Math class and gym class


Rudbeckia Hirta at Learning Curves has an insight about the similarities between her elementary school gym class and many students’ high school math classes:

I remember that we had physical fitness “tests” but that nothing was ever done about the results. Flexible? Not flexible? Doesn’t matter. We’ll just write your results down on this clipboard and move on to the next activity. In the gymnastics unit, there was one mount that I never could do; no one told me that it wasn’t because I was uncoordinated but instead that I lacked upper body strength. No one told me that these deficiencies made me more prone to injury — not just the activity-related injuries of active people but stupid, annoying injuries, like my typing-related tendonitis. And I was never given any advice on how to fix these problems. Mostly I just hated gym class and did the bare minimum to squeak by with a C.

Despite the best intentions of teachers to reach students who need help, the system that we have to work with is still one based on a turn-of-the-century (i.e. the 19th century) industrial model. The main goal of such a system is productivity — we want to produce as many widgets (students) as possible, at minimum cost and with maximum efficiency. The individual widget is not important as compared to the aggregate of all widgets being produced.

I don’t think that’s a system that can really persist for much longer without massive ill effects propagating throughout our entire culture and economy.

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