advocate for this to be the norm for all our local public education students.
Lecturer/supervisor secondary education
Department of Education Studies, UCSD
What we need is worldly educators
Based on my experiences in schools, from the time I entered kindergarten and then went on to be a teacher and principal and as a person who still is involved in schools, I’d say that nothing would improve education more than educators who are, in a word, worldly. I mean educators should be up on things, involved in their communities beyond their schools and classrooms, excited about learning themselves, always thinking creatively as to how to make lessons relevant to their students’ lives.
Educators who are in tune with their world in such a way would understand how important the arts are in a learning environment, as it’s through creative activities that students get to assess their own thoughts and figure out who they are, which, in turn, offers clues as to how to best teach them.
Such facilitators of learning would be warm and personable and accessible to their students, always citing examples of how learning has given value to their lives and how the subjects they teach apply to everyday life: how science and math, for example, are essential to our existence, our well-being, giving us the means to, say, finding the best deal at a department store or managing your calorie intake or figuring out your batting average on your little league tea
Physical education teachers, in a dynamic learning environment, would stress the importance of being of fit body and mind through exercise and leading healthy lives by eating wisely. Language teachers would speak to how vital being able to communicate effectively is, especially in a world where human beings are going to have to come together, hopefully soon, and solve serious issues like the ravages of climate change.
These teachers should show how powerful words can be, looking at how the hip-hop culture has used words in four-four time and rhyme and influenced music and fashion and social issues and politics — making a popular rap artist like Jay-Z a billionaire.
Students need to ponder how language might be used effectively to influence the world in other ways, perhaps, ending racism and sexism and homophobia and setting in place whatever it might take to craft a peaceful world. Changing our world for the better simply won’t happen if schools don’t make that their mission.
Astute social studies teachers could make a huge impact in transforming our world by helping young people look at it critically, in all its diversity, so they can make informed and reasoned decisions as to how go about making the needed changes in ways that can benefit all of human kind.
The world probably more than ever now needs enlightened loving and caring citizens so the future can be as bright as possible and this is not going to happen without enlightened loving and caring educators who can, with common sense, and sincere purpose, see beyond the impersonal, bureaucratic, overly structured factory-like schools that are so prevalent today.
That would be a significant improvement for education in general.
Ernie McCray, University City
Students must learn skills for real world
This month our schools are sending to the world thousands of freshly minted high school graduates, ready to face the responsibility of adulthood. Many will enroll in colleges to prepare them for professional careers. Others will join the workforce making their own important contributions as technicians, health-care workers, construction workers and the many other disciplines that make our communities a good place to live.
Regardless of their career path, most are woefully lacking in knowledge of the important economic decisions that await all adults. These include matters such as banking, insurance, investing, saving, taxation, real estate and the many other economic matters we all face as members of a modern society.
I believe all schools should offer an optional one-semester course in personal finance in which the student would be introduced to real-world problems and opportunities. The curriculum should include outside speakers from the many industries comprising economics, finance, law, credit management, retirement planning and real estate. It should be understood that such outside talent must not be allowed to use their instructional talent and position to market their products to the students.
The news media are replete with stories of fraudsters, scammers and fictitious advertising. Unfortunately, even older adults are frequent victims of these schemes. Let’s help the next generation become more consumer-savvy.
Jim Stieringer, La Mesa
College not the only pathway to success
Statistics showing that a college education leads to more earnings across a lifetime compared to a high school education are regularly used to convince young people, their parents — and politicians — that the only way to achieve success (in this context — earn more) is to complete a four-year college degree. However, this disingenuous comparison conveniently ignores a more relevant assessment. When the lifetime earnings of the college educated are compared to the skilled trades — e.g. plumbers, hairdressers, electricians, dental hygienists — the earnings differences narrow considerably and employment prospects increase greatly. Many skills-based jobs are outsource-proof, technology-proof and future-proof; no one can program a leaky pipe to be fixed, electrical shorts to be repaired or your hair to be done, now or in the foreseeable future. There is no app for that. No one is happy to hire a plumber or electrician because they are expensive, and skilled trade persons with some business acumen can start their own businesses, multiplying their income potential by orders of magnitude.
Starting in high school, teachers, counselors and administrators should present trade/vocational schools as an alternative and equal pathway to success for students who indicate no interest in or aptitude for purely academic work. Indeed, high schools should once again offer a non-college prep pathway leading to a high school diploma, including internships and on-the-job training. Above all, K-12 educators need to destigmatize educational pathways that do not lead to a four-year college degree. Politicians, who are laser-focused on paying only for a four-year college degree, need to pass laws to expand and pay for the skilled trades/vocational offerings of community colleges to ensure students wishing to pursue a skilled trade can do so at minimal cost, launching them after one or two years of training into a productive lifetime. Businesses need to be involved with industry/education partnerships by offering internships and training — and retraining, as job requirements evolve and change.
