Somewhere along the line, early in our homeschool journey, I stumbled upon a blog written by Marty Nemko. If you are not familiar with him, you should be, as he is a very interesting character with opinions that make you say, "Hmmm..." I don't know about you, but I always like that in a person. Marty is an author, radio host, speaker and columnist whose work has been featured everywhere you can possibly imagine, from the LA Times to NPR to the Wall Street Journal. He holds a PhD in Education from UC Berkeley, and has been a consultant to 15 college presidents. In other words, the man knows his stuff. He is incredibly innovative in his thinking, and in addition to authoring numerous articles and books on education, he is a highly regarded career coach who also works with men's issues, politics, and much more. Reading the other posts on his web site would provide you with hours of entertaining, thought provoking reading. Reading his posts on education will cause you to perhaps let go of old ideas and think seriously about what education ought to look like. From someone as notable as Marty, these opinions take on a new sheen, rather than appearing to be mere radical fodder designed only to get folks riled up.
Here...check out Marty's article over at his blog titled "Reinventing the High School Curriculum"...then come on back to share your thoughts.
So....what do you think? Is it that hard to imagine a high school curriculum that doesn't include the requisite 4x4...four Math, four English, four Science, and four History? When I read Marty's blog post, I cheered. Finally, someone who sees that this "college at all costs" approach is soul killing, unnecessary, and is forcing kids to cram and test, cram and test, cram and test on topics they will likely never use...unless it is solely for another college course, and then promptly forget it. Now, remember, we are NOT against a college education. On the contrary, we are absolutely FOR a college education for those who desire it, for those whose career goals require it, and for those for whom it is appropriate. But somewhere along the line, we got off course, and we made the assumption and then force fed the notion that EVERY child ought to have a college education. Sadly, this focus has left hundreds of thousands of young people directionless, without assistance as they move out into the world. Worse, it makes them feel worthless, all because one particular path does not suit them.
Marty's ideas are brilliant! Drop some of the high school Big Four course load and replace it with courses that will serve kids across the spectrum and give them life skills they can use in college, the trades, or any other setting. While you might disagree with the exact replacement courses he suggests, every day we all see young people who graduate high school and got an A in calculus...but can't do something as simple as make change accurately. We see graduates who took AP Statistics, yet can't explain how a bank makes money or how to stock market works.
Our high school students today are different critters than we have ever seen before, and if you think not, let's stroll back along memory lane and see how today's high school seniors were pushed to gain academic skills harder and faster than any previous generation. If you aren't beginning to read fluently by the end of 1st grade, there is something "wrong" with you. We are introducing math topics at earlier and earlier ages which are developmentally way beyond the ability of young brains to grasp. Is it really that important to say our kids have algebraic sense in 4th grade? Why not wait until...oh...let's say...8th grade to introduce and begin working on Algebra, so that other skills are solid and well cemented. Our desire to "teach across the curriculum" has created a sort of schizophrenic approach that leaves students scratching their heads, and never really focusing strongly on the specific topic they are learning about. Reading about magnets is NOT the same thing as working and experimenting with them!
We have yet to recognize that learning concepts is far easier when taught at a time when the brain is developmentally ready to tackle such skills. Are there exceptions? Always, but that is what they are...exceptions.
What if every high school cleared time in a student's schedule to offer courses in Consumer Math, General Business, and The Psychology of Relationships. How often would every student use Consumer Math in their daily lives versus...oh...let's say the ability to understand and explain DNA. How much more valuable would a student be in the working world to any employer if they had a basic understanding of how a business works, what management must be concerned with, profit and loss, etc. Isn't that going to be used by every single person who will ever be employed versus Trigonometry? And what sort of societal effects would we see if every high schooler learned key points about relationships, how to read body language, and how to maintain them and how to put appropriate boundaries in place. Might that not serve just about every learner in almost any situation, whether college bound or not?
Instead, we subject our kids to learning material that is often inane, obscure, and of little real life value. While some of this has always happened in our schools, and is necessary to some degree to expose students to a wide array of possibilities so they might find their area of interest, it has never before been at such an intense...and overly tested...degree. I love Marty's quote here:
"Lest you think I exaggerate, here’s an example of the state of New York’s objectives for all its students: “Students relate processes at the system level to the cellular level in order to explain dynamic equilibrium in multi-celled organisms.” Let’s cross the country. Here’s a sample item from the exam that every high school student in California will be required to pass: “What is the prime factored form for the lowest common denominator of 2/9 + 7/12.” That was an item rated as of average difficulty! Could you answer it? In your entire life have you ever needed to know this? Even if you’re a scientist, you probably will never need to know that."
We must begin to make our academics relevant to all, not just a select few.