Just Do Reading and Math?

The New York Times reported today that schools have been cutting back on science, social studies, art, PE, and other subjects to push reading and math.

Like where have these people been? This is just coming to light? They don’t mention technology and field trips directly, but I’m guessing (not really guessing – I know this for sure) that tech literacy is one of the victims of this push for “literacy.”

I understand if to many this seems a no-brainer – students that are not literate in language and math should focus on those subjects. How can you succeed in life, in society and in the work world without being literate in those subjects, and with few exceptions I understand this thinking,,, and mostly I agree with it.

Where I diverge is here. You cannot produce literate students if you cut them off from the rest of the curriculum and experiences. You cannot produce students that will compete in an information rich, science rich, global view rich society if you cut them off from those subjects from an early age. If you want to give them more time in reading and math I don’t disagree. Add days to the school year and some time to the school day for those students – I’m fine with that. Most students that are that far below grade level in reading and math are also usually not students that are engaging in activities during the summer that enhance their learning and schema and understanding of the world. My own students mostly fit that description and they usually spend their summers watching their younger brothers and sisters (4th – 6th graders providing day care for 1 to 8 year olds) and their highlights usually involve trips to the supermarket. They are thrilled when school starts in the fall and they can do something besides watch TV. Spending more time in school would be a good thing.

Most of the students I have that are not doing well in reading by upper elementary are missing the vocabulary, schema and knowledge of the real world that would allow them to make sense of what they read. They generally have phonics down pat, but sounding out a word only works if the word is in your vocabulary and schema. Books are only interesting to read if you understand why something is interesting or exciting or sad or not. Otherwise you are just reading words – how long would you last reading words that did not relate meaning? – although you might be feeling that way while reading this – : ) . So by cutting the subjects and field experiences that contain and convey that meaning and are paramount to obtaining schema and information we are actually stifling their reading and possibly subjugating them to only the lowest level jobs. Is that what school and this country are supposed to be about?

In my class of 31 sixth graders only 4 have access to the internet, and none of those use it for much more that emailing relatives in other countries. I’ve pointed out in earlier posts how many of my students think there are sharks in Lake Tahoe (30 minutes from here) and ask questions like, “Is Florida in Nevada? Is France in Nevada? And have no idea how we get electricity, water or how most things are made or come from. How will they fill in those enormous gaps if they continue to focus on JUST reading and math.

On the other hand, every time,… every single time I have these same students go on a field trip and/or integrate technology and engage in gathering and thinking about and processing and presenting information in science or art or whatever, they start asking questions. Questions like: What does this mean? How do you do this? How can I find out more? Can you explain this to us? AND, “Hey we just learned that…”… and “Did you know that…?”… and “Look at this!!!” and “Can we go here? And students are mostly excited and motivated and willing to do more and learn more. I bet if we take them there maybe they will make the push we are looking for to change how we do school. Or at least help drive that change.

Learning is messy!

This entry was posted in Blogging, Cooperative Learning, Education, Field Trips, Literacy, Student Access, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Just Do Reading and Math?

  1. Pingback: Moving at the Speed of Creativity » Blog Archive » Messy Learning and Public Education

  2. catflips says:

    I am a student teacher and even though I have not been in the classroom on my own, I agree fully with what you are saying. However, I don’t think it is that easy to just add school days or have students go in the summer. Like you said the students who would need to be there are the very ones the parents need in the summer to watch their younger brothers and or sisters. The basic needs of the family must be met prior to the family having the ability to help their children learn. How do we do this? It seems like a circular pattern that very few can break out of and that is only if they are motivated to. But to be motivated to they have to understand how necessary it is to have an education. Can we convince the student and family that it is more important than their basic needs? I don’t see how. I’d love feedback on what other teachers have done to assist students.

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