Even Pre-K Gives Snow Day Homework


Terrified about the possibility of snow day-induced “amnesia,” Washington, D.C., schools sent home extra packets of homework on Friday.  (Just how truly are the students absorbing their material if it evaporates quicker than a snowflake?)

What irks me about this “School work uber alles” mentality is the idea that kids who are simply playing for a few days have taken time away fdnfrrknte
from learning — when it seems obvious that they ARE learning. In the snow they learn how to build, melt, forge ahead, organize a game, decorate a snowman, work together, calculate the trajectory of a snowball — you name it.

Most nauseating of all is the fact that, as Moriah Balingit in the Washington Post reports, even pre-Ks were endorsing home work:

Even parents of preschoolers are urged to continue classroom lessons at home. To accommodate working parents, Sunshine Early Learning Center in Southeast Washington attempts to stay open even when D.C. Public Schools close, said operations manager Tanetta Merritt. But when it closes its doors, the pre-kindergarten teachers email parents to let them know what their children have been learning and how they can build on the lessons with activities at home. If young students are learning about the color red, for example, a parent can have them point out red objects at home.

Really, does everything have to be a scripted, school-directed “teachable moment”? Didn’t we all — ALL — learn our colors without our parents being exhorted to go around pointing out red objects on a snow day or two? How pathetic do we think this generation is, that they will forget “red” unless drilled relentlessly?

We not only overestimate danger in our society, we consistently underestimate kids’ curiosity and natural love of learning, turning joyous days into test fests. Enjoy the snow work sheets, everybody! – L


Pretty soon I gotta go inside to do my homework.

If they find me, I’ll have to go inside to do my homework.


, , , ,

81 Responses to Even Pre-K Gives Snow Day Homework

  1. KH January 26, 2016 at 8:06 am #

    This made me think of the the excellent recent Atlantic article about pre-schools…


  2. Lauren January 26, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    Hmmm. I can’t help wondering how many parents will actually go along with this crap. Surely the kids are far too busy sledding and building snowmen to go inside and do “homework”. Besides, doesn’t this pretty much kill the concept of a snow day, when kids actually get a break from school and don’t have to learn?
    Bringing school home is both a headache for kids and parents. Nauseating. If this happened in my district, I’m sure there would be some boycotting.

  3. Lauren January 26, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    And “preschool” when I was 4/5 meant playing house, eating a snack, coloring, taking a nap, and going home. It saddens me that America has turned education into a massive competition to be on top. This is one of the many, many reasons why I will home school my kids.

  4. BL January 26, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    “Didn’t we all — ALL — learn our colors without our parents being exhorted to go around pointing out red objects on a snow day or two?”

    I think so. Or maybe we have amnesia about it.

  5. Buffy January 26, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    One of my many thoughts when reading this article was like yours – if kids have “amnesia” after missing 2-4 days of school, they’re doing it wrong. Is every Monday a review day?

    I hated the school administrator who crowed about 24/7 learning. Who wants that?

  6. Emily January 26, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    @Lauren–You’re right, I went to preschool also (church basement two mornings a week at three, then half-days at Montessori when I was four), and of course kindergarten when I was five. All three were play-based, and kindergarten just touched a little bit on literacy and numeracy. Reading logs started in grade one, but real homework was unheard of until grade three. Still, though, I think a good parent would either tell the school their four-year-old won’t be doing homework, or just sort of deftly weave the “reinforcement of lessons learned at school” into the snow day activities. For example, “Your winter hat is red, your sled is red, now let’s put on our winter things and go sledding.” Later that day, when it’s time to come in, the parent might have the child help make hot chocolate, by saying something like, “Each cup of hot chocolate gets four teaspoons of powder. Can you count them?” My mom was always doing stuff like that with me and my brother when we were young–she’d incorporate learning into whatever we were already doing. She did sit me down and formally teach me to read when I was three, but that was because I asked her to. Since she’d been reading to me since I was a baby (for fun, because kids like stories), and since I saw her and my dad reading their own books, newspapers, et cetera, all the time, I wanted to be able to read for myself as well. Writing came soon after (because I wanted to), but I had a harder time with that. However, these “reading lessons” were conducted on my terms, and I wasn’t forced to sit for hours and learn. My brother didn’t learn to read until he was about six, but he was never behind academically–in fact, we were both ahead for many years. But, I have to really think to remember all that–I mostly remember my early childhood years as a lot of picnics, walks in the woods, playing in the snow (I’m Canadian) and trips to the park, beach, the regular library, and the toy library (exactly the same concept as a regular library, but with children’s toys). Basically, my mom did unschooling with me and my brother before the term was even invented. So, there are ways to reinforce what the kids learn in pre-K, while still allowing them to enjoy their snow day.

  7. Kerry January 26, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    My child’s kindergarten sends home ‘suggestions’ like this all the time, and last time I checked kindergarten isn’t even required in my state. We’re going ice skating today. My son hasn’t been ice skating yet.

  8. lollipoplover January 26, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    “Just how truly are the students absorbing their material if it evaporates quicker than a snowflake?”

    They aren’t. It’s rote learning and not a great way to teach.
    The goal of education is to develop complex thinking, not mere memorization of facts. Playing in snow teaches many scientific concepts and lessons while allowing kids to get physical exercise and have FUN, NOT sit inside doing busywork-soul-killing-standardized test-prep packets unless they are using them to build a fire. Because that’s what I would do with them if they were sent home for a snow weekend.

  9. Eevee January 26, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    I think we need to consider the cause of the root problem. Teachers don’t like giving out extra work, teachers enjoy snow days as much, if not more than the kids. However, those standardized tests loom over the shoulders of schools constantly, and whether school is in session 50 days or 100 days, that test day will come and students will be tested whether there was time to learn everything or not. With the current model, a day lost can mean losing out on teaching an important concept and leaving students clueless on the day of the tests. I doubt the teachers decided to give out extra homework because they thought “we can’t let kids have a day without learning because they need constant school work to keep their minds growing, playing in the snow is useless for intellectual growth,” it was likely more of a decision of “Okay, we could be out for up to a week, that means that we lose the time we planned to teach concepts X, Y, and Z for the standardized tests, we need to move up some of our later review of previously covered concepts, let’s send that home as review homework for the week, then when we get back we’ll skip over review and hopefully we can squeeze X, Y, and Z back in before the standardized test.” If you want to be upset with anyone in this equation, be upset with the lawmakers who thought that standardized testing was such a fantastic idea, the lawmakers who mandated tests that mean teachers and students can’t afford to miss a single day of school lest they risk missing out on some vital piece of test information, the lawmakers who decided that we should tie funding to test success, leaving the schools that need the most help with the least support, leaving teachers to send home packets for snow days.

