Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leigh's Thesis: Chapter 3 (5)


Children’s Literature (cont'd)

In Mary Emma and Company, 12-year-old Ralph Moody’s family moves in the 1910s from the Colorado frontier of one-room school houses to the public school system of Boston. He has to take a placement test so the principal knows which class to place him in.

The principal asks, “What is the result of twelve times twelve, divided by thirteen, times five, divided by three?” Ralph responds, “I got along all right until I came to fifty-five and five-thirteenths, then I got a little bit mixed up in trying to divide it by three […] I got mixed up when I got into the thirteenths.”(1)

And so, Ralph was placed in seventh grade. How many of today’s adults can hold that many numbers in their head? Yet it was commonly expected of all children as evidenced by Ray’s Higher Arithmetic published in 1880 by Van Antwerp, Bragg, & Co., which was the standard math text of that time period.

Modern American students are no longer required to memorize how to divide by four let alone by thirteen in their heads. Everyday Math, a popular math curriculum for elementary students across the U.S., states that learning math algorithms is no longer necessary due to calculators.

The goal of training brains to retain massive amounts of information during the era of the American grammar school is no longer deemed important. The connection between training the brain like any other muscle through rigorous repetition and the ability to think deeply and well has been severed by modern education.

An easy-to-read, true children’s story about the methods of education used by American colonists is portrayed in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. This man’s navigational tables that he developed as a youth in the late 1700s are still used at the U.S. Naval Academy. His learning methodology can be summarized as reading, research, recording, and relating information until it is mastered.

(1) Ralph Moody, Mary Emma and Company (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 31.

Copyright © 2009 by Leigh A. Bortins. All Rights Reserved.

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