Sunday, June 20, 2010

Adding means subtracting

We Americans seem to forget that when we add something to our lives, we give something else up. We make a purchase and diminish purchasing power. We add a new curriculum at school and give up teaching time for other subjects. We add activities to our childrens' lives without considering the loss of unstructured childhood - or of family time - or of sleep.

Losing weight a couple of years ago, it helped me enormously to reconstruct my thinking to recognize that everything I ate had a cost. The body has to work to change what we put into our mouths into what our cells can use and separate and eliminate what it can't. Eating, though absolutely necessary and very enjoyable, is always a stress to our bodies. This stress should be worthwhile. The addition includes a subtraction. There is a cost of effort to our body's systems to process what we eat - that cost should have a positive benefit making it worthwhile. Blueberries-yes. Fats-not so much.

School days are about 6 hours long for children. If you were teaching them at home, this would seem a very long period of instruction time. However, the schools have become the dumping ground for every well-intentioned social imperative. As each concern arises, something else is added to the school day. No one ever considers what is subtracted. The result is we are working harder at "socializing" our children than "educating" them. We have added much that is "good" without consciously acknowledging its cost in terms of what is subtracted. One of the many things lost comes from families. Because 6 hours of school time are filled with a great deal that is extra - actual study and skill development increasingly must be done at home. This creates several immediate problems.

Families of school children today are unable to "own" their evenings. The school's agenda supersedes the family's. In order to successfully learn the day's material, children must study at home, carrying the school's agenda into the after-school hours. They are deprived of the unique wisdom and ways of their own family as it becomes a subordinate subset of the school. Society with families so influenced loses the strength of its diversity. The ideal of a public education providing a level playing field for all is destroyed when children are are expected to do the majority of their studying in such a variety of home settings. For some children, just surviving the evening is agenda #1.

Some years ago our local schools were required to assess their schools for a weakness which could be addressed with an "improvement plan." Teachers were most concerned about the students' apparent inability to apply what was learned in one context to another. For example, students who had successfully completed a math unit on measurement were unable to measure fractions of inches in shop class. An initiative was planned to develop "critical thinking" skills. When it was suggested that adding a "critical thinking" curriculum was not needed - but, rather, a study of ways in which "critical thinking" is undermined and discouraged at school, the school personnel were stymied. They really were not prepared to think in terms of examining and editing what they do. They didn't know how to subtract - only add.

It's the same with BP - regulators seemingly failed to look at what would be subtracted by drilling for oil in the Gulf and focused only on what would be added. Ooops! Perhaps it's time to develop a broader math skill set.


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