  10. DrTorch January 26, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    Pre-K has been shown to provide NO lasting value.

    But I can’t help but wonder if it has a negative effect by making kids hate school and the belief that all valuable work is classroom drudgery.

  11. pentamom January 26, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    “Didn’t we all — ALL — learn our colors without our parents being exhorted to go around pointing out red objects on a snow day or two?”

    I don’t know about all, but I raised my kids recently enough to know for sure that they did. Sure, we’d play “what color is that” now and then, because it’s the kind of thing kids like to do. But I never thought of it as a do or die exercise, and I never did anything structured for preschool (I homeschooled them) at all.

  12. Dienne January 26, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    DrTorch – you got something to back up that assertion? Sure, maybe any advantage in test scores washes out after a while, but who the hell cares about test scores? The Perry Preschool project has followed those children for decades and has, in fact, found lasting benefits in many areas – better social skills, more life satisfaction, fewer physical and mental health problems, fewer addiction and dependency problems, even higher earnings, I believe. Preschool done right can have immeasurable positive benefits over a lifetime. But preschool isn’t about academics (at least, it’s not supposed to be).

  13. Michelle January 26, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    The Perry Preschool study was specifically conducted on children who were living in poverty. It’s not surprising that it’s beneficial to provide impoverished kids with regular meals, a safe environment, and the kind of attention and interaction that their parents are too busy trying to survive to provide.

    But for middle class kids with SAHMs or other attentive caregivers, preschool doesn’t provide any additional benefits. And with a push for structured academics for 4yos, it’s depriving them of the natural learning of play.

  14. David (Dhewco) January 26, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    The problem with this ‘pre-school’ mentality is that it doesn’t work. From what I’ve heard, test scores are still behind many other nations. We spend the most on education, but our students aren’t learning. I’d like to think that we used to be ahead of other nations, but I have no statistical knowledge to back that up and I’m too lazy to google right now, lol. With the push to educate earlier, I have to assume that we must have been ahead.

    For me, the stuff that I was forced to do was the stuff I abandoned as soon as possible. Biology (hated dissection), chemistry (hated being forced to memorize the periodic table), and literature to name the most obvious examples. As someone who fancies himself a writer, you might think it’s weird that a writer would hate literature, but what teenage boy actually wants to read Wuthering Heights and Rebecca? It doesn’t have to be 100-200 years old to be considered great literature, but HS hadn’t/hasn’t learned that yet.

    My point is that forcing kids to study when they’d be better off learning social skills and independent thinking is counter-productive.


  15. Beth2 January 26, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    I have three little kids in full-time daycare/preschool combo, and I had a very different reaction to this article. I am happy with our life situation and I’m glad they get socialization among peers and a legitimate pre-K curriculum, while I get to work outside the home. But I miss the time that I am not with them during the day, and I am eager for information from the school about what they did that day. I crave and savor every piece of paper they send home showing me what the kids are doing. I like talking to my kids about their day, but they are so young that they often need a prompt in order to recall or focus on what they actually are doing. Giving me worksheets for the long weekend is great. It’s an opportunity for me to go over the things they’re learning at school in order to see how much they are really “learning” it, rather than relying upon biannual conferences. Yes, I can do it without the worksheets, but it’s a nice tool. (Like when the dentist sends home free toothbrushes – it’s not like I needed them because I refuse to actually buy them toothbrushes, but it’s nice to have some free ones, and I’d have to be really sensitive if I were to choose to be insulted by it.) The school makes it explicit that the “homefun” activities they send home are always optional, and even if they didn’t say that explicitly, I feel like it should be pretty obvious – what is the consequence if we don’t do it? None.

  16. Emily January 26, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    I think the problem with preschool (and kindergarten, for that matter) is that it’s now become “school before real school starts,” as opposed to “school designed to teach kids the role of a student.” I mean, think about it–it’s a shock for a five-year-old kid starting kindergarten with no experience in preschool, day care, summer day camp, et cetera, to go from a home environment, being one of two or three kids (usually with two parents), to school, where there are about 20 other kids in the class, with just one teacher. So, the kids need to learn skills like sitting still and listening to the teacher as he or she reads the kids a story, or explains the steps for an arts-and-crafts project, and raising their hands and waiting to be called upon to ask questions. They also need to learn to respect other classes by walking quietly in the halls when the class goes to other parts of the school. They need to be able to tie or Velcro their own shoes, zip their own jackets, open their own containers/peel their own fruit at lunch or snack time, change into their own gym clothes and back again, or snow suits in the winter, or bathing suits/costumes for Halloween or school plays as needed, with minimal or no adult assistance. They need to (obviously) be able to use the bathroom independently in order to even be enrolled in kindergarten. All of those are skills in and of themselves, and that’s just the beginning–in kindergarten, kids also learn to hold a pencil correctly, refine their cutting and gluing techniques, begin a project and see it to completion, and be accountable (for example, cleaning up after themselves, taking care of their belongings, and remembering to bring their library books on library days). So, that’s why you can’t pile on heavy academics in kindergarten, because the skill of, say, beginning a project and seeing it to completion, has to be mastered with a task the kids can already do (for example, drawing a picture) before it can be applied to new concepts they’re just learning, such as doing a math worksheet or writing a story. Those things can be added later, in grade one, once the kids have already had a year to get used to being in school. That’s how it was when I was young, and I think it worked better that way.

  17. Cindy Karlan January 26, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    Thankfully, my kids’ K-8 school only gave homework during the years when there were an over-abundance of snow days. The first few snow days on those years were homework-free, and then after about 6 snow days, they started to get homework. Even then, the homework was simple and general — read something, write something. Unfortunately, though, the high school starts giving homework every single snow day. My high schoolers deserve a free day, or at the very least, some free time to play in the snow or earn money shoveling. The past couple of years they have spent hours in their rooms doing homework while all the other kids are outside having fun. It sucks.

  18. Christopher Byrne January 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    The function of Kindergarten, and later pre-Kindergarten was to prepare children for learning. It was designed to get them outside the home, functioning in a social environment with their peers and begin the process of socialization and personal confidence/responsibility that sets the stage for elementary school. Cramming kids with information (Hello, Mr. Dickens. Read “Hard Times,” for heaven’s sake.) at an early age doesn’t prepare them as well for what’s ahead, adds stress and doesn’t allow children to negotiate the socialization process that they are ready for at pre-K age.

