Monday, January 30, 2006

New School Menance

LA Times looks at the high drop out rate in Los Angeles and finds the real cause:
Algebra 'Triggers Dropouts' in L.A.
By Duke Helfand
Because they can't pass algebra, thousands of students are denied diplomas. Many try again and again but still get Fs."

We may smile in sympathy and appreciate the difficulties of one student mentioned in the article who is frustrated by her inability to graph 4x + y= 9 and 2x -3y = -6; however, many high school students in Los Angelese struggle to solve the equation: x - 1 = 36. In fact some repeat algebra several times and never manage to solve the problem.

Actually, in the article they get into root causes of failure in the school, family, and education. Also, another factor is there is an intersection between the to turn L.A. high schools into comprehensive schools aimed at college admittance, with the new emphasis on tracking schools by the their students scores. The result? Students who in earlier years might have remained in school in a vocational program are pushed out and encouraged to try alternative schools (one being a vocational center) or home schooling. The home school option is a dubious selection for students who are failing because they skip class and going home to smoke pot and watch TV or play video games.

Still, the LA Times gingerly touches on the issue that the culture of resistance celebrated in pop culture, and embraced by urban and suburban teens, does not prepare students for success in school, or for anything else in life for that matter except for rage and futility. The LA Times does not, at least in this article or the previous article in the series, discuss the propensity for California teens to embrace film acting and music as viable career options to make millions by age 25. In addition, these students came from schools with bilingual programs. These programs do not exist now, so future students may face even more educational hurdles.

This leads to another unexamined topic: the schools are one of the most important flash points in the culture wars. Biology, English literature, and history are all battlefields where different groups fight it out for supremacy. Strangely enough, all is quiet on the math front. No group claims that mathematics is a product of a dominant colonizing culture. No one claims that there is a better form of mathematics handed down by a deity through sacred writings. Even the New Agers, who for a people that supposedly embrace quiet meditation and contemplation are usually loud and outspoken, have chosen to sit this one out and have never pushed for high school courses in numerology. Could it be that to debate mathematics would involve some form of attempt to study the subject? If so, it would seem that our cultural warriors have found a consensus to leave math alone and fight other battles, ones that do not involve story problems and complex equations with exponents and square roots.


Steve said...

I've never been good at math, and I can feel sympathy for those who have failed to learn algebra.
However, I also have to be honest and say that a diploma, even from a high school, must be a measure of learning and skill and not just a certificate of attendance.
What is the solution? I don't know. As a parent, I've found no magic key to getting my kid to learn. You end up with drill and repetition as the best solution, but strangely drill and repetition seems to be out of favor as a teaching method. Teachers in public school act more as lecturers. They stand up and present the class material and then leave up to the kids to make a jump of intuition to more advance concepts. The other side of the problem is parents who think they can warehoused their kid in the public school system for 12 years and have them walk out magically educated.
It's not the easy answer for parents to hear, but they have to shoulder the responsibility to ensure that their kids study and help them learn. Which brings back to problem of the California model of behavior, which embraces the self over the group, California parents will have to change their living and free time activities to see their kids through the public school system.

Mitch Kief said...

A friend was a vice-principal in California. It never failed to surprise him how parents would blame the school for their kids behavior, but turn around and cover for the kids with a sick note when the kids skipped class to stay at home to do drugs and play video games.