A determined effort by politicians, educators and businesses to enact these ideas would prove synergistic and catalytic, transforming a shrinking middle class into a skilled trade class with well-paying jobs and secure futures.
Steve Rodecker, Bonita
Schools need mental health resources
When I started teaching, I thought my job was to teach my students math. I received grants for technology, created engaging lessons and kept current on all the latest education ideas. But I was so wrong. My job is actually to ensure the social and emotional well-being of my students. I could have the most amazing math lesson, but if students are worried about issues in their lives, they are not able to focus on learning math.
Students today come to our schools with issues of trauma — broken families, depression, drugs, death of a family member, cyber-bullying and suicide risk. I’m fortunate to work in a district that has provided teachers training in what’s called “Trauma Informed Practices.” In other words, how do we recognize what students might have going on in their home life that is affecting their school behavior and achievement? If a child is acting out because a relative was in a gang shooting, giving them a detention is not addressing the issue. One of the most important things I learned in my training was to simply ask a student, “How can I help you?” By asking this question, it can help to de-escalate the situation. The student might need to see the social worker, move his or her seat or take a break. Teachers need training on the issues that students face and how best to handle the effects in our classrooms.
Districts have increasingly recognized the need for social workers and/or counselors. However, one social worker for 500-plus kids is not adequate. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at the state and more funding given to school districts. There needs to be more resources in each school for all students. Working on your mental and emotional well-being needs to be as important as knowing how to read and write. It needs to become the norm in schools, not something that is hidden in the corners.
There is a worldwide movement to destigmatize talking about mental health issues. Schools are in a position to take the first step and normalize these conversations. It should be okay for a student to say their parents are getting divorced and they are scared, depressed and worried, and need help with all these emotions. Students need access to mental health professionals that can help them with coping strategies. Schools should have classes on de-stressing techniques like yoga and how to find healthy ways of dealing with stress. These classes should be required for every student, just like math.
There are many educational issues that can be debated right now. Many have valid points and are important. But nothing is more important than the social and emotional health of our nation’s children.
Christine Hansen, Escondido
We must modernize outdated policies
To improve education, extend the school year from about 180 days to about 250 days. The length of school days should also go to eight hours. There is no reason for the current school year schedule. It was created because the rich people left for cooler weather and there was no money to pay teachers. Farms were also a small factor in not paying teachers because of heavy seasonal work. It was too hot without air conditioning. Neither one is a factor in today’s education funding.
Students should also get two weeks of vacation to take when they want just like a real job, as well as all holidays. The educational memory loss would be less severe than the long summer break where students forget 50% of what they learned. Free meals can be served year-round in school rather than open cafeterias, with events during the summer. Summer schools would be eliminated. Teachers can negotiate new contracts for working year-round instead of taking another job for the summer.
Administrators could evaluate problem students faster and in depth. The student population could be identified for medical and mental needs year-round. Supervision by schools and parents would be greatly improve, avoiding unsupervised actions and behavior. Students would have a solid view of life in a real job environment, just like their parents have. Without adopting an extended school year our students will always remain uncompetitive in the civilized world and for jobs in the current marketplace.
Peter Murnieks, Vista
Less regimentation makes learning fun
I was an elementary school teacher in San Diego Unified School District for 38 years, so I have seen both good and bad ideas come and go. The last five years of my career I saw changes that were not good. Up until then, parents would support the teacher, and during those five years I experienced parents supporting the children, which made it much more difficult to teach.
I would implore parents to be parents, not “best friends,” with their children.
As for the school districts, I would suggest far less regimentation and a more well-rounded education. I often added poetry, music, finger-painting, basic rock geology, and, of course, dinosaurs, for when their interests were flagging near the end of the school year. I am sure my students benefited greatly from such a well-rounded education. I understand now that lesson plans must be posted on the board each day and showing the exact page my students would be on at the exact time, should anyone walk in and check what was happening. Really? This is ridiculous, as far as I am concerned.
My students in second grade took a field trip to the rock shows. Only fourth grades and up were allowed to attend, except for my class. The children knew what they were viewing, they bought grab bags — they were so excited. We made up songs about zoo animals. We paced off on the playground how long a dinosaur could be, and their eyes and interest told the truth. I did not need lesson plans — I knew what I was doing.
