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Dumb down bills' idea betrays lack of understanding

From the content of the bills they support and the rhetoric they promulgate on them, it is clear that the proponents of bills that would significantly remove and/or downgrade requirements for graduation from Louisiana high schools either do not understand the purpose of education and/or are trying to hide their true motives.

Bills HB 612 by state Rep. Jim Fannin and SB 259 by state Sen. Bob Kostelka would mandate three fewer classes in core subjects being taken and five in classes demanding reduced competency in basic concepts than with the present Core Curriculum. They also would have these curriculum completers take an exit exam based upon these lowered expectations than the present Graduate Exit Exam in order to matriculate.

It has been explained elsewhere that this tactic is the last thing to do in the present situation as American students begin to lag many worldwide, especially in the areas of math and sciences. This contradicts the trend of a world becoming increasingly ever more complicated where even the most menial jobs are requiring more native critical thinking and communication abilities of out individuals. There also already is a Basic Curriculum less than two years old that students may take that slightly alters the core requirements and structures electives to a vocational area, although they must pass the same GEE.

The idea behind the bills seems to be this approach is not enough, that some students need to be put into a track that emphasizes not so much how to think, but how to do. By all means, let the Americans diagnosing automobile difficulties, for example, learn in high school the basic principles of running the machines to do that, while it’s the Chinese, Indian, Russian, etc. children who learn the principles that allow them to program the machines. And then who must Americans depend upon when they need to recalibrate or improve the machines ….

What these advocates who bristle at the suggestion they are dumbing down the curriculum don’t understand is that you get much more out of education and the capacity of a human being by making this backward-chaining rather than forward-chaining. That is, once you learn advanced concepts, it is much easier to apply them to a wider range of situations and to do it better, including to those that require less critical appraisal. For example, the current requirements for math make it possible for students to both continue to move forward in its use in college, such as for engineering, architecture, etc., and backwards, such as how to calculate loan interest, principle, etc. In the case of the latter, why not teach the general theoretical concepts that can be used to understand the calculations rather than limit understanding to a mechanical computational function that does not reveal how to get there in the first place? The former approach will create an employee better able to handle novel and deviant situations with enhanced ability to expand their responsibilities and contributions.

Worse, one gets the suspicion that enthusiasm for this new curriculum is as much generated by dismal dropout statistics of about a third of high-school-aged children, so by changing the curriculum you artificially reduce the rate. This constipated view, however, tries to cure the disease by redefining the symptoms. The real reason why the dropout rate is so high is a combination of failure to demand more accountability from teachers, lack of commitment to discipline, and a culture within many schools that does not focus sufficiently on achievement. Political considerations therefore threaten to sabotage essential policy that has brought slow but steady improvement to Louisiana education.

The state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave a cautious endorsement of these bills, although the more sensible members of it successfully pushed for changes that may or may not solve the essential fault of these bills that they allow students to be less prepared for the realities of the world. Regardless, the current rules which scarcely have been tried seem more than adequate to address the increased flexibility to provide vocation education. Therefore, there is no need for either of these bills in any form.

1 comment:

James Sanders said...

Kostelka and Fannin make a good team-maybe they should adopt a stage name, such as Abbott and Costello.

They advocate dumbing down the curricula for non college bound kids whether they like the terminology or not. Did it occur to them that virtually every profession now requires use of computers or background in mathematics? Ever notice the equipment a factory worker or auto mechanic has to use now days?

Maybe they want to dispense with social studies and other related course material to improve their chances for maintaining their elected offices? An educated constituency causes such distractions...