Failure of Education

Why do I need to know this?

This is my answer to SiGraybeard:

There are many challenges to being a teacher in a failing high school. One of those challenges is the students have parents who are largely high school dropouts and drug addicts. They didn’t become that way because they value education. Kids emulate the behavior they see at home. Countering years of a parent who is ignorant and telling the child, “You don’t need to know that. You will never need to know how to use any of that stuff they make you learn. I graduated 20 years ago, and still haven’t used any of it,” is nearly impossible.

One of the things that I do is present the students with a digital photo album. It’s a photo story of my life. My time in the military. My time as a firefighter. A paramedic. A master SCUBA diver. I show them pictures of my travels. I show them how great life can be, and how different it can be from what they know. Then I tell them that the key to living an interesting life is education. That doesn’t mean college, necessarily. It could be a trade. Then I try to tie my lessons into a skill.

Kids, did you know that a bullet begins to fall from the acceleration of gravity as soon as it leaves the barrel of a gun? If a sniper shoots a bullet perfectly horizontal, and his watch falls off at the same time, the bullet and the watch will hit the ground at the same time. Then I prove it.

If four firefighters are on the fourth floor of a building, and there is 200 feet of firehose between the truck and their position, you have to add pressure to the water to account for friction and elevation. This is how you calculate just how much pressure you need to add in order to get them enough water to put out the fire.

Efficiency is important. Chemical reactions have efficiency. Some reactions are not perfect. Let’s say we are making drugs like in “Breaking Bad.” Let’s say that we know that our reaction is 90% efficient. (Pointing to kid in front row) Is John stealing from us, or are we losing product to inefficiency? If he is stealing, we need to whack him. Let’s do the math and see if John lives or not. (students all laugh) So we start by calculating…

I use examples to make the class fun, interesting, and relevant. Math isn’t racist, but a poor teacher can make it boring. Even these tactics fail more than half the time. The kids don’t care, their parents don’t care, and so the kids don’t even come to school more than half the time.

So many people fall back on the race card. It isn’t that my kid is absent and refusing to cooperate with the lessons. That would be an indictment of my parenting. It isn’t that my kid is becoming a gang member. A drug user. My daughter isn’t going to wind up as a stripper. No, all of this is the teacher’s fault. Not mine. Not my child’s. The teacher MUST be racist. Blaming racism is the same fundamental logic as 1930s Germans blaming the Jews- “It can’t be MY fault. It must be someone else’s fault.” The people need a scapegoat for their own failures.

7 replies on “Why do I need to know this?”

That is what I tried to impress on my kids. If I had known that I would need all those math skills as a welder and shop foreman, my job would have been a lot easier. But I figured it out. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to advance.

EXACTLY: “Kids- why does a shield gas, which keeps oxygen from getting near the metals being welded together, help make a weld stronger?”

I was able to help a couple of the younger guys with their math and blueprint reading. They went on to run crews of much older guys because of that.

That is absolutely depressing. I’m one of those weird folks who LIKES math and history, and have been half-heartedly pursuing degrees in them while I work for the last few years. I don’t plan on using them for anything at the moment, but figured I’d do something like what you did and in twenty or thirty years when my body isn’t up for the trades I’d ‘retire’ to see about teaching at one of the local schools. Maybe I need to rethink that.

I did OK in high school math/algebra. When I got to college, I was in an engineering program and the calculus class was engineering focused. We’d go through a concept, and the professor would show how that applied in an electrical circuit. It clicked and I smashed both those classes. Relevance is everything.

They way I explained it to my kids was it exercises your brain. Like lifting weights. Your brain could use the logic and reason you learn from math in all sorts of other ways.

Divemedic – you have elevated teaching to an art form. You actually care about your students. You make math relevant and interesting. You are to be commended. And you are bound to be making a huge difference in the lives of those young people.

All of my high school math teachers taught by memorization, because I guess they didn’t really understand how math works.
I got a C- in every math class.

Until Dr Abdo’s class.
Dr. Abdo understood math and the concepts behind it.
Suddenly, it was as if I had been given a map showing several different pathways from A to B, and I was free to pick whichever one best suited that particular problem.

I give Dr. Abdo 95% of the credit for my incredible career in the oil exploration business.

I mention Dr. Abdo’s name so many times in this comment because I never thanked him for what he gave to me (and countless others).

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