By Ernie McCray
I ran across a graphic on Facebook the other day that broke down “32-take-away-12=20” in two different ways: the “old fashion” way and the “new” way.
The “new” way was seen as “Satanic” and, with a click onto a website, I read that Louis C.K., one of my favorite comedians, was ticked off that his daughters had gone from loving math to crying about it.
I thought, as I looked at the math visual before me and contemplated whatever it was that was going on with an incredibly funny man’s daughters at school, that both the “old fashion” way and the “new” way got to the correct answer rather nicely. They’re simply ways. And all the ways work. For somebody.
But, alas, schools, too often, insist on making sure that everybody is taught the “new” way which usually becomes “the way” (the only way), and curriculum guides are created that tell, in detail, how to do things “the way” and rules of accountability are brought into play to assure that “the way” is being done properly.
Then “the way” becomes a mentality and those who don’t fit snuggly into its narrow confines are cast aside, bored and crushed and defeated, their hopes and dreams resting on getting a GED or maybe taking Uncle Sam’s offer to make them army strong, and so on, “making a difference,” and all that.
I can only wonder when we will ever come to realize that the key to making students excited about learning is to meet them where they live, where they are in the world, no matter who they are: a nerd, a jock, a techy, the Queen of the Prom, or a blood or a crip – calling on whichever “way” works for whomever it might be…
I can’t help but remember a conversation I had a few years back with some kids who were bored out of their skulls at their school – and this was really sad because these young people were sharp as a tack, Jack (I’m from the 40’s and 50’s and we talked like that).
And it just so happened that their school was smack-dab-in-the-middle of a gang area with other gang territories very nearby. Everyone of them had heard gunfire in their neighborhoods on days other than New Years Day. They lived light on their feet with their eyes and ears open to almost any movement or sound that was made or heard on their street.
As we talked I asked them “So, in your classrooms, what is everybody saying about the gang banging going on in The Hood?”
Like rappers spitting a hook in a song, they replied: “What you talkin’ ’bout? We ain’t never dis-cussed no gangs.”
And what came to my mind was “Ain’t that a shame.”
I thought about how their classrooms should have been places where the very term, gang, was reviewed in all its names: street gangs, prison gangs, motorcycle gangs, white collar gangs, gangs like the KKK that aren’t even considered gangs…
The conversation could begin with something like “Did you know that Las Vegas, “Sin City,” with all its glitter and glow, all its casinos and world class shows, was introduced to the world by mobsters aka gangsters?”
They need to know that gangs have always been around, that the use of gang-like tactics, in the form of political battles over land deals and such (“territories), is often how things get done in their town…
And they, particularly, need to know how gangs have been dealt with over time, with, perhaps, a little look at the cartels in Mexico, some of the baddest gangsters in our time…
Without such information to go on, how can they ever come around to figuring out what they can do to make their neighborhood a nicer place…
Then you blend these conversations and observations with the close scrutinization of other of the world’s activities and proclivities and mysteries and philosophies and intensities and insensitivities and bigotries and beliefs and creeds and all the possibilities for changing said world for the better…
And, indeed, the 3R’s and the “basics” we hold so dear would come along, naturally, for the ride. Because when students are engaged in the kinds of hands-on and minds-on learning that requires them to think, learning becomes natural to them. Like breathing. And we can never have enough air can we?
“The way,” however, won’t cut it. Schools simply must adopt a variety of ways to turn children on to learning.
I mean, after all, “32-take-away-12=20” no matter how it’s computed: the “old fashion” way or the “new” way.
With all that being said I hope that children, like the daughters of Louis C.K., whose school experiences make them cry day to day, can soon dry their tears and come to love school again.