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June 04, 2009




Your comments could not be more wrong and patronizing. I came from a poor, dysfunctional family. The suggestion that I did not need literature because I was disadvantaged is offensive. Do you think I should just have received a basic education? Perhaps just arithmetic and reading practice because I wasn't going to amount to much anyway?

Thankfully, I come from Ireland and despite my disadvantaged background, I received a rich and diverse education. While I initally struggled at school, my interest in history, Irish mythology and other cultures inspired a love of learning that allowed me to become a college graduate and enjoy a middle class salary.

I'm sure a businessman like you probably assumes that mythology and history are pointless for poor kids because they don't "teach anyone how to earn a living." But actually they do. If a child develops a love of reading and learning that can absolutely help them make a living. Even though it was mythology and history that got me interested in school and learning, I earned my degree in Information Systems.

Will a future burger flipper or drug dealer be better off because they learned how to calculate interest in school? Probably not because most likely they are not listening to the lecture. Maybe if they develop an interest in literature they will want to learn more and more and more including how to calculate interest payments. Instead of becoming a burger flipper or a drug dealer maybe they will become a computer programmer, scientist or policeman.

For poor kids, who come from homes where learning is not pushed or valued, the difference between succeeding or failing academically will be based on whether the child by him/herself develops a passion or enthusiasm for learning. I had a disadvantaged friend in college who because of her love of literature graduated from college and went on to work in the TV and movie industries. Would calculating interest payments have inspired the love of learning that allowed her to succeed?

The business people pushing schools to teach only math and reading are terribly misguided. Kids are bored a school. They don't like learning. I spent about 40 minutes a day learning math at the primary level. Yet I knew far more math entering 4th grade than kids I know who are entering 6th and 7th grade who studied math for 2 to 3 hours a day. Why? Because these kids aren't listening in class. Maybe if they learned art, history and geography like I did they would listen to the subjects they don't like for a couple of hours.


I sincerely apologize if you felt patronized or insulted. That was not my intent.

Sounds like our childhoods were quite similar - I went to work at age 12, my brother at 11. My dad was a surveyor and my mom was a cook.

I grew up in inner city Washington DC during the civil rights marches, Vietnam War protests and the rioting and burning of large portions of the city. Your country had terrible trouble too during those years.

Of course students need literature, but to appreciate, say a Langston Hughes poem like A Dream Deferred, one must have a grasp of basic English. US public schools don't provide that basic grasp - of English, Math or Science.

I live in Memphis TN where 30% of our children live in poverty and 20% of the adults are in poverty. As I have gotten to know many of these families, I saw a common pattern - they can't read, write or do addition and subtraction. Yet they have a high school diploma from the Memphis City Schools.

They live in poverty, they are raising their kids in poverty and the cycle will repeat. All I meant to suggest was it would be helpful for people living in poverty to have their children learn the skills and education sufficient to live a decent life. From a comfortable financial foundation, one can then afford higher order intellectual pursuits.



You absolutely and COMPLETELY missed my point. People will say that it is pointless to teach Calculus to an English major or Accounting to someone who wants to become a nurse. My point is that most high schoolers don't know what the want to do career-wise, so it is best to expose them to a wide array of course-work.

Maybe someone who thinks they want to study English in college will take Calculus in high school and find they have an aptitude for it. Maybe that will take them down a different path in life.

You will also see that I said that exposure to a wide array of coursework will "broaden potential college and job opportunities" first because, yes, this is one of the most important goals of education.

But education isn't solely about preparing people for the workforce. It serves many purposes. An engineer should be able to read a financial magazine, so he/she can make informed personal financial decisions. A nurse or police officer should be able to prepare a monthly budget and balance a checkbook. Every parent should be able to help a child with homework.

As for your unnecessarily snide comments about literature, yes there is value in reading it. Literature can improve reading skills. It forces students to understand complex language and plots. It builds vocabularies and improves comprehension. The improved reading skills that a student develops from reading and comprehending literature will help them with business, engineering and science texts down the road.

We don't really test understanding of literature and poetry properly in this country. We just give students a few multiple choice questions that ask about plot and character. But look at tests that other countries use and you will see that literature can be very valuable in improving overall literacy skills. And those improved skills come in handy when students enter college and the workforce.

I stand by my point that every student should be exposed to a wide array of English, Math, Science, Geography, Foreign Language, Economics, Business and History courses at the k - 12 level.

