The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ...  ...Martin Luther King, Jr.

Commentary of the Day - Oct. 22, 2000:  Gems From the Mailbag!

The Irascible Professor receives a steady stream of email, and he tries to respond to all of them.  Occasionally the exchange leads to an invitation to the sender to provide a guest commentary for publication on the site.  But, until now, The Irascible Professor hasn't published correspondence verbatim.  However, in the last few days we received a few "gems" that are worth a comment or two.
 
 

The next message from Mike Smolcich references a comment on national education standards that the IP made recently in a commentary on George W. Bush's voucher proposals

Subject: national standards
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 05:16:55 -0500
From: "mike smolcich" <msmolcich@xxxxxx.xxx>
To: <mshapiro2@home.com>

I just sent the following to the constitution forum.  National Standards and does the constitution entitle one to an education?

The problems with education or lack thereof are "very" often in the news.

The greatest impediment to a good education is that many in high places have "opinions" as to what a good education constitutes. Because of the respected occupations which the "opinionaters" are involved in, usually in academics, they are looked to for solutions by many, that know from nothing, as to what constitutes a good basic education.

The common opinion among "Academian's" is that a good education must be "WELL ROUNDED". (NOTE that 56 years ago I almost got the heave-ho from school by the, then, school superintendent because I wrote on a test paper that I could do without "Shakespeare" and that the time would be better spent learning Grammar. The superintendent said, "Shakespeare was required for a "well rounded education" and, if I did not want to go along with the curriculum that I was free to leave) I add that, to date I haven't had any use for "Shakespeare"

IF ONE HAS NOT ATTEMPTED TO LEARN MATH THE FOLLOWING MAY NOT HAVE MUCH MEANING BUT OF COURSE ONE IS FREE TO ADVANCE AN "OPINION"

Quote: From the book titled "SUMMERHILL", by A. S. Neil, "It is an absurd curriculum that makes a prospective dressmaker study quadratic equations or Boyle's Law."----(THIS QUOTE IS SELF EXPLANATORY)

Quote: From the text book TECHNICAL PHYSICS, by Frederick Bueche, "Most applied scientists and technicians seldom have to use more trigonometry than we shall use here" Only sine, cosine and tangent are used!-----(THIS QUOTE REQUIRES EXPLANATION IN THAT THE ESSENTIALS OF "THE WORKING WORLD" TRIGONOMETRY AND THE USES ARE PRESENTED IN A 22 PAGE CHAPTER---THE COMPARISON OF HOW IT IS NORMALLY TAUGHT IN HIGH SCHOOLS AND BEYOND ARE IN A 600 PAGE TEXTBOOK ,THAT ALMOST GOES DOWN TO THE VERY BASICS----THAT IS TO THE COMPOSITION OF THE PAPER THAT THE BOOK IS WRITTEN ON)

"National Standards" must be set up by a panel of experts from the "Working World" and not by "Academian's"

The reason that the IP found this email of interest is that it epitomizes a persistent theme in American society.  Namely, that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.  One only has to listen to the prattling of some of our politicians to appreciate the arrogance with which ignorance is promoted as being equivalent to understanding in some quarters.

The fallacy in Mr. Smolcich's reasoning is that it assumes that the student has no higher aspirations than his or her immediate career goals, and that the student can predict the future.  However, having served as a department Chair for ten of the past 12 years, the IP is all too familiar with students whose interests have changed.  More often than not, these students find themselves in the position of having to make up numerous deficiencies in their educational background.

Mr. Smolcich is correct in stating that many people never use the Shakespeare or the trigonometry that they might be exposed to in high school.  However, that prospective dressmaker who never takes algebra has closed off for herself a whole world of opportunity.  Her prophecy has become self-fulfilling.  No matter how her circumstances might change in the future, she has limited her opportunities.  She has chosen an educational path that has closed doors rather than open them.  How sad!

 
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© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.