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A slippery slope no longer, our public schools are in a disastrous tumble. Every time we think it cannot get worse, it does.
With disbelief, I saw recent headlines about the public schools in Virginia potentially delaying advanced courses in mathematics until the eleventh grade. Headlines give false pictures, so I read on, hoping to find a shred of redemption in the story.
Little light was found. True, the idea called “The Virginia Mathematics Pathways” is just a proposal within a regular cycle of reexamining the math curriculum. (Could you tell me why teaching math needs to be reexamined so often since it has been taught successfully for millennia?) But the self-esteem of some children is threatened by those who excel at math. And, as expected in today’s social climate, a racial thread is shaping the discussion.
Position papers by a national association for math educators that were shared by the education department argue “tracking” students — sorting advanced ones into separate classes — results in the over-representation of white and wealthy students.
“Those that have been privileged by the current system must be willing to give up that privilege for more equitable schooling,” one of the papers reads.
The fire for mathematics first blazes in the pre-school years. If unhindered and nurtured, it grows quickly, like a bean vine. It is already difficult to ignite this fire at upper-elementary ages. For sure, once adolescent hormones set in, only the exceptional teacher can breakthrough and set the flames ablaze. So, the idea of delaying the challenges that fuel a child’s “math brain” until the eleventh grade is disastrous.
Do you remember Mad Magazine? My older brother subscribed to it back when it was relatively innocuous (or it wouldn’t have passed our portal). Humor evades me. Every synonym for “gullible” has been used on me. I don’t get spoofs either. Hence I remember leafing through my brother’s copies of Mad trying to figure out what was so funny.
The kinds of stories that once made up Mad (or, at a more interesting level today, The Onion or The Babylon Bee) have become actual news. Consider teachers in certain districts who vehemently decry returning to classrooms while carrying on their own social lives. Or the elimination of literary classics, even landmarks like Huckleberry Finn that shed the most revealing light on race in America. Or arts organizations who suddenly feel the need to apologize for sustaining art.
How we would have chuckled at those headlines just a few years ago!
And the laughable idea of denying a child the rigors of accelerated math in the name of a faux version of equality would have been laughable too.
I once thought that the damage wrought by the “self-esteem” mania of the ’90s couldn’t be topped. But today’s ideologically driven witch-hunt under the singed banner of racial equality has taken madness to astronomical levels. Not far away are headlines complaining about the inequity of teaching music to children using a system of lines, spaces, and circles, especially since medieval Italian men developed it? (Wait, something like that is already happening!)
Can we, in good conscience, still teach skills like proper position in handwriting? Does it matter, considering the damage that eliminating cursive has wrought on a generation of kids? What about skills like learning to tie shoes (who needs bows in the Land of Velcro)? And what shall we do about those pesky rules in sports like football and baseball? Better toss them until the kids are older!
Will the people of Virginia have enough sense to fight this? The outraged national attention given to this proposal may do their fighting for them. But I fear this idea will find wings. If so, farewell to another lane in the ever-narrower road to higher aspirations.
Oh no, there I go again. “Higher aspirations.” I am incorrigible.
Public school has been unredeemable for a long time. But the presence of advanced courses did, at least, allow some students to escape the trap of a curriculum characterized by ineptitude and low expectations.
And so we at Professor Carol (and our intrepid colleagues) soldier on, embracing the growing awareness of the need for great books and great art, ancient and modern languages, real math and science: a movement where all students are nurtured to their fullest potential. There is nothing elite or exclusionary about serious education—except to those who, for some misguided reason, refuse to pass it on.Published in