Yes, even if they are poor and black. Those kids aren't stupid and incapable. We just aren't educating them properly. Studying Math and English all day obviously isn't preparing them for the workforce. Why continue doing what has been failing for decades? Maybe a broader education would do a better job.

Poor minority kids who learn using the Core Knowledge Foundation curriculum do much better on tests than their peers. The Core Foundation curriculum exposes kids to challenging literature, science, geography, history and so on. And these minority kids do much better than their counterparts who are exposed to narrower curriculums. Let's not write these kids off and expose them to nothing but the three r's all day based a condescending assumption that at least we should be preparing them for a job in Walmart because we assume they can't do anything else.


Sorry I missed your point - my only excuse is I went to US public school K-12 and your logic was above my ability to grasp it.

I can only speak from my experience, growing up poor and today volunteering in inner city Memphis black churches to teach financial literacy first and then move toward greater literacy in basic English - like reading an auto lease.

I disagree that high school should be a mile wide and an inch deep. That is not how our global economic competitors are preparing. The high school curricula in India and China is 80% required. In the US it is ~ 50%.

So Indians and Chinese graduate high school with a deep understanding in math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, Western literature (including very deep knowledge of Shakespeare), Art, Music, Drama, English language, English grammar, Civics, World Geography, and at least one other language - either Hindi/Sanskrit or Mandarin.

Electives include public speaking (or Elocution as they refer to it), Economics, additional art and music courses.

Given their curriculum - what makes the American curriculum superior for the high-tech, high growth 21st century?


"Does it make sense for a English major to take calculus before attending Purdue?"

K through 12 should NOT be designed to prepare students for a particular college major or a particular job. It should NOT be designed solely to prepare students for the workforce.

It should give students a wide range of knowledge in multiple subjects to:
- broaden potential college and job opportunities
- allow someone to read literature, history, science, economics, etc. for interest or enjoyment
- understand the newspaper and evening news
- enjoy a hobby
- help a child with homework
- be an informed citizen
- be an informed consumer

Many high schoolers have no idea what they want to major in until they go to college. Many college students don't pick a major for one or two years. Teaching subjects like Calculus in high school broadens the possibilities for students.

We also need to get away from this idea that it is pointless to learn something if we are not going to use it in our careers. We should teach children to value learning for its own sake.

Bob Compton Comments:
I agree let's not teach anyone ANY knowledge in high school that would help them to earn a decent wage unless they go to college. Poor people need to learn to appreciate literature for enjoyment.

Oh my...30% of high school students drop out before graduation, nationwide? Yikes! (75% drop out of high school in Detroit - 50% drop out in Memphis - at least they are valuing learning for it's own sake... in the welfare line. I hear Kafka and Dostoyevsky discussed daily in the welfare line - it warms my heart))

Hmmmm... how will they get to college to prepare for a job?

And what about that quixotic idea to:
-allow someone to read literature, history, science, economics, etc. for interest or enjoyment
- understand the newspaper and evening news
- enjoy a hobby
- help a child with homework
- be an informed citizen
- be an informed consumer

Only 3% of African American HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES are proficient in math - might that explain why they miss the 27% interest payment on their car lease...?

Oops ...11% of high school students are functionally illiterate and 44% are moderately illiterate? Illiterate? Yeah, sorry.

Oh...only 20% of high school graduates go on to finish college in the US?

For god sakes- let' not teach anyone how to earn a living...

Let's teach hobbies and literature for enjoyment...

Hugh Dyar

I heard this on NPR and was feeling good about the new reqmt until I saw your comments about the remedial math. Yipes.

Billy Boat

It sounds good, however, most majors do not demand a lot of math. Does it make sence for a English major to take calculus before attending Purdue?


I depends on what the English major plans to do for a career:

1- Write for a living - better be able to adapt to rapidly changing channels of communication (social networks, blogs, Twitter, etc) and quickly divine new was to earn income from 21st century publishing.

2- Teach English - English educators will need to be comfortable adopting new learning technologies and new student communication technologies.

3- Will Calculus Hurt You? - I have read of no reported injuries from taking a rigorous math course, pushing one's cognitive limits and learning an intellectually demanding subject. A mind once stretched rarely returns to its orginal size.

4- What careers might open up to an English major who enjoys Calculus - 21st jobs is century communications, web journalism, movie making, technical writing, web design, etc etc.

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