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Parent Questions Mandatory High School Chemistry 866

Ollabelle writes "David Bernstein, a nonprofit executive who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., has two sons, ages 7 and 15. He has previously written about how schools fail students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Now he turns his attention to mandated curriculum in public schools, and argues that his sons shouldn't be forced to take any science class." From the article: "There’s a concept in economics called 'opportunity costs,' which you may not have learned about because you were taking chemistry instead of economics. Opportunity costs are the sacrifices we make when we choose one alternative over another. ... When you force my son to take chemistry (and several other subjects, this is not only about chemistry), you are not allowing him that same time to take a public speaking course, which he could be really good at, or music, or political science, or creative writing, or HTML coding for websites."
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Parent Questions Mandatory High School Chemistry

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  • Makes good points (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ranton ( 36917 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @11:35AM (#41681783)

    Before jumping to some assumption that he is a bible thumping moron (I made the same assumption at first), you should read the article. He doing make very valid points. He actually says he would like to replace full classes on topics like chemistry with several survey classes that expose students to many subjects before they choose the ones they are interested in. This sounds like a great idea. I was a physics major in college, and even I found my high school Physics class hardly useful at all. Not nearly enough depth to gain useful knowledge, and those who will never use it weren't paying attention anyway.

  • Re:Translation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @11:36AM (#41681789)
    Brewing alcohol is more biology than chemistry. Chemistry is what you get when you mix alcohol with conc. H2SO4... from there you can make anything you want.
  • Simple Answer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @11:45AM (#41681987)
    There is a really simple answer to this problem. If you don't like the educational priorities selected by those who determine them in school curricula, teach your children yourself. While you still might have to meet these criteria, the amount of actual time spent doing so would be at your discretion.
  • Re:Translation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by borcharc ( 56372 ) * on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @11:50AM (#41682083)

    My parents did this to me when I was a kid because the teachers convinced them I would be unable to learn math, chem, etc due to an alleged learning disability. It took me years after high school to get caught up on 10 years of missed math courses. I still hate them for it...

  • Re:Translation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SkimTony ( 245337 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @12:34PM (#41682783)

    In my AP Chemistry class in High School, one wistful afternoon late in the year one of my classmates asked, "How do Drano bombs work?"

    After a quick explanation of what a Drano bomb was, the teacher turned around, wrote the replacement reaction for the aluminum and sodium in solution, and instructed us to calculate the change in enthalpy for the reaction (this actually lined up remarkably well with the curriculum). It was very instructional.

  • Re:Translation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:09PM (#41683191)

    High school isn't "early education". This father has the same perspective on high school that I have had ever since I did it. By the time you hit the end grade 9, you're DONE with generalized education. You've had time to do your book reports on the all-mighty shakespeare(heaven forbid we should teach our kids about anything current that might actually get them interested, some kids will like this for the history aspect, but thats what a damned history class is for, and they have that) and you have more or less developed into whatever type of person you are going to be.

    High school should be about trying out new things and entirely about figuring out and eventually working towards what you want to do with the rest of your life. Having these programs available is a must, having them be mandatory is one of the worst possible things that any society has ever done to their following generation.

    When I and most of my class mates were in grade 9 we still enjoyed school for the most part(there are always exceptions) but once I hit high school I became extremely disheartened. This was the place I wanted to start trying out things to see what I might like to do, and I had a direction in mind already, as did everyone I went to school with, barring a very small minority. Thanks to mandatory credits however I ended up missing a lot of the things I wanted to try, and doing another 10 reports on various dead peoples poems, books, and plays.

    Those highly specialized STEM schools are intended for the extremely gifted and taught by the extremely gifted. Most of those people develop many personality quirks over the years as a result of being so focused on one particular thing, but its not what I(or, I believe, this guy) are talking about changing every school into.

    Admittedly in my case it probably would have largely resulted in a high STEM focus but it would have been taught by high school teachers, not people who have been paid exorbitant amounts of money to stop researching or teaching at a university in order to teach your kids.

    In my paricular case my high school years probably would have looked something like this:

    1st Year:
    and maybe intro to plumbing or some such... then I'd have narrowed it down from there, or tried something else in the second year.