I worked hard to learn to be a good teacher — I took classes, went to summer school, prepared materials, etc. My knowledge about how to teach came with a long learning curve. However, I also defend every class I taught. My fellow teachers were so kind to me and so helpful. For that, I am most grateful.
For my retirement party, I posted every class from 1953 to 1991. By 1991, I was teaching grandchildren of some of my students. I so appreciate all the help I received — and I appreciate each student I taught.
Esther Corley, Chula Vista
Volunteers, time to eat would help kids
For the past 14 years I have volunteered in a kindergarten classroom, listening to children read, helping them learn their letters and sounds and helping them with writing and spelling. I find this a most rewarding form of volunteering for me. I believe there are many others who could come one morning a week to help in a classroom. Children would benefit from the adult interaction and the adults would find it most rewarding as they help young children unlock the secrets of reading and math.
The kindergarten is a good place to begin volunteering. The children love everyone who comes into their classroom. They are on the brink of becoming successful students and the help they receive from a volunteer can be just the help they need to be successful in reading, writing and math. I encourage any adult who has the time to find a school, ask a teacher if he or she can use your talents, and begin helping young children be successful in school. Schools need volunteers and volunteers will find that the rewards are wonderful for them as well.
The other thing I see as I volunteer is that schools offer nutritious breakfasts and lunches in many of the schools. The problem is that there is not enough time for many of the children to eat. The first children through the line get more time than those at the end of the line and when one child starts to clean up, all the children think that it is time to go to play. Some children are just slow eaters, and many of them never get to finish their lunch. This is a problem for those children and it is also a problem in the amount of food that gets dumped into the trash. (I have heard that some of the waste gets shipped to a farm for animal food.) But maybe we could figure out a way for children to have enough time to eat until they are finished.
Joyce Desrochers, Talmadge
Elitist policies leave students stranded
The San Diego Unified School Board gives the impression that if a high school requires all kids to complete college entrance requirements, they will graduate high school, go to college, and graduate from a university. This is a good example of the media giving the school board a pass. The board needs to do its homework.
First, the national rate for high school students completing a four-year college degree is about thirty percent. Thus, the concept of college for all is greatly in error. College is exclusively for the academically elite. This concept that everyone is capable of high academic achievement is frivolous. Claiming that they can achieve this unrealistic outcome is disingenuous. This outcome is impossible. By definition, half of the students are below average in intelligence and are not candidates for college.
Second, there is a serious educational problem where black and Hispanic students are under represented in college graduation rates. San Diego is the home to a program that is addressing that issue. The program is titled AVID and it targets bright students and provides help in preparing these students for college.
Third, this “college for all” concept is very different from AVID. College is by definition exclusively for high academic achieving youngsters. Schools that promise this so-called “college going culture” for all students are being dishonest. This is confusing because some schools, public and private claim high numbers of students going to college. This isn’t due to any curriculum or teaching magic, but is due to simply collecting already high achieving kids. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fourth, the goal of college for everyone is inappropriate. Only 23 %ercent of the jobs in America require a college degree. When all of the time in the high school is spent preparing students who will never go to college for college, they don’t get a chance to take a four-year sequence of career technical education. When students leave high school, they don’t have the job skills necessary to go to work. The negative consequences are gangs, drugs, prostitution, crime, and ultimately, incarceration. Seventy percent of the 2.5 million in prison are high school dropouts.
Fifth, charter schools have no magic. They claim that somehow because they don’t have to contend with a teacher’s union that they can provide educational magic. Charter schools have no special educational benefit.
The unintended consequences of this frivolous college prep for all program cannot be overstated. The media needs to be responsible in their reporting about these kinds of educational programs. You should take a look at the research on the California Partnership Academies. There are real consequences to high school students who are pushed into unrealistic college prep curricula. The increased drop out rate is still there even though students taking online courses, GED, and High School Diploma Programs have disguised it. The community and the media must be responsible to learn the truth about this mistaken elitist policy to avoid contributing to the problem.
James C. Wilson, Scripps Ranch
Smaller classes sizes, foreign language a good start
Among the many things that would improve public education: smaller classes to allow for individual differences, better pay and respect for teachers; there is a much neglected area that has been an element of a good education since ancient times; that is learning a foreign language.
We have it all backwards, starting language instruction in High School, and then only for those who are ‘college bound’, if at all. So many Americans have negative reactions to language learning because they were not taught when they were young or they had instruction in verb conjugation instead of learning to speak the language first. Young children can easily learn another language as it is when their brains are developing and expanding, and it becomes more difficult to learn as the child gets older. It is also important that they learn to read and write the second language as they learn to speak it.