    Several years ago, we followed kids who were force fed reading at an early age versus those who weren’t. By the end of first grade, with a control for other outside influences, the kids were all reading at comparable levels. Forcing children into learning environments for which they are not developmentally prepared is idiotic. Just my opinion.

  19. Surani January 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    I think you’re REALLY overreacting to the pre-school suggestion. Asking kids to point out red objects in their environment is, in fact, a very natural and un-scripted way to help kids learn about colors – and in fact YES, that is how most of us learned our colors! Not being drilled on it, not circling red things on worksheets, but in having these questions posed as puzzles integrated into our lives.

    The problem is that in many families, usually lower-income and/or less educated, this type of questioning doesn’t occur to parents because *their* parents didn’t model it for them (or couldn’t b/c they were working so much, etc.) Many studies show that in families across education & income (excluding dysfunction like abuse, drug use etc.), they give their children the same amount of loving/caring interactions, but less education/income families give kids far less language/puzzle interactions. This really makes a difference to kids because our minds develop in response to stimulation. It also means that for some kids questions & puzzles are a *school* thing, and for others they are a *life* thing.

    Now, does this mean those kids are screwed forever? Or that they should be set to worksheet hell until they “catch up”? Of course not – just the opposite! I think MORE learning should happen in an informal “Bobby, your skates are cool! What color are they?…Blue that’s right! Have fun!” way than a “Children, turn your workbooks to page 34 and write the word blue 20 times” way.

    So why not give parents suggestions on how to integrate using language in low-stakes fun ways? There’s no requirement, no paper to turn in. If some choose to see this as the school controlling their own time, that’s their choice – not the reality. In the end schools *cannot* squeeze all formal learning into 8 hours a day. Parents are a crucial part of education, and this is the type of reasonable unschool-y suggestion that can be used as parents & kids go about their day naturally.

    >Evee: I think we need to consider the cause of the root problem. Teachers don’t like giving out extra work, teachers enjoy snow days as much, if not more than the kids… If you want to be upset with anyone in this equation, be upset with the lawmakers who decided that we should tie funding to test success, leaving the schools that need the most help with the least support, leaving teachers to send home packets for snow days.

    AMEN!! People, if you believe the tenets espoused here, please tell your representatives you don’t want the ‘value-added’ BS, where teacher salaries/bonuses and school funding is tied to how far they can push test scores up. Not only is it true that “Not everything that matters is measurable, and not everything that can be measured matters” but you have the power to undo some of this worksheet-packet frenzy!!

  20. Suze January 26, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    For the love of Pete !!! Really? They’re 4 years olds. They aren’t writing Cambridge exams here folks !!

  21. Rae Pica January 26, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    You are right on about this, Lenore! What’s additionally frustrating is that the research has shown there is NO BENEFIT to homework in elementary school! When will decision- and policy-makers start paying attention to the research?

  22. SKL January 26, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    I always found those preschool guidelines weird, not because they were grueling, but because what parent needs to be told to do obvious things like … talk to your kids … point out and explain stuff the kid would be interested in … show them a book once in a while? But when I say that, someone always assures me that yes, there are parents who wouldn’t ever say more than “shut up” to their kid if not instructed. But, are those the kinds of parents who are going to look at / listen to these guidelines anyway?

    But I think I understand your point. A homework packet to make up for the fact that there is snow to deal with. Snow! A God-given art, science, language, and PE lesson with built-in motivation! The assignment should be “go out in the snow and report back your adventures next time we meet! And that goes for kids up to maybe 3rd grade. Older kids should still do it, but maybe they should also write a story about something to do with snow, or design a cold-weather experiment applying the scientific method.

  23. Vaughan Evans January 26, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    It used to be-that all the mothers on a block knew all the other mothers.
    Although the SOB fathers did not care one bit about their neighbours.
    They were more interested in STUPID things-such as professional sports.
    Now the mothers are getting to be as bad as the fathers.
    It used to be that married women were the CORE-of volunteerism.
    They would often drive elderly people to shopping-or appointments.
    Now very few married women are available.
    Today’s STUPID feminist women are more likely to be either working-or chauffeuring their SPOILESD children-to activities-that are a STRAIN on their time-and on their finances.

  24. Bruce Elniski January 26, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Bravo! Your daily emails often make my day.

  25. SKL January 26, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    On a warmer-weather note, but related, I just received a flyer for a summer sleep-away camp. The camp is called “the Country School Farm,” and the kids (age 6-12) spend the entire time doing old-fashioned farm work and play. The flyer says the owners were inspired by Dr. Maria Montessori, who said that hands-on farming experiences should be part of every child’s education. There isn’t a word in the flyer about how it meets Common Core goals, but somehow I think it would be great for kids’ mental development.

    A big snowfall is kinda like that – you experience it, and it teaches you things about the world and about yourself that nothing else can teach.

    If I sound weird about snow, it’s probably because I spent 10 of my formative years living in the “snow belt,” where snow truly did help mold me. 🙂

  26. Jill s. January 26, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    Let’s see, my grand daughter just turned 21 months and knows basic colors and can count to 5 by herself. No school for her, just playtime with mom and dad and other kids. Of course she says she is 2 instead one but does hold up both index fingers when saying it… 🙂

  27. Warren January 26, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    Vaughan Evans

    You might want to see someone about those unresolved daddy issues.

  28. Donna January 26, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    “I always found those preschool guidelines weird, not because they were grueling, but because what parent needs to be told to do obvious things like … talk to your kids … point out and explain stuff the kid would be interested in … show them a book once in a while? But when I say that, someone always assures me that yes, there are parents who wouldn’t ever say more than “shut up” to their kid if not instructed. But, are those the kinds of parents who are going to look at / listen to these guidelines anyway?”

    The ones who have no interest in parenting are not going to listen to the guidelines. The ones who have a desire to parent well, but no idea how are. There are plenty (like millions) of people in the latter group. People who grew up with crappy parents and would love to do better for their own, but have no idea how. People who grew up in foster care/institutions. People who had no younger siblings or cousins and have no idea how to interact with preschoolers (because, face it, we don’t remember our preschool days by the time we become parents). People who have kids while still kids themselves and don’t know what the heck they’re doing.

  29. EricS January 26, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    Parents who prefer to by pass childhood in place of being ready for the professional work force at the age of 4. Now I’m a firm believer that children are very intelligent, and can absorb and adapt to many things thrown at them, and thrive. But that doesn’t mean they should be bombarded with things they don’t need to know at a young age. Their children. Let them be children. Have these parents and teachers forgotten what they did at that age? Do the same thing.

