Home Page -> Commentary -> 10 Dec 1997

Comment of the Fortnight
10 December 1997
The Education Situation

Apparently the state of Virginia has ordered calculators for all high school students. Much good may it do them. When I was doing my student teaching, I gave a student a problem like "40% of 60 is ____".

"Mr. Eisenberg," whined one of the students, "that's too hard."

"Use your calculator if you have to," I said.

"I have my calculator. It's too hard," came the anguished reply.

The moral of the story is that you can have the best calculator money can buy, but if the fundamentals aren't there, it's a useless collection of chips.

"Ah, but wait!" I hear you proclaim. "Nobody does multiplication or long division by hand any more. What is the use of forcing these poor children to memorize these boring facts? Can you not see that this will harm their fragile self-esteem?"

Memorization of the multiplication tables does give you these benefits: Students get an exercise in discipline and persistence, and they see that they can succeed at a long-term task. I would say that both of those are good for their self-esteem.

In other education news, the San Jose Mercury News of 30 November 1997 has a front-page story about an elementary school in Santa Clara that is emphasizing reading. I quote:

"At schools like Scott Lane, there are kids who haven't even noticed print till they come to kindergarten," [teacher Susan] White said.

Many of these students come from homes with no books...Until they started kindergarten, they had few experiences being read to, playing word games, practicing their letters or singing nursery rhymes.

Of course, if any of these children don't turn out to be excellent readers, you can be sure the parents will blame the incompetent teachers.

More Pictures!

My brother was in town last weekend, and we went to San Francisco. [That's my excuse for this fortnight's comment being a tad late.] I took along the DC120 digital camera and "played tourist." The photographic results are available for your viewing pleasure.

Hi, Foster!

A special hello to Foster Schucker, a wonderful programmer with whom I worked at the University of Delaware. He and I effectively share the same birth date, so we keep in touch once a year. I have found out that he reads this column, and I promised I'd put his name in, and here it is.

Back to top of page