Tuesday, August 16, 2005

No Gold Star for Hyman

One of Mark Hyman’s favorite whipping boys is the educational system—not just high fallutin’ academics, but the folks in the K-12 trenches as well. To hear Hyman tell it, the people who devote themselves to teaching (and do so with little in the way of compensation) are actively eroding the American character.

There are all sorts of philosophical problems with this attitude, but at the very least, it would be nice if Hyman got his facts close to straight when going after this favorite target.

In his
most recent attempt to clobber those in education, Hyman claims that public education is being “dumbed down.”

This assertion has been around forever, and there might even be a degree of truth in some aspects of the educational system. But in order to make his point, Hyman makes completely unsupported charges.

For one, Hyman says that there’s a new math curriculum in which answers that are exactly right are wrong. He claims the “rounding curriculum” tells students to round numbers before doing the actual arithmetic in order to make problems easier to solve. Students who give the actual answer are told they are wrong.

At least, that’s what Hyman would have you believe. For a number of years, I wrote and edited workbooks that helped K-12 students review academic skills, including mathematics. I had never heard of the “rounding curriculum” before, so
I Googled it. Apparently, no one else has heard of it either, except Mr. Hyman, because all I got back was Hyman’s own editorial.

Now, it’s true that students are taught to use rounding to help them solve problems more quickly when it’s appropriate to do so. Rounding is a math skill that is useful in the real world, and students need to know how to do it. And it’s certainly possible that when learning the skill of rounding, students who don’t round properly (or at all) are told that they’ve made a mistake. But the idea that students are learning to round in all math problems (and are counted as being wrong when they don’t) is simply preposterous.

Hyman also claims that cases of schools discontinuing spelling bees because they involve one winner and lots of losers suggests schools are doing more ego stroking than teaching.

But there are a couple of facts Hyman doesn’t mention. First, while there are a small handful of schools that have suggested discontinuing spelling bees,
this has been done in direct reply to the “No Child Left Behind” legislation pushed by the President. These schools, worrying that the winner/loser dynamic inherent in spelling bees is counter to the philosophy of “No Child” have suggested doing away with them for this specific reason (after all, there are plenty of ways of teaching spelling without using spelling bees).

Admittedly, this is an overly cautious way of reading the “No Child” legislation, but that brings us to the second point about spelling bees: hardly any schools have taken this anti-bee approach.
In fact, spelling bees are thriving. The broadcast of the Scripps Spelling Bee on ESPN, the movie Spellbound, as well as other pop culture texts in which spelling bees feature prominently have lead to a renaissance in the spelling bee. If we take the holding of spelling bees to be an index of the quality of the American educational system (a dubious assumption anyway), kids in the U.S. are getting a more rigorous education than at any time in recent history.

And then there’s Ebonics. Hyman implies that the fact that the school district in San Bernadino, California, is
experimenting with a curriculum that recognizes Ebonics as a dialect of English (rather than simply “wrong” English) is further evidence of the coming educational apocalypse.

I don’t know if using Ebonics in any way in a school curriculum will help. But in a school district in which black students are consistently falling behind their peers, perhaps framing language studies in a way that acknowledges the complexities of these students’ native dialect while still emphasizing the necessity of mastering standard English is not a bad idea. At the very least, it seems worth a try. Hyman suggests that the Ebonics issue is driven by an abstract idea of political correctness. The truth is that it’s simply one of many solutions being tried to help traditionally disadvantaged students succeed in school.

I don’t know enough about the issue to have a strong feeling about whether this approach is likely to succeed or not, but suggesting that students must be told that their traditional way of speaking is wrong in order for them to learn standard English (or any other subject) is actually the point of view that puts ideology ahead of what’s best for students.

But then again, that’s the hallmark of nearly all of Hyman’s comments on education: let ideology drive the debate rather than the facts, and when the facts don’t happen to fit, hack away and mangle them until they do.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.29


At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Ted et al.

A side comment: Earlier this month on Nightline, that Hyman nemesis, Ted Koppel, hosted a discussion of "Intelligent Design" and evolution with guests George Will and Cal Thomas. It was illuminating. Cal Thomas saw it all in terms of the left's foisting of secular theories (such as evolution, gasp!) as part of the vast left wing (sorry hate-America crowd) effort to ruin America. George Will, on the other hand, was not so willing to have conservatives give up on logic. He simply pointed out that ID had no place in any science curriculum. It was also telling to hear Thomas refer to public schools not as public schools, but rather "government run" schools. Let's see if Herr Hyman picks up on that phrase.

As we totter on the edge of the New Medievalism, look for more code words from the right in their war againt all who disagree with them. (Sigh).

cm of ic

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As we totter on the edge of new medievalism.

Funny because when I talk about how I see our country going down the sh!tter with my dad, he always tries to remind me that attitudes in this country are cyclicle. And that we were very conservative in the 50's, and the hippies came along in the 60's to shatter that. And that we are just in a "rut" right now with the conservative mindset (no consequence is too great, nobodies civil rights too important, as long as we get what we want, and preserve our way of life).

I honestly don't, and haven't seen it that way for over 4 years. When Iraq was first being brought up, and I heard all the spin people were putting on straight facts, I realized that what I learned in Sociology is true, reality is what you make it. So even if the world if falling around you, if you believe it's not, you will convince yourself it's not, regardless of how many times you are hit in the head with falling debris.

I don't see this rift between the people who side with civil rights, and the good of all, coming together with those who are power hungry, and looking out for their corporate interests, and for the sake of civil rights. The only way I see us breaking the stranglehold of the conservative syndrome, is through a civil war, or through some serious messing up on the part of the conservatives who control our government, and more imoportantly who control the justice department, and our intelligence services. I don't see them "messing" up enough to cause the conservative base to step back and say "Whoa, what are we supporting?". Valerie Wilson's identity being exposed, and being a national security threat isn't enough to wake people up, starting a pre-emptive war on the grounds of National Security in Iraq (which was totally unfounded, and has been as close to proven as possibly can be) hasn't waken people up. After we start a war on mistaken intelligence and fraudulent fact finding, (which can be forgiven eventually), we go and bungle the rebuilding, and peacemaking process in Iraq through underequipped, ill-equipped, and under-manned troop numbers. I mean what will it take for people to stand up and say the good of all, is more important than the good of an elite few?

My guess is that it won't happen until we disolve the Union (which ain't happening), there is a civil war (which ain't happening), or we just start to believe the propaganda and fake reality our current administration wants us to hear (good chance of people stepping in time with the drumming of the propaganda beat after hearing it 20 times a day for the rest of their lives).

I know I'm being cynical and even negative, but I just don't see how you make people become less ignorant, or make people become more open-minded. It's just not going to happen, either people are willing to see the truth, or they are willing to craft their own. I like to put the war of ideas like this: "It's hard to compete with an ideology that is about supressing others' voices, when your stance is that everyone should be heard."

Joe from MN, age 22 (yes I'm young, but I realize I do not know everything, and I'm willing to listen, observe and learn, until I do possess the knowledge I desire, which will be when I die, and to me, that overcomes age any day of the week, especially after hearing some old relatives who grew up in the rural area's try to blame all of lives problems on race, or sexual preference...I guess it's funny, but it's also a sad truth, that there are a lot of ignorant people in the world).


Post a Comment

<< Home

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.