Sunday, September 08, 2013

Kids are learning Socialism instead of Math! Or, why do so many adults hate the fact that we no longer beat children in schools anymore?

I knew I shouldn't have clicked on this Margaret Wente article, about how "the system" is failing Canadian kids at math.

But I did, in part beacuse a) my son has started school again, and b) he seems to have a hell of a lot of math classes! In fact, math seems to squeeze everything else out of his education this year. The fact that Wente claims that math is all but invisible in her column set off my BS-detector because it's the exact opposite of what an actual child in the Canadian school system is actually experiencing.

Maybe it's a trick by the teacher to teach them about the wonders of Stalin and the glories of East Berlin before the fall of the Wall, but I'm going to hedge my bets and say that the schedule is accurate, and that he's spending more time doing math than any other subject, by a considerable margin.

It is true, however, that last year's math test scores in Ontario are a bit lower in Grade 3 and 6 than they have been in the past 5 years. And it's true that there might be a trend there. But the pedagogical "issues" Margaret Wente is describing have been around since I was in school in the very late 1970's.

As always, I both encourage you and discourage you from reading the comments. They are the usual miasma of incohate rage and conjecture about how no longer forcing children to memorize times tables and teaching them creative ways to problem solve is Socialist Liberal Communists ruining our society and "failing our children". Except that it's not true.

I mean, I don't want to say that Margaret Wente is full of shit here, but my own anecdotal evidence is as follows: last year my son learned multiplication tables, as in, he had to memorize them, along with a weekly spelling test where he uh, had to memorize how to spell words correctly. Other kids, not just my son, were also subjected to this kind of rote learning.

He also learned about division and multiplication, and he also learned to add large numbers by stacking them on top of each other. So he, and everyone in his class, learned algoritms and memorized facts at school. Here in Ontario. Last year.

In fact, in what I'm sure would come as a shocking development to Margaret Wente, he was asked to review his multiplication tables over this weekend!

Oddly enough, this is not only how I learned to do math, it's also how my parents learned to do math!

Just a few years ago, I would help my step-daughter with her high school math, and it was all quadratic equations and trigonometry. It was never "Hey, see if you can figure out a cool way to calculate the acceleration of a Care Bear in her Care Car on the way to visit her friend Dora the Explorer in Cuddle Land, if Dora is 3.4 cuddle units from Careland and it takes her 12 love time units to get there? Please tweet your most creative attempt and then like it on Facebook".

So are these people telling us that kids aren't learning to do division or multiplication the old-fashioned way? Yes. Are they completely full of shit for reasons that I do not at all understand? Also yes.

Is the problem here that school is, at least to adults, more enjoyable now? It's as though all these grown ups recall school as being this soul-crushing experience of constantly having to memorize facts and figures, and in true modern Canadian fashion, instead of thinking that there might be a better way, instead believe that this young generation should be subjected to the same things that turned Margaret Wente into Margaret Wente?

Then there's this. Most adults I know are terrible at math, even those who were taught in the good old days back before "student-centred learning" became all the rage. How many of these self-righteous turds could help their children with math past Grade 6?

Perhaps the Ontario government should start measuring that, because I bet the results would shock the same mean-spirited jerks tut-tutting the current state of Canadian education. You who were products of that old system, many of you also suck at math.

By the way, the old system sounds pretty crappy. My parents grew up in the good old days of learning, and do you know what I took away from it listening to their stories as a kid? That most teachers in the old days were masochistic assholes who liked nothing more than to hit kids with straps and to treat kids they didn't really like with utter contempt or disdain.

Do you know what the approach was back in the day if you were bad at math or anything? It was to write you off! "Hey kid, there's always bricklaying or the steno pool! HA HA!"

Margaret Wente pines for the days when the switch was plentiful, and rote memorization was everywhere. This says a lot more about Margaret Wente than it does about what kids are actually taught in Ontario, which, if my son is anyone to go by, is basically the exact same stuff I did, except with more empathy.

If empathy is that bothers you about schools today, then maybe you're the problem.


Tadhg Ó Muiris said...

Actually, Wente is not the product of the any educational system in Canada. She is an American, not unlike a significant number of the more stupid and recreationary "Canadian" columnists, such as Diane Francis. She has also been exposed as a serial plagiarist: her typing skills, however, are impeccable.

Andrew W. said...

I actually used to work with someone who used to work with her at the Globe and Mail.

He would speak reverentially about how she was able to produce so many columns, and how nearly none of them needed editing.

I could only reply that both these qualities, based on my reading of her, seemed completely accuate when you looked at the quality of her work.