Not only does language learning improve ability to communicate, but expands the growing mind to make better connections. They understand far better the structure of language and how it works. Just consider groups who have maintained their native language as well as learning English. You’ll find there is a disproportionate number who have achieved beyond their mono-language peers. Immigrant children who do not have their native language maintained have a much more difficult time in school, often dropping out. We do a great violence to children by insisting they speak only English.
I’ve had the privilege of teaching English to immigrant children for many years. Those who were well instructed in their native language learned English much faster than those who did not have that background.
Linda Oster, Escondido
Bring back civics and history
One change would be to once again start teaching CIVICS and real HISTORY (so the students know what is going on in their country). The ignorant elected elite want students to be able to vote as early as the eighth grade. If the students don’t understand what government is, and how it works, what would they be voting upon?
Public School, controlled by the Teacher’s Union is the greatest danger to our students. It is failing our children, who can’t read, write, do simple math, and are not taught real history and civics. But they are in the tank to those who bankroll the union.
According to a study conducted in late April 2018 by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read at all.
When I moved here in 1980 California schools were the envy of the nation. California is 44th in Reading and 46th in Math, down from it’s high point back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We have slipped so far it is appalling.
To make my point, select and place twenty students with a recent high school diploma from different schools in a room and ask them the following questions:
• From whom did we win our independence?
• About what century was that war fought?
• What is the Declaration of Independence?
• Name the three branches of government.
• Who is third in line to the presidency?
• Whom did we fight in the Civil War?
• Who won?
• In what century was that war fought?
• What is the “Emancipation Proclamation”?
• Who did we fight in WWII?
• Ask them to name three things that sets our country apart from most of the world.
• Ask them to name three things they are proud of in our country.
• Ask them to make change from a one dollar bill on something that cost 30 cents?
And do not allow the use of a calculator.
• Ask them to sign their name, I mean like they will be asked to do hundreds of times in their lifetime. Maybe they can just go back to “making their mark”, like the illiterate and uneducated did in early America. Or cursive can just become some strange and secret writing for grandparents.
If said students can’t answer 90 percent of the questions, should we allow them to vote?
The “Tenure” label is the biggest danger. Good teachers need to be paid much more. Bad teachers need to find another job. The Teachers Union should not be the ones deciding which teachers get to stay in a job at which they fail. Students first. Teachers second. Teacher’s Union Third. Anything less than that is unacceptable.
Bob Spencer, San Diego
I have been a secondary school teacher for 21 years and I have also spent 9 years in the private sector in the field of electronics manufacturing. My background has given me a unique perspective on what needs to be done to prepare students for the workplace and in turn make our country more competitive in international trade.
The entire focus in public education is test scores, and across the country, test scores are generally rising although not at the unrealistic rate required by failed initiatives such as No Child Left Behind. Teachers are generally getting better at teaching students what’s in the standards, but are the standards what students need to know in the modern workplace? Considering the amount of technology young people are surrounded with, you might be shocked to know that students are taught exactly nothing about how that technology works. Even the very basics of modern electronics are totally missing from the secondary school curriculum. Electronics, what makes cell phones, video games, computers, and the Internet work is totally absent from the science and mathematics curriculum. This was brought home to me when I was discussing the electromagnetic spectrum to a class of high school seniors. One of the more knowledgeable students asked “what’s that?” It turns out that the electromagnetic spectrum, which makes all modern communications (radio, WI-FI, TV and cell phones) possible, and also a multi-billion dollar public resource, was a total unknown to students who had made it to the final year of secondary education. To remedy this shocking injustice that the educational system has perpetuated on our youth, I propose the following remedies; a shift in emphasis to the one area of science which deals with electronics-physics. In my secondary school district, only 6% of science students took the physics end-of course-exam last year. If we really want to prepare our students for the modern workplace, ALL students must be exposed to physics. In the math field, students must learn the type of math that computers use, the surprisingly simple binary math system of ones and zeros. This leads to the study of Boolean algebra and digital logic circuits, the building blocks of all the technologies that we are surrounded with. Rebuilding our manufacturing base, with its higher paying jobs, can be facilitated with an increased emphasis on trigonometry and statistics-the two types of math most used on the factory floor. Our young people are the future of our country. Giving them the education that will enable them to compete in the modern workplace is crucial to our survival as a nation. We must do all we can to bring about these changes in our educational system.
Teacher Mar Vista High School