Saturday, March 17, 2007

What are we teaching these kids

Some time ago Garth asks if anyone out there is smarter than a fifth grader. Appearnatly a new TV show asks adults fifth grade science, math and history questions. Most adults seem not to know, leaving Garth with the impression that fifth grade is full of useless trivia that it soon forgotten.

While I do think that education hasn't yet caught up with technology - why teach how meany tablespoons in a teaspoon when Google can answer instantly - I must note that most education uses the overteaching method. We cram way more facts than you need to know into your head in the hopes that you will remember at least a few of them.

I do think, however, that in this day an age to much time is spent on basic facts at a young age. Real math and science need to come earlier so that we can make way for important facts at the end. For example, the percentage of American's who understand what a Corporation actually is appaulling low, depsite the fact that vitually all Americans have strong opinions about them.

With our shrinking personal savings rate number of Americans who understand how compound interest works is shamefully low as well. Of all the "factual" subjects that one needs to know personal finance seems well near the top.

Of course a dose of general economics would be a bad thing to toss in as well.

11 comments:

dWj said...

I find my own reaction to the common assertion that "teaching children to think is more important than teaching them facts" interesting; I believe it's probably true, but I also believe that a lot of people who make the assertion are trying to excuse doing a bad job of teaching facts. Measuring the ability to think or learn is harder, especially in real-time.

It's unfortunate, but it's hard to do a lot of the meat of math and physics without a certain amount of the ontology with which to do it. In addition -- and probably actually more on point -- exposure to facts can leave us with a lasting general sense of the world, even if we don't remember the details, the same way a brush stroke on a Monet that won't itself be recalled by a viewer is critical to the sense of the painting that will be recalled. I agree that a lot of formal science should be put earlier in the curriculum -- in part to develop an intellectual framework into which to place the trivia later -- but I also think having the trivia in the curriculum enriches students even if they don't specifically remember them later.

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