    Teach and condition their brains to be prime for school work. That isn’t by giving them homework. It’s allowing them to play, learn motor skills, learn to be social, learn to be imaginative, and creative. Analytical skills are learned automatically. A couple of years of this, and they’ll be ready for what grade 1 has to offer.

  30. Michael Blackwood January 26, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    The only time a child in Pre-K or K shouldn’t be playing either a teacher organized game or just playing with classmates is at lunch, snack, or nap. Any thing else is counterproductive.

    M. Blackwood AB, M.Ed, Ed.S
    (The last degree is K-12 Curriculum and Development.)

  31. lollipoplover January 26, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

    “We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child’s spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”
    ~Maria Montessori

  32. Dienne January 26, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    David (Dhewco) – “I’d like to think that we used to be ahead of other nations….”

    Well, you could think that, but you’d be wrong. The U.S. has always been, at best, fair to middlin’ on test scores. Which just goes to show you that test scores don’t mean a lot. I mean, just how did we come to have the largest economy? How did we get into space? How did we develop the internet? It wasn’t because of our stellar test scores, that’s for sure.

  33. Donald January 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    This is as transparent as a sandwich bag.

    The school – “ We need to do this because we are so concerned about the children’s education.”

    Yeah right, and the check’s in the mail. Who are they trying to kid? They’re concerned about test scores and losing funding.

    The children need free play in order to be able to apply what they are learning academically. Everybody knows that. However the school is more concerned about their own record. They need to compete with other schools for funding.

    Here is a cartoon that I drew for this


  34. Donald January 26, 2016 at 3:55 pm #


    I agree with you. I didn’t mean to paint the school as the enemy. Standardized tests have gone too far. This isn’t the first time that the bureaucracy has turned something good into a toxic overkill.

  35. Beth January 26, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    Did anyone read the entire article? It wasn’t all about preschool.

  36. andy January 26, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    @Dienne”I mean, just how did we come to have the largest economy? How did we get into space? How did we develop the internet? It wasn’t because of our stellar test scores, that’s for sure.”

    A lot of that had to do with fall out from WWII and America not being as destroyed and as in debt as other nations. In fact, other nations were in dept to America. Britain finished to pay its dept in 2006. America also had quite low corruption and flexible economy and both are likely to influence outcome more then whatever schools teach (unless it is really bad). The space program used a lot of German scientists to design rockets too :).

    Most importantly, extraordinary achievements by top does not necessary have anything to do with average student performance. From stats I have see, America has big differences between groups of students – there are great students and many low performing students. So, even as average is somewhat down, there are still large groups of students that do really well on those tests.

  37. Megan January 26, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

    Lots of support here for the old saw that poor kids, being raised by wolves as they are, need the state to rescue them, unlike middle-class kids, who to a one have attentive, loving, whip smart parents. Could the “problem” with poor families be that we are constantly harping on how incompetent they are, and what an incredible longshot it is for their kids to get an education? Ever heard of “self-fulfilling prophecy?” Or could the problem be schools that take it for granted that they can’t achieve and design the curriculum accordingly? (People pay lip service to poor parents being decent people by reminding us that they are working 9 jobs, but the actual message always is that they are unsocialized and hopeless, thus requiring social workers and teachers on white horses.)

    As for education, I have concluded that teaching is something that was never meant to be done professionally. It is just too dysfunctional. EDUCATION IS NOT THE LIGHTING OF A FIRE, BUT RECOGNIZING THE FIRE THE CHILD CAME WITH, AND NOT THROWING FREEZING COLD WATER ON IT.

  38. Donna January 26, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    “From what I’ve heard, test scores are still behind many other nations. We spend the most on education, but our students aren’t learning.”

    This is the exact thinking that got us into this situation with education to start with – the belief that we were educating wrong or not hard enough because we don’t do as well on tests as very tiny countries with homogeneous populations and strong social support systems. Comparing testing scores between differing countries is about as reasonable as comparing apples and oranges. We are not Finland or the Netherlands and are never going to be. We are a huge country with massive amounts of diversity in population and socioeconomic levels. If all we had to educate were are middle class white people who want to go to college, we’d do a bang up job of it too. But we have many times more people living in poverty than those countries have in their entire population. We have to educate millions of people who don’t even speak the language in which the tests are given. The tests tend to be strongly culturally biased towards whites, and yet a substantial portion of the US population is non-white. We insist all people are created equal in ability and desire and largely only have one track of education despite the fact that not everyone wants or needs to go to college so large portions of people taking the tests have no interest in and/or aptitude for the college prep courses that are being tested. But, hey, throwing it all on the way we educate means that we don’t have to admit that we have a poverty problem and a race problem and that some people are just dumb.

  39. Andrea D. January 26, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    My kid started preschool last year at age three, and she went there already knowing her colors and numbers. This year they are going to be starting to work on sight words, but she already knows that too because we read to her at home. I didn’t send her to preschool for academics, I sent her for socialization. She definitely didn’t need school to learn those particular things. We’re perfectly capable of teaching her that stuff on our own.

  40. andy January 26, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

    @Donna “The tests tend to be strongly culturally biased towards whites”

    Can you give example of that? I have heard that before, but have no idea what does it mean in practice.

  41. Megan January 26, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

    Donna–That’s a popular excuse, but most European countries are not homogenous anymore, and their schools leave ours in the dust. Why? Because they have standards, and they’re high. In this country, there is just too much money made from dumbing our kids down (soul-crushing textbooks instead of original texts, packaged curriculum, etc., all crap that was in place long before standardized tests). No pig that’s feeding at that trough is going to willingly walk away.

  42. JP Merzetti January 26, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    The one thing a kid learns completely detached from and outside the system – is how to get in touch with their own imagination.
    Which I had opportunities for in divers ways long before I ever darkened the door of a “learning” institution.
    Which is how I actually managed to turn into a creative artist.
    Bully for me…..
    but that stuff doesn’t grow on trees (or then again, maybe it does?)
    All knowledges are not quantifiable or qualifiable in academic terms.
    To what end does any child really need instruction in the theologies and doctrines of technological worship?
    Are we so blissed and blistered by hallucinated wealth that we would steal from the innocents the very things that cannot be bought, at any price?
    My imagination……was the thing that made my childhood bearable.
    And that very personal and prized possession taught me many of the invaluable things that I certainly would not want to be without, today.

    I suspect that an “Einstein” baby was always just a little smarter than good old Einstein, anyhow.
    I depends upon how you measure the smarts………………..

  43. Donna January 26, 2016 at 5:36 pm #

    “Can you give example of that? I have heard that before, but have no idea what does it mean in practice.”

