One of the most difficult questions I’ve ever been faced with as a teacher is also one of the most common, “when am I ever going to use this?” For most students this question is a roadblock, which inhibits further progress until the question is answered to their satisfaction. I used to be frustrated by this problem, because no matter how I tried, some students were never happy with the answers I gave them. What business did they have asking questions about subject matter, anyway? Wasn’t it their job just to sit and take notes? They don’t need reasons; they just need to learn it. I now realize how wrong I was and am endeavoring to change my viewpoint, as well as my goals and my methods.
I believe it is the right, perhaps even the duty, of every student to ask a question such as the one above, to demand some level of accountability from his or her education. I find myself asking, “when did I really learn the material from Intermediate Algebra?” It wasn’t in high school, although I received A’s, it was in my junior year of college when I had to teach it to 30 students. I’ve had so many fellow teachers relate similar experiences. “You really learn something when you have to teach it,” they'll say, but why is that? I believe it is because there is a purpose behind the material. In other words, there are important and immediate reasons for learning. If that is the way I myself learned, how can I not respect the desires of my students to have the same goals and foundations for their own learning experiences? To that end, something fundamental needs to change in America’s basic mathematics curriculum.
So many students attend twelve years of school in this country, yet have no idea how the things they learned apply to anything else. They have been forced to learn tiny chunks of material, all the while being told that the bits and pieces will be connected later on by some other teacher or class. Mathematics is so rarely taught with anything remotely resembling real-life applications, that students in my Math 131 class openly balk when they realize this course has them modeling real data in every chapter. It is not our job, as educators, to teach material in the vain hopes that it will all come together later. It is our job to create citizens of this country, what’s more, of the world. By that, I mean citizens in every sense of the word. People who will know how to solve problems, say "no" to telemarketers, put money in a savings account, give back to their communities, vote intelligently, and perhaps most importantly, be responsible for their own actions.
Far too often we don’t teach to our children the basic skills they will need to survive in our own society. Maybe educators were hoping children would learn how to write résumés, finish income taxes, and pay bills by osmosis. After all, why should such mundane topics be taught when there are four years of French to take? Don’t get me wrong, I speak French fluently and love the language, but it’s possible that there were some more fundamental things I should’ve learned along the way in my education. For example, I never learned how to change my car’s oil or what a “piston” is. I will own a car almost everyday for the rest of my life, but I have no idea how it runs. Meanwhile, I can translate any French writings, which has come in handy about twice so far since I graduated from high school.
That is not to say that only things that are immediately applicable to everyday life are worth teaching or learning. On the contrary, some of the most illuminating and enriching topics have few purposes beyond the academic sphere, but purely intellectual learning is not for everyone. Not every student is the same, nor should they be treated as if they were. Each student is an individual with a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses, with different backgrounds and distinct goals in life. Yet often we fail to recognize this truth as educators. We treat each pupil as if they were a glass, the same size and shape as every other glass, a
الجمعة، 11 فبراير، 2011
Teaching Philosophy, Strategies, and Objectives