If they can’t pass the test, get rid of the test

For all that I love my native Oklahoma, education is not one of its strong points.  Harold Cole, writing in the Daily Oklahoman, gives  an example of the mindset that keeps holding it back:

A group of school superintendents recently expressed concern that about 6,000 high school seniors won’t graduate this year because of mandatory end-of-instruction tests. While others attempt to ascertain why this problem exists in order to propose preventive measures, Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, already knows what to do — simply pass legislation eliminating the tests. According to McPeak, “Every youngster who lives up to the contract the state has set up for them — which is complete this amount of coursework and you can graduate” — should receive their high school diplomas.

McPeak’s message seems to be, after serving time in classrooms, give students diplomas whether they learned anything or not. Never mind that giving out undeserved diplomas sets up students to fail in colleges and deceives prospective employers and military branches that require applicants to have legitimate high school diplomas that signify basic competency in math, logic and communication skills.

Rather than making conditions worse, legislators should do something to transform a public education system whose students struggle to pass end-of-instruction tests and, in comprehension of science and math, lag significantly behind students in other industrialized countries.

Correcting these deficiencies requires implementing mandatory coordinated science and math curricula targeted to grades 1-6. Quizzical young minds must be rewarded by instruction that expands understanding of surroundings. Such structured learning provides students with foundations and confidence to excel in future courses.

Science and math courses in grades 7-12 should be reviewed to ensure coverage of core subject matter. Weekly detailed course objectives and outlines should be made available to students, parents and others interested in improving student learning.

And most importantly, administrators and teachers must leave comfort zones and exert tough love by requiring students to earn grades by learning subject matter as indicated by performances on well-written quizzes, periodic exams and mandatory comprehensive final exams. Initially, enforcing this policy will cause consternation among students and teachers since traditions of allowing students to pass science and math courses without learning subject matter will end, and teachers’ abilities to educate will be spotlighted.

via Status quo in Oklahoma education not good enough | NewsOK.com.

I’ve heard school compared to prison, but this takes it to a new level.  If you do the time, they have to let you out!

How to teach science classically

Last week’s post about teaching mathematics classically provoked some excellent comments.  Here is one of mine, responding to the question of why the liberal arts include astronomy and not physics, biology, chemistery, etc.:

Great, helpful, and important comments! Classical educators–here are some splendid ideas. Run with them.

Webmonk and Peter, chemistry, physics, biology, etc., WERE taught in classical schools and universities (such as Oxford and Cambridge). They are not liberal arts–which deal with processes and skills–but they come under the liberal sciences (the word literally meaning “knowledge), specifically, Natural Science. (The others are Moral Science [knowledge of Man, including history, law, the humanities, etc.], and Theological Science [the knowledge of God, theology being the "Queen of the Sciences," in the sense of comprehending the source of all of the others.)

Astronomy as an "art" teaches empirical observation to which is applied mathematical analysis. As such, it teaches the conceptual "art" necessary in those other sciences.

I guess I should next post something asking how to teach the natural sciences classically!

So now I will do so. Realize, everyone, that classical education includes both the [liberal] arts and the [liberal sciences. The ART of Astronomy applies mathematics to observations. The SCIENCE of Astronomy has to do with all that stuff Webmonk is talking about (the nature of stars, blackholes, etc.).

Progressive education has always claimed to be scientific--privileging science against all other kinds of knowledge--so the irony now is that the current educational approaches are doing such a terrible job of teaching science, as nearly everyone admits. This academic crisis also sounds like a job for classical education! (Certainly many of the greatest scientists, from the original pioneers through 19th century Oxford grads and even including a number of modern theoretical physicists [such as Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg] had the foundation of a classical education.)

So how should classical educators teach the natural sciences?