    Basically standardized tests assume a cultural knowledge that is far more common in the white and/or middle class than in the other races and socioeconomic classes. It is the result of the tests being written largely by white males who build in their own cultural knowledge without understanding that that cultural knowledge is not universal across racial, socioeconomic and gender lines.

    For example, an essay question that asks students to describe differences between (american) football and soccer. A seemingly innocuous, race neutral question. However, even the best descriptive writer in the world is likely to fail at this question unless he knows something about both sports. A fairly easy question for the vast majority of middle/upper class males. Even the least athletic of them is likely going to have enough knowledge from just being around other middle/upper class males to pull off a passing essay. It is going to be harder for a larger percentage of females of any race as women are generally less prone to talk about sports with each other so those with no sport interest are less likely to have absorbed the knowledge just through existing. It is going to be virtually impossible for the vast majority of poor black kids who have very little knowledge about soccer as it is just not a thing in that culture. It also may be more difficult for immigrants who have great knowledge of soccer, but no knowledge of american football.

  44. Curious January 26, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

    Do they hate kids. Do they go into these occupations to bully them?

  45. Donald January 26, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    I had trouble getting my children to do chores to earn pocket money. When I gave them some work to do, their reply was, “Why do I have to do any work? None of my friends do! Their parents give them $20 each week and they don’t have to do anything for it!”

    I question the accuracy of his figures. However I admit that children do fewer chores today than they did 50 years ago. This has a snowballing effect on their motivation. Why should they do chores when their friends don’t.

    Sorry I didn’t mean to get off topic. Actually, no because it is on topic – sort of.

    Many children don’t apply themselves to schools. It isn’t because they are dumb. They are not motivated to because lethargy is so wide spread. It’s true that many countries are WAY ahead than the US on test scores. There are MANY reasons for this and it can’t be nailed down to one reason.

    Donna’s point is true. However so is Megan’s. “Donna–That’s a popular excuse, but most European countries are not homogenous anymore, and their schools leave ours in the dust.”

    I think lethargy has a lot to do with it and not just in slum areas. There is no easy answer. However I still don’t believe that the answer is to shove tests down their throat. The cartoon that I posted exaggerates an ‘out of balance’ student. When society focuses on academics and considers that play time is a waste that takes away from academics, what do you think that it does to their motivation?

  46. Donald January 26, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

    Why is the US lagging behind academically? We should be leading the world! We have a 1000 times more experts than any other country. Surely we could tailor our schools to perfection.

    On second thought, perhaps too many cooks spoil the broth

  47. Lauren January 26, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    It’s all in our approach to education that’s the problem. We want to be on top. We want to have the top education and the smartest people. But we’re doing it all wrong. Our students aren’t MOTIVATED! Why? Because we force school on them. We force rigorous curriculum onto them at younger and younger ages, as well as more standardized testing. We are turning to the Asian model of public school, where kids rarely get breaks and begin thinking of college at 9. And while places like South Korea and Japan have some of the highest rankings, there is a direct correlation to high suicide rates in young people. There’s no hiding that mental health problems in young people are going up, and I directly blame our crappy education system. Public schools have become little less than government controlled daycares.

  48. Donald January 26, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

    “We are turning to the Asian model of public school, where kids rarely get breaks and begin thinking of college at 9.”

    Yes but only the academic way. In Japan, they trust their kids to be able to walk to school. By trusting their children they are also giving them the message, “You are smart enough to look after yourself”. However in the US we constantly give them the message, “You’re too stupid to look after yourself”.

    We tell them that unless they achieve Ivy league, their life is over. They then become emotionally frail.

  49. Emily January 26, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

    >>I admit that children do fewer chores today than they did 50 years ago. This has a snowballing effect on their motivation. Why should they do chores when their friends don’t.<<

    Well, I think some of that is because of technology, since we now have dishwashers, automatic washing machines and dryers for our laundry, Roomba vacuum cleaners (and their lesser-known cousins, the Scooba robots that actually mop the floor), we have microwaves, more options for take-out meals, more instant and pre-fab foods, and just more shortcuts in general that didn't exist fifty years ago. However, I think part of it is an indirect result of the schools giving kids more homework, in response to the rigorous standardized testing, and colleges and universities being more likely to admit students with a wide variety of extra-curricular experiences. So, between advanced-stream classes, test prep, sports, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, band, choir, student government, Eagle Scouts, tutoring underprivileged kids, being tutored themselves for advanced-stream classes that are really beyond their abilities, but look good on a college or university application (like me in grade eleven math), there often isn't time for young people to do chores, or if there is, parents feel bad having their kids do chores, because they're already exhausted from the demands of schoolwork, and supposedly "optional" extra-curricular activities that could possibly make or break their future. I don't think this is a great way to live, but for some families, that's their reality.

  50. Donna January 26, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    “That’s a popular excuse, but most European countries are not homogenous anymore, and their schools leave ours in the dust.”

    Yes, European countries are becoming less homogeneous. They are still vastly more homogeneous than the US. They have about 250 years of immigration to catch up with us. Take Finland, the top country for education on many scales. It may have a growing minority population, but the population is still 89% Finnish. The next largest ethnicity is the Swedes who are a mere 5% of the population with every other ethnicity coming in at much less than 1% of the population. Our population on the other hand is 18% latino (I don’t know if this incorporates illegal immigrants and how accurately), 5% asian, 13% black, with much smaller percentages, although still larger than any ethnicity in Finland other than the Swedes, of pacific islanders, native americans, indians, middle eastern, etc.

    But that was just one aspect I mentioned. Our vast size, large population, poverty level, great income disparities, and lack of social welfare system all play a strong part in our lower education success.. Again, consider Finland. It’s population is 5 million. That is comparable to the population of Minnesota, not one of our more populous states. Finland also has the smallest income disparity in all of the EU, and I believe most countries in the EU rank much better than the US in income disparity. Finland also has the second lowest poverty rate in the world. In fact, since it is a welfare state, none of its citizens are actually considered as living in poverty by most health and welfare standards. 15% of the US population lives in poverty. Our impoverished population is 9 times as large as the entire population of Finland.

    But I’m sure that it is just our education system and not all those things that makes Finland test higher than us.

  51. James Pollock January 26, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    “Many children don’t apply themselves to schools.”

    This is not a recent development. Academic subjects at the high-school level are of direct interest to maybe 20% of the population. Once upon a time, we let those not interested stop going to school and do other things; primary education was common but high school education was not, and university education was positively rare.

