Assorted: long-term thinking, accepting the other side, and math/science preparation

It’s Splash season, so my blogging has fallen behind.  To keep you satiated, here are some interesting articles I’ve read recently and some thoughts on each.

  • Harvard Education Letter writes about the Waldorf model of schooling.  A small movement, but one that even has some Gates Foundation support, Waldorf schools have a very long-term outlook to children’s success.  They do a lot more art, and a lot more personal exploration.  “In early grades, strict Waldorf classrooms delay overt academic work in favor of imaginative play and movement centered on myths and fairy tales. Multiplication tables, for example, are not taught until fourth grade, although kindergarteners may gain early math skills as they knit. Even high school students studying science find a narrative focus as a teacher describes how Charles Darwin struggled to conceive his theory of evolution. Students may draw muscle cells to learn about them. There are no textbooks; students create their own “lesson books” to chart their learning.”  Test scores are rising at this small sample of schools, although that might just be because their leaders are particularly passionate.  Regardless, the article provides an important reminder that when you focus in single-mindedly on one goal like test success, you can forget what’s really important to bringing a child into adulthood, and in the process sabotage your own test results with short-term thinking. (*)
  • Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews blogs about improvements at his old high school.  The twist?  He’s strongly reform minded (use tests to evaluate teachers, more charter schools, etc.) and the school’s reforms are precisely the opposite.  I normally hate writing from partisans in this debate because they just talk past each other.  Here is one partisan showing how the other side has done something significant.
  • The Wall Street Journal writes about students who switch to easier majors despite lower pay.  College courses in science and math are a huge step up from high school courses in terms of abstraction and the independence required to succeed, and so students change majors.  Some places seem to want to make the college courses easier, but that leads to insufficiently prepared graduates.  Naturally, I think the solution is for high school students to study more abstract topics in greater depth.  That’s not on the horizon, so a lot of colleges offer remedial work—which is just like a high school course, but maybe sped up!  Most students fail their remedial course, or at least that’s what happened when I was at the University of Illinois.  So instead of offering more of the same, I propose that colleges should develop deep, abstract “remedial” courses that teach math and science the way it should be taught.  These courses will adequately prepare students and the ideas within these courses might trickle down to high schools, becoming the standard of college preparatory work.

(*) A more common example of short-term thinking: teachers cram test-prep into the end of the school year, because it’s so important to them and students that the students pass.  But students forget the test prep and lose learning time from it, so in future years, they have less to build on.