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View Diary: Teacher's Lounge (with poll) (61 comments)

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  •  Yikes! (none)
    Afraid I have to disagree with you on this.  On one hand, I'm totally fine with the idea of "basic skills," but why would you include, for example, "science labs" as a basic skill and reject foreign language, art, and music?  Most people who go into those fields have neither the interest nor the need for science labs.  That, and people who study foreign languages are better at their own language, period.  It's not an arbitrary or unneeded skill, by a long shot.

    I'm taking shots at specific examples, not to nitpick, but to highlight exactly what the problem is with any vision of standards: we always circle back to "whose standards, and why?"  My own vision has mandatory foreign language from the beginning, and science labs as an elective: as far as I see it, the scientific method is the key (that "critical thinking skill" discussed in the diary) while the rest is addition.

    •  Why I made some things optional... (none)
      Science labs -- are primarily valuable for the critical thinking aspect.  The idea that you're better off not just believing what someone tells you, but testing stuff for yourself.  And, done well, hands-on science teaches the limits of the scientific method -- what we can know and what we can't possibly test for.  

      For instance, as an adult you can comprehend what brain death is.  If you'd had both the science labs (say, including typing your own blood) and the anatomy class from phys ed (what the brain is, and how it works, and what types of damage cause what effects), you'd be able to make fairly informed decisions on how to avoid torturing your daughter's empty husk.

      Specific enough?

      Foreign language -- I said that I'd personally include foreign language study.  But the bitter truth is that in some areas of the US, this would NEVER be allowed.  In part because of political anti-spanish agendas, in part because of insane bigotry.  And the problem of WHICH language is a valid issue; at my HS they only offered Spanish (5 yrs starting in JHS), German (3 years) and French (2 years).  No Japanese or Russian or Hindi or Chinese, any of which would be helpful to society.  Recruiting capable foreign-language teachers seems to be really difficult.

      And a few people have really poor comprehension of foreign languages, perhaps especially when forced to learn them.  Their English comprehension doesn't seem to benefit from force-feeding.  But that's my experience (and I have a degree in a foreign language myself, and attempted to tutor some back in college; so I'm testifying from personal experience).

      Art:  a big problem because of some people (like, say, ME) have absolutely no eye or ability.  I am a decent draftsman with a ruler, but do not under any circumstances ask me to pick colors.  You'll regret it.  Same for pottery or wrapping presents.  I suck, and I declined to waste any school time with it at all.  

      Note:  my father and one of my sibs were incredible sketchers and caricaturists; it's not that I wasn't exposed to art (and Sundays at the Nelson Art Gallery were not tedious at all), but I'm a fine example of why capital-a-Art shouldn't be mandatory in school.

      Music:  Same problem as art; while I and every sibling had both school (band/orchestra) and private lessons, some folks have NO ear whatsoever.  My father loved listening to classical music, but he couldn't tune a radio, let alone sing or play a note.  I can't sing myself.  Why inflict music classes on someone who hates it?  And which music?  Singing?  Instrumental?  Which instrument?  Hell, which scale?

      •  Once again, I have to disagree (none)
        The examples you give to support science labs have to do with that vague thing we call "critical thinking," and while I don't disagree, I don't understand why you reject the same important critical thinking skills in the humanities.  Learning music is not about memorizing scales, and there's a reason music students score higher in math.  Learning art is more than just playing with color wheels.  

        Furthermore, some of the arguments you make against the humanities are equally applicable to the sciences: How is teaching a less-than-interested student a foreign language "force-feeding," while teaching the same student hard science is not?  How is having no ear for music any different than having no knack for math?  We don't cater to our students' weaknesses: we do our best to encourage their development to the best of their abilities.

        (Besides, the fact that the Right is notoriously lacking in artists and musicians [who always seem to lean Left] is proof enough that they're valuable.  ;)

        Other points are circular: we don't teach foreign languages because no one speaks foreign languages because no one teaches foreign languages.  My students who take foreign language seriously are always happy to discover that they're infinitely more competitive on the job market.  

        Again, this is not an attack on your system, but a more general question about universal curricula: who gets to pick, and why?  We in the humanities are constantly having to fight to justify our existence, but I think the combined notion of nuts-and-bolts education (that is, minus humanities) and the dismal state of our eductional system might lend credence to the fact that the dismissal of the humanities has not served us well.

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