    We got the idea that everyone should go to high school, and we adapted them to this notion by including subjects of use to people who didn’t want, need, or think they wanted or needed academic subjects. I went to junior high school in an agricultural town; the school had classes on farming and livestock. At the high school level, a student could take woodshop and learn carpentry and cabinet-making, metal-shop and learn how to be a machinist, electronics shop and learn how to design, test, and make electronic circuits, or study construction wiring for acceptance as an apprentice electrician. Over the last 25 years or so, we’ve gradually or in some cases precipitously cut away those courses and programs. Mathematics, sciences, English composition and literature, history… all of these are nice to have a mastery of, but… nonessential for most people. In high school, they made me read “Ethan Frome”. This did not improve my life. I also read “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which did…. but there are plenty of students who just… don’t… care… and have no meaningful reason to.

    I didn’t push my daughter academically. But she started college in her junior year of high school, and never went back; she’s settled on a career path that required a doctorate. I’m almost completely self-taught in my career field. I didn’t get much out of high-school, and I didn’t get much out of my undergraduate years, because of my own disinterest; later on I learned to truly value the opportunity to learn (enlisting in the military helped with that, a great deal.)

  52. Megan January 26, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

    I’m guessing India also does a better job of educating its students than we do, and it is a diverse, poor and enormous country. In any case, schools and their defenders cannot get enough of blaming poverty and racial diversity for our system’s failures (in other words, the students are the problem), but I would suggest that teachers are a bigger part of the problem. For example, I worked with a high school teacher recently who put “Governor of California” after Bobby Jindal’s name on something he wrote up for his students. This geography teacher didn’t know who Jerry Brown or Bobby Jindal were–even though Jindal had been running for president–and he couldn’t care less when I pointed it out to him! Our standards are lower than in Finland, and scores of other places for that matter, and you can debate why that is, but I’m not buying that we must have them because poor kids and kids of color attend our schools. We also have a huge prison population, but that’s because of the privatization movement. Follow the money and the jobs. Or look at some of the alternative schools that specifically serve poor kids but are not slaves to the education business, and you’ll see that quality can be achieved.

  53. Mery January 26, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

    This should be printed in every newspaper

  54. SKL January 27, 2016 at 12:10 am #

    All this stuff about America being woefully behind other countries bla bla bla. If you look at the actual score averages, it is a pretty small difference. It’s not like the US is full of blithering idiots and the rest of the world is full of Einsteins. So the test scores don’t exactly stoke our egos. Big whoop.

  55. James Pollock January 27, 2016 at 12:23 am #

    Historically, for the last hundred years or so, our advantage has been the U.S. university system. The world send their best here to study, and we skimmed of a percentage of the best and turned them into American engineers, American doctors, American scientists.

    Now the Chinese and the Indians are increasingly staying home to study. That’s worthy of concern.

  56. andy January 27, 2016 at 3:22 am #

    @Donna Thank you.

  57. andy January 27, 2016 at 3:28 am #

    @Megan Approximately one-quarter of the primary aged school children in India does not go to school at all (2011 from wold bank stats). So, I highly doubt that they have better overall results then USA where even most impoverished kids go to school and know how to write. In India, 84.4% among teenage males can write and only 74.4% girls. India is not doing better.

    Also, if you look at statistics closely, rich and middle class American areas do really good in those tests. It is simply not true that American schools are universally bad, as much as it usually strokes some Europeans egos. Middle class and well off children are in good schools and doing great.

  58. sexhysteria January 27, 2016 at 3:33 am #

    An interesting theory is that the primary purpose of schooling is precisely to destroy children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn (e.g. through excessive study of uninteresting information) so that children will eventually become anti-intellectual adults who are easier to manipulate.

  59. andy January 27, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    @sexhysteria People with no education don’t exactly grow up into hard to manipulate intellectual adults. And never did if you bother to look either at the history or third world right now. They could live happily way back in an non-industrial agrarian society, but those societies could not comfortably leap into industrial age. That is the reason why later monarchies founded public schools before crumbling with bangs and revolutions – huge uneducated groups of people were unable to compete and adjust to new society and ground for host of social problems.

  60. Puzzled January 27, 2016 at 5:41 am #

    Another problem with comparing across countries based on standardized tests is what those tests measure and don’t measure. I’m not in love with the American school system, but a lot of my criticisms are things we’ve done in order to try to improve performance on standardized tests and similar sorts of measurements. Those tests don’t measure critical thinking, ability to reason, or the like. They measure obscure analogy pairs and the ability to rename an essay. (Why should I have to say what the author could rename the essay? What’s wrong with the name the author gave. What kind of moron, for that matter, goes to a party and, instead of telling people her age, tells one that her age is the sum of her two aunt’s ages, and another that it is the product of their ages? What kind of party is this, anyway?)

    When I taught at a boarding school, I had a lot of Asian students, well-educated in their home school systems. They were much faster than my American students on sheer calculations, but were driven crazy when I insisted that they think about what they were doing. They tended to do far worse on questions that required explanations, and they would consistently say things in class like “tell me what to do and I’ll do it; I don’t want to understand.” That destroyed any belief I had held that Asian schools were superior to American schools.

  61. andy January 27, 2016 at 6:26 am #

    @Puzzled The point of word problems is not to be realistic or simulate real life situation, but to force you to deduce equations on your own from text. That step is hard for kids who do not understand what equations are about and their meaning or treat math mechanically only. They are not meant to be fun, they are meant to exercise specific skill.

  62. Art January 27, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    It rarely snows here. I still remember that one day I was subbing in a 2nd grade classroom and the kids could see the snow falling outside the window. Ironically, their High School brothers and sisters had already been released.

    While the two inches of snow continued to pile up, the kids were MISERABLE. OMG, that whole day felt a psychological experiment gone horribly wrong. They were all asking “when is school over?” It was damn near heartbreaking.

    Right after lunch, the rest of the 2nd grade teachers said “screw it.” We bundled them up and took them outside. We weren’t the only grade level that did also. Half the school was outside at one point later in the day.

  63. lollipoplover January 27, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    “With the possibility of as much as two feet of snow and extended school cancelations, educators have real concerns about the academic impact of the closures, which can slow progress and leave struggling students even further behind.”

    Then why do they give them summers off and long holiday breaks?

  64. SKL January 27, 2016 at 9:42 am #

    To add on a real-life example to Puzzled’s point. When I was in grad school, I had many friends from Asia, especially India. These folks were all high achievers and proud of it. Apparently they had been told that most Americans are illiterate etc. And we in the US have the stereotype that Asians are all brilliant. Well, I was floored at what these folks could not do. I remember one time we bought a VCR and the “engineer” graduate was trying to install it. There were THREE steps, clearly laid out in the instructions – Step 1, Step 2, Step 3. It took me seconds to figure it out and put it together. This was just one example. What good is it to ace a test if you don’t have the ability to apply knowledge to real life?

