For reasons that even I don’t understand, I find myself thinking a lot about improving schools. And yesterday was one of those joyous experiences where several different thoughts suddenly overlapped, forming something new.

One of my professors is an adjunct professor who teaches at several different schools. And she was talking about how it seemed to her that a decent number of prestigious schools focus too much on theoretical and abstract concepts, but no so much on real-life applications. This nicely sums up one of the areas in which I’d like to see grade schools improved.

  • Gym class was universally an utter waste of time. I suppose it got me moving a little bit. But watching football or basketball on TV, I realize that I still don’t understand the finer points of the game. How come this never came up in gym class? And, perhaps more significantly, I’ve been exercising a bit. I lift weights a few times a week, and am looking forward to nicer weather so I can take up jogging again. (Yes, I should just go to the gym and use a treadmill. But it’s not the same.) Why didn’t I do this in gym class? Why did we spend so much time on badminton? Why is there an “n” in the middle of badminton?
  • I can’t speak for others, but trigonometry was among my least favorite classes ever. Furthermore, I’ve never applied it anywhere. The only time it came up in subsequent classes was when we integrated trigonometric functions, and at that point, no one had any clue what we were doing anyway. But why not replace a math class with zero practical applications with a finance course? Not until I took a finance course here in my sophomore year did I truly learn about things like compound interest and the time value of money. Every person in America needs to know this. You have $1,000 sitting in your bank account. How much will you make if you put it in a one-year CD at 4.25%? And you graduate and go to buy a $250,000 condo, taking out a 30-year mortgage. What will be your monthly payments at 6% interest? What if you get 4.5%? What if you get stuck at 8%? And, when you’re done with that, how much do you pay over the lifetime of the mortgage? (Hint: at 6% annual interest, you pay almost exactly $1,500/month, for $539,000+. That means that your interest is more than 100% of the principal.) You can bring up usury laws, and the fact that national banks, et alia, got themselves exempted from them, and segue into credit cards. Why did no one teach me to balance a checkbook? (Okay, it’s easy. But still…)
  • I want to learn either the guitar or the piano. And I suspect that, if you went to middle or high school, you’d find lots of people who shared my interest. What the heck happened in music class? How did I pass music class without understanding how to read music, and without being able to play anything other than the recorder in 5th grade?
  • What are geography classes teaching people? Why, when I graduated high school, did I still have no clue where Iraq was on the map? Similarly, what the heck happens inĀ  civics and such? Why wasn’t I made to read the Declaration of Independence? Why don’t I know the Amendments cold? I think I should be able to yell “14th Amendment!” to any high school graduate and have them talk about its exact meaning, including due process and equal protection. 22nd Amendment? What President was it enacted in response to? When (ballpark) was it ratified? What states refused to ratify it? (Hint: Massachusetts was one of two.) What’s required to add a Constitutional Amendment?
  • Why are we so reliant on calculators? Last semester we were looking to bring a Presidential speaker, and contemplated opening it to the public to make sure we filled the crowd. A friend pulled out a calculator. “If we charge $5 a ticket, and get 100 people…” He plugged the numbers in. “That’s $500 to defray the costs.” Not until I called him on what he’d done did he even realize the absurdity of using a calculator for 5 x 100. But it’s not that he’s stupid. It’s that we’re all so dependent on them. All the time I’ll start to plug some numbers into a calculator and solve it in my head before I finish typing it in. I think higher math classes need to give Math Minutes again. The kids might think you’re nuts for doing it in calculus class, but it’s necessary!

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