A Math Tale

Please, please, read this op-ed by Karin Klein from last Saturday’s LA Times.  Especially if you have a kid (like I do) who battles with math, but even if you don’t, the story is uncommonly touching. It’s a reminiscence prompted by the Times’ series on high school drop-outs. It starts like this:

Johnny Patrello was a greaser. I was a dork. And yet, despite our rigidly stratified school culture, we came together in the spring of 1968 at Walt Whitman Junior High School, where I tutored Johnny in algebra.

Klein makes a public policy point, to which I say amen:

What I learned from Johnny — aside from the fact that greasers could be sweet-natured and very, very smart — is that schools are structured to help administrators feel organized, not to help children learn.

Young children’s skills are all over the map, yet we corral them into second grade, third grade and so forth, where everyone moves at one pace in all subjects. Better to group them according to their skills in each subject, without the “grade” labels, and let them move on to the next skill when they have mastered the one they were on. If they’re not getting it, give them extra tutoring, but don’t push them forward until they’re ready. This way, there is no failure — only progress.

But her piece is not a lecture. It’s beautiful, sad and inspiring, and worth your time today.

(Thanks to Dodger Thoughts’ Jon Weisman for pointing me to it.)


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