Thursday, March 31, 2011

What We Teach Our Children

I spend a lot of my day teaching, and probably about as much time thinking about teaching.  The type of Physics I teach is semi-experimental in that not too many schools in the country teach physics to kids that are in Algebra I.  It's made my work interesting, frustrating, baffling, and rewarding.  I find myself combing research magazines and professional association publications to figure out how the heck I'm going to get my goals accomplished.

I think about how to connect with kids that, in a few short years, have had a drastically different childhood than I have.  I grew up without cell phones.  I didn't get my first cell phone until I was in college, though my mom would let me borrow hers if I needed to drive somewhere late at night.  I didn't really care about my computer until I was in 9th grade when AIM came out.  Facebook certainly didn't exist.  These kids are so connected that you cannot get them to put their phones away during the school day.

I think about how we teach things that don't matter at all in the real world and put so much stress on kids.  When I was in middle school, kids were required to take Family and Consumer Science (FACS).  We learned to sew, cook in a microwave, wash clothes, budget to some extent, and did a lot of job exploration.  The kids I teach have never taken FACS, or Home Ec, or anything at all about actual life skills.  Do these kids need to know about radical functions in their real lives?  Or will they, at thirty five, think of a radical function as an awesome party?

I would love to teach kids something real about life:  Should you get a Roth or traditional IRA?  How can credit cards be a gateway to lifelong debt?  Why is it better to pay cash for a car than get a loan?  How do you set a table?  What is the proper etiquette for letter writing, email writing, or voice mails?  How and how often do you clean curtains?  How do you maintain a house?  How do you caulk?  How do you change the oil and breaks in a car?  How do you change a tire?  How do you make a nutritious, homemade meal?

Theoretically, all these things are supposed to be taught by parents.  But the parents of kids now never learned these things themselves.  The natural progression for learning home skills has broken down.  There are adults who own cars but who have never changed a tire.  There are people who hire professionals to paint their rooms because they don't know how.  There are people every day and all over the world who rack up debt and don't save for their retirement who will, inevitably, either live off of the system (if it still exists) or die without medical care or money to buy food.

What good is teaching our kids grand concepts that they won't use if they won't be able to lead a quality life?

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