Multi-colored Math, Sensitive Science

Native Hawaiian students will be taught Hawaiian-style science, technology, engineering and mathematics, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant to the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Advanced classes would include rain forest restoration, volcano studies and "ethnomathematics," which would look at the math of Hawaiian navigation, symmetries in Hawaiian textiles and spatial relationships in fish nets and knots, for example.

Color-coding the curriculum is patronizing and stupid, writes Marc Miyake on Amritas. Most native Hawaiians aren't primitives in paradise: They're more into downloading MP3s than casting their nets into the sea. TV beats taro.

There’s no harm in using island examples to teach real science and math: That guy rowing against the current -- a staple of my math education -- can be a native paddling her outrigger against the tide. That’s math. But it’s not ethnomath. When the ethno comes in, the rigor goes out.

In theory, native Hawaiians’ self-esteem will be boosted by hula-ized curriculum. In practice, hula-izing the curriculum implies that natives can’t learn like other students. As Miyake notes, students of Asian descent learn without abacus training. Dutch-Americans don’t need dike and windmill problems, nor do Italian-Americans do math with Roman numerals.

Typically, ethno-curriculum defines science as white, and therefore cold, while the warm-hearted natives have... spiritual stuff. It's hard to think of anything more racist. Europeans (and, mysteriously, Asians) get science, math, technology and engineering. Hawaiians get poi.

NSF also is funding research on teaching science to Native Americans via culturally sensitive "science stories."

There were five or six Native American students in my freshman dorm. Those who'd gone to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools had received fourth-rate educations. An Arizona boy wanted to major in geology or petroleum engineering, but his school hadn't offered lab science or college-prep math. A girl from the Northwest told me girls did "domestic science" (cleaning the boarding school) while boys did "environmental science" (maintaining the grounds). No other science was offered. These students didn't need stories about the rain god or story problems featuring Brave Elk and Spirit Woman. They needed to be taught biology, chemistry and physics, algebra, geometry, trig and calculus.

Human beings with gray, wrinkly brains thought up science and math. Humans with gray, wrinkly brains can learn -- if they're taught.

Where in the World is Geography?

Geography students in Britain aren't taught about mountains and rivers, countries or climates, writes Alex Standish, who taught geography in London. U.K. kids are taught the right (that is, left) way to think about environmental and development issues. And they're taught "soft skills" such as developing self-confidence, healthier lifestyles and good relationships. Just no geography.

Geography also has gone green and fuzzy in the U.S., writes CalPundit, who has questions from the NAEP geography test. Such as:

Many children all over the world know what rock-and-roll music is. What has made this possible?

According to National Geographic, only 13 percent of Americans 18 to 24 years old can find Iraq on a map of the Middle East; 11 percent of Americans couldn’t find the U.S. on a global map.

No Americans in Maryland

A Marylander says his sixth-grade son has to do a family tree for English class. There is no writing involved. There are no grammar or punctuation lessons. But what really bugs the dad is this instruction for the verbal presentation: "Do not refer to yourself as an American unless you are an American Indian."

The kid’s mom has a couple of American Indian great-grandparents, but the family doesn't want their son to think that's the only way to qualify as an American.

We have already helped our son a little with what he is going to say. I expect he will not get an A.

Big book

A stepmother is discovering what schooling is like these days. Her stepson never studies in the evening, yet makes As and Bs. At Open House, a teacher explained that he has students do homework in class, because they cheat if they do it at home. Yet, a second teacher said students are allowed to retake tests and quizzes as many times as they want to raise a bad grade.

They can bring the test home to take it again. So, at this school, which has a high academic rating, you can bring a test home but not the homework. HUH?

When I asked his English teacher what book they are studying now, she said "It's a big book -- Jurassic Park!" Talk about your classic literature...For their current assignment, they are to write a paper on anything they like. Sounds good, except she said they don't need to worry about grammar or spelling this time around. This assignment is just to have them open up and express themselves creatively. Per the teacher, they will "worry about the grammar and spelling later."

These are sophomores, two years from graduation. God help them when they enter the real world.

Can't Fail

Robert Wright writes:

I have a mountain of paperwork to complete on every student I gave an F to on the fall progress reports. I've been working at school until 10 p.m. every night this week to meet the deadlines.

Next year, I intend to give credit for just showing up. D- is as low as I'll go. And for those who don't show up? I'll give them independent study on the honor system or life experience credit for being alive.

Wright's district claims to retain students with failing grades and test scores below the 35th percentile. (It takes so long to report scores on the state exam, taken in May, that 6th grade scores are used to determine a 7th grader's promotion to 8th grade.)

I found out yesterday that one of our do-nothing 7th graders was removed from the retention list because his low score on the math test was invalidated. What happened? He told the counselor that when he took the test, he wasn't concentrating because he was listening to a CD player. So, he's going to the 8th grade next year.

It takes a year to flunk a student. By late September or early October, the teacher must warn parents that the student is at risk of getting Fs on the October progress report. If there's a low (and valid) test score from the previous spring, the student goes on the risk-of-retention list. An Individual Learning Plan must be in place by Nov. 27. Miss a deadline, and the student can't be retained. The goal is to protect the district from lawsuits by showing the student was given time to improve and lots of "interventions." The deadlines mean that a student who's passing in October is guaranteed promotion, no matter how badly he does for the rest of the year.

Given the paperwork burden on the teacher and the likelihood that the student's grades will be meaningless, failure is hardly worth the effort.

Grading For Goodness

In response to a crime wave among the educated, high schools in Thailand will compile "goodness" reports on students.

The books will record students' contributions to their school and community. Suchat said the logs would record high school students' emotional as well as intelligence quotients. Colleges and universities countrywide would take the goodness records into account when deciding whom to admit.

Critics say it will be hard to standardize goodness evaluations. No kidding.


Rick Little of Danville, Pa., writes:

I have numerous grandchildren from age 17 down to two. I am concerned about their education in the current school climate, and I know who their parents are.

It seems like we spend an awful lot of money on our school system and wind up with a very mediocre product! I graduated from a small, rural high school that would now be considered impoverished, and hopelessly out of date. However, all graduates knew how to read, write and do mathematics. Quite a few of us did pursue a college education in many different fields and did OK. However, we had REAL teachers!

Jon Gales writes:

My favorite part of "The Tummy Track" was:

"Students receive notebook guidelines at the beginning of the year that state that an "A" notebook requires "adding color to assignments." The notebook consists of notes, black-and-white handouts and newspaper articles. All three of the components function just fine without any added colors. The sole purpose of the notes, handouts and articles is to hold information. The notes will not have any more detail about the industrial revolution if they are written in three different colors of pen."

I can personally attest to this ... I complained many many times that coloring my notebook was menial. I finally caved and colored random items and snagged my A. My history teachers in all three years of high school (I skipped 12th grade) were all caught up on the visible appeal to the notebook rather than the content.

Steve Friedrich writes:

I must take issue with "All Show, No tell"

If we don't teach these children that fluff is more important than substance, they'll never grow up to be Microsoft Windows Help authors. It's FAR more important to put "dazzle" in a help system, such as a little animated DOG, because Americans, by and large, would rather be amused than informed.

You have to wonder how we, as a society, can even survive...

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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