Someone posted something on Facebook today I have to take issue with here. The post suggested the math skills learned in high school are not applicable in real life.
Actually, we use the skills taught in math classes every day. The important thing we are supposed to get from math classes is not the advanced manipulation of numbers—that is the means to a greater end. Rather it is the development of logic and problem solving skills. The more complex the math problem the more advanced and complex the thinking skills developed.
The fact is, none of the courses we take in high school are really about the subject matter. Science teaches the scientific method—a means of solving problems through experimentation and evidence-based thinking. English is not about books and writing essays. It is about experiencing the lives of others vicariously so that we develop compassion for and an understanding of others. Writing not only helps us learn to communicate but sharpens our ability to think and use evidence. History is not about facts and dates but about the idea that all our actions have consequences—both intended and unintended.
The real problem with standardized testing is it tests none of the underlying skills each subject was designed to teach. Rather, it encourages teachers to focus entirely on the trivia of the subject instead of the skills useful to an informed and intelligent citizenry. Programs like “Race to the Top” and ‘No Child Left Behind” actually undermine a teacher’s ability to do the actual job we hire them to do.
We can argue whether this is intentional or not. I would prefer to think the people responsible have good intentions and are acting out of ignorance of what education is actually about. I would like to believe the dumbing down currently epidemic in public school classrooms that has resulted in a generation of students unable to think logically or use evidence-based decision making is an unintended consequence.
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests otherwise in many cases. Groups like ALEC and Focus on the Family have pushed these kinds of education reform because an uneducated citizenry is more likely to buy the lies necessary to support their agenda. It is the reason many vote against their own best interests. It is not because they are stupid; it is because their education has not provided them with the tools necessary to lead them out of ignorance.
Instead, that education, based on memorization and recitation, has left them particularly vulnerable to those who would manipulate them through emotional appeals and simplistic solutions to complex problems: want to keep illegal immigrants out—build a wall across the southern border, ignoring the fact many of those illegal immigrants come across the northern border; we can solve our energy problems and unemployment issue with the Keystone Pipeline; human civilization has nothing to do Global Warming—it is all about God creating more living space for human beings.
Real education reform would focus on returning the focus of courses to their original intent: developing thinking and communication skills, underlining the need for compassion for our fellow creatures and their needs as well as our own, and creating the kinds of citizens who understand that we get to be a democracy only as long as we understand that an attack on the rights of one group in support of the power of another is an attack on the rights and power of all of us.