Friday, October 16, 2009

Irrelevance is irrelevant

~From Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham, page 65:

Is the Epic of Gilgamesh relevant to students in a way they can understand right now?  Is trigonometry?  Making these topics relevant to students’ lives will be a strain, and students will probably think it’s phony.  Second, if I can’t convince students that some material is relevant, does that mean I shouldn’t teach it?  If I’m continually trying to build bridges between students’ daily lives and their school subjects, the students may get the message that school is always about them, whereas I think there is value, interest, and beauty in learning about things that don’t have much to do with me.

And you wonder “Why Don’t Students Like School”?  If you find “value, interest, and beauty” in learning about things that don’t have much to do with you, doesn’t that “value, interest, and beauty” MAKE IT HAVE TO DO WITH YOU?!  If students don’t find any “value, interest, and beauty” in subjects they will never use, it’s just too bad for them, because you do?  And, what, is school not always about students?  When is it about something else?  Is it for teachers, who get paid instead of graded?

It’s the author once again not wanting to face the ultimate criticism of modern day education: that a lot of the crap taught just isn’t important.  So he says “well, I’m certainly interested in subjects that I don’t necessarily use everyday.”  Well, whoop-a-dee-doo-da!  You’re going to force everyone else to spend time with those subjects for that reason?



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