    Kids in certain Asian countries cram for tests because the tests will make or break them for life. It’s not that US kids aren’t smart, it’s that they aren’t desperate. (Though we might be catching up in that regard.) I think we should be glad our kids don’t have to worry that all their efforts will be meaningless if they’re not in the top __% on a test.

  65. Liz January 27, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    I was at a park a few months ago, and a woman was relentlessly drilling her young daughter about the letters that were painted on the fence posts. This was a playground, the kid clearly wanted to go play, but it was more important for her mom to have an academic teaching moment. Everything is academic now. We don’t need kids who can stack blocks and build snowmen, we need kids who can memorize the most facts.
    So I’ve made a point not to “teach” my boys anything – a 3 year old does not need a worksheet so he can learn his letters and shapes. There’s no point in lecturing a toddler about the difference between mammals and reptiles. And I’m proud of them, because everything they know, all the numbers they can count and words they can spell and colors they can mix, are things they’ve picked up by themselves just watching and playing and experimenting.

  66. Warren January 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    Just saw an article on how a school board is going to solve the problem of students not being able to sit still.


    This world has gone absolutely insane.

  67. James January 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    (((PLEASE READ AND RESPOND!))) I’m not sure how to post anywhere but in a comment on this site, so I’m giving my query in a comment. I’m a 14-year-old American male, and, until early November, had a father who led a free-range parenting style. He enjoyed this site a lot and talked about the things he had learned here. However, on November 11, I got into trouble with the police regarding an inappropriate statement I had made about my school online. Rather than allowing this to be another experience in my ascent to maturity, and acknowledging the fact that I had learned my lesson about Internet responsibility, my father took this as an opportunity to reject everything about kid’s rights from this site and go all “Big Brother” on me. From then on, he has put “parental settings” on my computer that allow him to manage and view every click of my mouse, and completely restricting my access to video games (I don’t play the mindless shooter ones — I prefer intellectual roleplayers) as well as making me have meetings with him every day in which we discuss my schoolwork and grades. (I have never had any problem academically, so the necessity of this remains unknown.) Whenever I step out of line, repercussions such as blocking websites I enjoy occur. He hides this obvious power grab under the guise of that “it bothers him that I don’t read as much as I used to.” The same can be said for my other two siblings, neither of which are suffering from the same restrictions. I had assumed for the last three months that when life was back to normal, he would return to his old ways of free-range parenting. I was driven to write this comment by him explicitly stating this morning that, after the ordeal with the police is over, he would not be removing the restrictions or ending the useless meetings, as well as the fact that last night he announced a “New Deal”-style plan to up the amount of chores and work for the whole family. Please, please, PLEASE respond with advice, links, stories, ANYTHING that could help stop this authoritarian change!

  68. hineata January 27, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    Are we sure this letter home isn’t just to prevent the school having to open extra days to catch up on the lost snow days? Up here (☺) we are required to be open a certain number of half- days per year, and in schools that get closed semi- regularly for snow, homework packets make up legally for the lost days.

    As to the US and standardized tests, I agree with Donna regarding the cultural bias inherent in some of the questions. And in spite of New Zealand doing fairly well sometimes (and crappily other times ☺) I do think that the tests themselves are relatively meaningless. Countries teach different things at different ages, and some things are simply more relevant to some countries than others. For example it still makes me laugh to think that we were taught about bears and moose etc at primary school, but the school relied on our parents to teach us about the dangers of cows and horses, beasts we were actually going to encounter. Likewise the geology etc of earthquakes ….highly relevant to Kiwis, stuff all use to residents of countries where earthquakes are unknown.

  69. Papilio January 27, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    “Finland also has the smallest income disparity in all of the EU, and I believe most countries in the EU rank much better than the US in income disparity. Finland also has the second lowest poverty rate in the world. In fact, since it is a welfare state, none of its citizens are actually considered as living in poverty by most health and welfare standards. 15% of the US population lives in poverty.”
    And “poverty level, great income disparities, and lack of social welfare system all play a strong part in our lower education success.”

    Okay, maybe you didn’t win the marathon because the other, faster, runners have better equipment, or better training, or more time to prepare, or simply more talent. But it’s really not their fault that you didn’t tie your shoelaces…

  70. Puzzled January 27, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    Andy, I agree that’s the intent, and my comment on some word problems was more of a humorous aside (although, if you’re not laughing, I guess you would say it’s an attempted humorous aside). The problem is that having a good intent doesn’t mean you succeed. Sure, it’s not meant to be “fun,” but, as I’ve said before, it’s my view that we can’t teach the student to think mathematically and abstractly without first getting them curious enough first. Teaching math to a student who isn’t wondering about the outcome becomes an exercise in memorizing formulas, no matter how hard you might try to get them to think mathematically. Sparking curiosity is different from having fun, though.

    I’m not talking from an abstract, disinterested viewpoint here. I’ve taught math for 10 years, and taught other subjects for another 5 years. I chaired the math department at a unique boarding school, and in my time there overhauled the math curriculum to involve real problems, to allow students to follow paths dictated by what they’re wondering about, to spark interest and curiosity, and to move away from exercises and the like. I don’t know that doing this improved standardized test scores; in fact, I’d be surprised if it did. I do know that it improved their ability to problem-solve like mathematicians and to think abstractly. I know that students became more likely to succeed in higher level math classes. I know that students got excited about math, students who had dreaded math before – it began to seem like something they could actually do.

    After I left, I applied to one school as an interdisciplinary teacher. The school called me and said that they weren’t interested in hiring me for that job, but wanted to create a new position for me, one where I’d teach a partial load and, in addition, mentor teachers in other disciplines to incorporate math into their classes. The goal was to, eventually, phase out the notion of departments, and math, as usual, seemed like the hardest one. For various reasons, mostly my desire to only work for a year or two, it didn’t happen, but I think I would have liked that project. Now I teach at a couple colleges, and I like to think I bring these ideas into those classrooms, but, ultimately, it’s a more constrained environment. I’ve just started teaching statistics at a small liberal arts college, though, so I anticipate I can use a lot of my ideas in that class.

  71. James Pollock January 27, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    I used to teach in a vocational college. The difference between a university education and a vocational one is that whereas courses at a university are intended to make the student a better student and better able to approach any kind of problem, the goal of vocational education is right there in the name… getting the knowledge and skills needed to get a job in a specific field, or to get a better job in a specific field, or to keep a job in a specific field. Abstract is out, application to real-world problems is the name of the game.

