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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.



Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gabriela, This is Reality

Earth to Richard Cohen: Don't tell students that "you'll never need algebra." Confront the real problem, like this teacher:

But, Sauby said, many of his students ignored homework, rarely studied for tests and often skipped class. "I would look at them and say, 'What is your thinking? If you are coming here, why aren't you doing the work or paying attention or making an effort?' " he said. Many would just stare back.

The problem is that our students struggle with abstract thinking. They are impatient with following a line of logic, in math, English, or whatever subject. Especially students of color and working-class students (I was one) are mired in the concrete, thanks to television, short attention spans, obsessions with their bodies and fashions, cell phones and crap, superstition, tons of sports, a rush to earn disposable income (to buy the cell phones and crap), and anti-intellectualist attitudes from our culture (including now, sadly, the Washington Post).

Another teacher saw the same pattern:

Only seven of 39 students brought their textbooks. Several had no paper or pencils. One sat for the entire period with his backpack on his shoulders, tapping his desk with a finger. Another doodled an eagle in red ink in his notebook. Others gossiped as Seidel, a second-year teacher, jotted problems on the front board.

And what about poor Gabriela, the six-time algebra flunker who inspired Cohen's enablist rant? ("Gabriela, this is Richard...") Hang on to your seats, everyone--Gabriela skipped class! She dropped out! She also employs double negatives (apparently having as much trouble with Cohen's beloved English as with that oppressive math). But remember, it's the fault of algebra class that she's working a crap job.

But Gabriela didn't give Seidel much of a chance; she skipped 62 of 93 days that semester. After dropping out, Gabriela found a $7-an-hour job at a Subway sandwich shop in Encino. She needed little math because the cash register calculated change. But she discovered the cost of not earning a diploma."I don't want to be there no more," she said, her eyes watering from raw onions, shortly before she quit to enroll in a training program to become a medical assistant.

Yeah, that's what our students do best--quit. They quit because they know that they can. They quit because we let them, and now they've received explicit permission to do so from none other than a nationally recognized newspaper. You can be sure that China and India don't let their children flunk algebra. This nation is doomed unless we reverse these attitudes.

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