    I had one class that I like to call “the math class” (despite the fact that I taught it, and the instructor who had an advanced degree in math did not.) The subject? TCP/IP. There were several goals… learning how to spot mistakes (why am I getting this result when I try to ping 127.376.14.22?) Understanding how the three TCP/IP settings are related to each other, and… the dreaded “subnetting problem”, which is by it’s nature a story problem.
    I tell students on day 1 that they’ll only use math they learned in grade school… except for calculating the log (base 2) of some integer. Other that that, it’s all basic arithmetic… adding, subtracting, multiplying. Then I tell them no calculators. We do everything by hand, because TCP/IP has simple, elegant rules… that make perfect sense when you’re looking at a 32-bit binary number, and are obscured by the fact that that’s not how we write down TCP/IP addresses.

    The thing about teaching this class is that most everybody starts out feeling like they’re pounding their heads on a brick wall… then, at some point, there’s an “aha!” moment, when the relationships start to make sense… and by the end, everybody’s got, not an understanding of how to solve the problem, but an understanding of how everything relates, which allows for solving the problems. I’d say better than 50% were solving problems without having to write down any of the intermediate steps by the end of the class.

  72. andy January 28, 2016 at 3:02 am #

    @Puzzled I reacted, because I do not like much the trend of teaching where instead of trying to make them interested in math itself or biology itself or whatever, they are made excited about something entirely else (project, cool story) and math itself is treated like bitter pill hidden inside sugar.

    Math is potentially interesting to those who like puzzles. It is the solving itself, not the result that is interesting about it. I think that is the place where it becomes interesting, when they can get joy of problem solving. Temporary frustration is part of process and should not be treated like something horrible – instead we should teach them to understand it is normal feeling and how to overcome it. Like in puzzle game through that analogy is not perfect.

    I reacted also because I was surprised by how many adults wrote off core parts of math or learning in general with funny sophistries like that so much that it seems like that is seems like the whole concept of word problems would be bad or something and they would want to minimize them out in exchange of straightforward “this is equation, this is formula, apply”.

  73. Puzzled January 28, 2016 at 6:33 am #

    Andy, I agree entirely with what you say. The issue of making them more interested in something else was something I encountered in the process of changing our curriculum. I discovered pretty quickly that faculty thought that what I wanted was more projects, more jokes in class, etc. If that’s not what they thought I wanted, there’s also a tendency to go that way in any event. We cleared it up pretty quickly, and I made clear that, while I am not opposed to jokes if that’s your personality, nor am I opposed to projects, that’s not what I’m talking about when I say to help students see the beauty of mathematics.

    As far as your second paragraph, that’s exactly what I think. That’s why I’d rather spend more time on, say, the Pythagorean Theorem – first, getting students curious and wondering about the relationship between the sides, next, letting them (with some guidance and prompting) think about it, go down a couple wrong paths, and eventually discover the relationship. The alternative, which is much more common, is to come rushing into a classroom where students are thinking about anything but triangles, announce that a^2+b^2=c^2, and proceed to do (or, in more progressive ‘flipped’ classrooms, have students do) a few dozen examples, then assign a few dozen examples for homework. Everything is, in a sense, after the fact – they already know the answer. The problem is gone.

    The concept of ‘word problems’ is not bad, but the things printed in textbooks and tests shouldn’t be mistaken for problems. They’re exercises – sometimes useful, oftentimes not. They’re, more often than not, organized by section, so students know exactly what formula they’re going to use and just have to search out the numbers and determine where they go. (I met one student who had memorized 30 formats for ‘related rates’ problems in calculus, and could reliably answer any related rates problem from any AP exam. I read him one, and he did it with no difficulty. I then read him the same problem again, changing the orders of some parts but without changing any of the facts or the answer. He couldn’t do it.) I don’t at all want to strip away the thinking and get to formula-apply-repeat; I just think word problems are too close to this already.

  74. andy January 28, 2016 at 7:30 am #

    @Puzzled I fully agree. All exercises being organized by formula are huge failure. The word problems in exercises books we learned from mixed various kind, so it did not occurred to me that is the problem.

    I have met people who seemed like they are good in math cause they memorized steps to solve basic exercises too. They had hard time to learn and understand whenever anything more complicated came they way later on (latest at college). It is huge disservice to students when math is taught that way at lower levels.

  75. James Pollock January 28, 2016 at 8:48 am #

    “Math is potentially interesting to those who like puzzles.”

    This is true, but the school has to teach everyone, not just “those who like puzzles”.

  76. Beth January 28, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    @Warren, I would love to have one of those at work!

  77. Puzzled January 28, 2016 at 10:26 am #

    Yes James, it does have to teach everyone, although there is no law of nature that says everyone has to be taught the same things. It ought to teach everyone the key skills of mathematical thinking, and sometimes that involves using different approaches for different students.

  78. Emily January 28, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    >>What kind of moron, for that matter, goes to a party and, instead of telling people her age, tells one that her age is the sum of her two aunt’s ages, and another that it is the product of their ages? What kind of party is this, anyway?<<

    Maybe that party is the reason why the guy in a different math problem bought 60 watermelons:


  79. andy January 28, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    @James Pollock “This is true, but the school has to teach everyone, not just “those who like puzzles”.”

    Your point being? If you don’t like puzzles at all, you wont ever like harder math – no matter how packaged it is. Doing mathematics is very similar to puzzle solving – whether you are solving equations or integrals or trying to figure out some algorithm. If you remove problem solving out of that thing, it largely cease to be useful – both in terms of teaching you to think and in terms of whether you will be able to apply knowledge to real world when the right situation arise.

    Art is potentially interesting for those who like drawing and are visually creative. If you really never learn to like that aspect, then there is very little that can be made for you to really like art lesson. The teacher can make jokes and you may like those jokes, but that is just you liking non-art part of the lesson.

    But hey, good art teacher can make you more appreciative of that “what art really is” thing even if you initially did not liked it. Same thing.

  80. James Pollock January 28, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    “Your point being?”
    The point being that you have to design your coursework for everyone the school serves, and setting up classes that are required for everyone to take, but are catering to only a subgroup of students, is going to create students who aren’t interested in school.

    That is, causing the very problem complained of.
    Sometimes the math class should cater to the people who already like math. Sometimes it should cater to people who don’t. That being the point.

  81. Rivka333 January 30, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    I do not know what “red” means, because my parents didn’t even send me to preschool; they just let me play every day. I can’t even read or write; this is being typed out by someone else on my behalf. I can’t formulate a complete thought. All this is being typed out on my behalf by someone whose parents were more sensible.