    There is a huge opportunity cost to me in the fact that I was forced to take french(I'm in canada... where the only place french would matter is if I was trying to get a job in retail or customer service in quebec), english, and a Drama class in high school. Turns out I'm really good at French and Drama but I had and have zero interest in either one. These aren't short courses either. We're now talking about 15+ hours per week of teacher time completely wasted. Chemistry and Biology may have been a waste as well(those were the things I couldn't do due to time restraints, as well as some of the more advanced math courses that I was interested in but couldn't see myself benefiting from in anything but an academic realm) but they were something I had an inclination towards and I still regret not doing.

    Also, anyone should know the sheer amount of mental energy totally wasted forcing yourself to do something you have absolutely no interest in doing. Its like slogging uphill through knee-deep molasses. Its even worse than house work. You do it because it needs to be done. You may have zero interest in(and potentially hate) doing it, but at least you have an interest in the end result.

    In my case in the second year of high school when I was forced to endure over 20 hours of classes every week that I had no interest in I lost all will to go to school or do anything with it at all. I went from an A+ overall average to a C because I just did things that interested me outside of school. I was short on time so I sacrificed at-home sleep for sleeping at my desk in school. I even perfected sleeping with my eyes open for a couple of teachers that hated what I w

  • Re:Translation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Venner ( 59051 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:14PM (#41683257)

    Similarly, when I was in my high school physics class, there were some things we did our "Physics Olympics" competition that wouldn't fly today. This was only 15 years ago, but in a small, rural, midwestern town.

    Just offhand, I remember building a Rube-Goldberg machine comprising (among other things) a very sharp hatchet, a butane torch, and a large mercury thermometer.

    Another project had a goal of flinging a tennis ball the farthest; my partner's father worked in a metal shop / foundry and we built a compressed air cannon involving 1/4" steel pipe and some rather impressive pressures.

    While we were talking about gears, pulleys, etc, I assembled a rudimentary cranked Gatling gun - about 12 inches tall, out of Technic lego, copper tubing, spring steel, etc -- that could fling BBs a distance of around 30 feet.

    However, even then we could see the changes coming. While I was in school, the new school board decided that students who took both wood and metal shop were no longer allowed to make crossbows. It was a tradition going back at least 40 years; some of the kids with good artistic skills carved beautiful stocks. Of course, there aren't even wood or metal shop classes now.

    All of my teachers have since retired and there's a completely new administration now. Last year a student was suspended for having a kitchen knife - in her car - which she had brought to cut a birthday cake. The school board backed down from an outright expulsion. Sad, stupid times.

  • Re:Translation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:42PM (#41683615) Homepage

    My kid sucks at chemistry and, like all pussy-ass parents today, I don't have the heart to tell him that he's not incredible at everything (and don't want to risk him finding out by taking a class where he doesn't get an automatic "A").

    And then the kid will take economics and "management" courses through his education and become a manager who will likely have little or no appreciation for the reality of science. I've seen similar things personally: Managers who make scientifically impossible demands on R & D departments. When R & D doesn't deliver the impossible, smart honest people are turfed, and naive and inexperienced (but "energetic") people are brought in, and the company spirals into oblivion. I have seen two first-hand examples of this in two different companies. Both managers were MBA's. Both were eventually fired, but not before they did deep harm to their companies.

  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @01:45PM (#41683649) Journal
    OK, on a more serious note, this part of TFA really gets me:

    When you force my son to take subjects which which he doesn’t connect, you are not allowing them that same time to take a public speaking course, which he could be really good at, or music, or political science, or creative writing, or HTML coding for websites.

    Point for point (in bold):

    • I learned public speaking through my decision to be involved in Key Club [] (extracurricular community service) and took that to the state level without any classes on it.
    • I was in concert band, marching band (assistant drum major), and orchestra for four years of high school, and I took AP Chemistry in 10th grade. Music and Science are not an either-or proposition. If your school is making kids choose between the two (which I doubt), they're doing it wrong.
    • I was terrible at AP Chem. I used to get back tests with "you should drop this class" noted at the top. But the AP Chem teacher was also very interested in politics, which I learned outside of the class periods. I'd spent my lunch periods when he was on hall-monitor duty talking about politics articles we'd both read in The New York Times that morning, and he planted the seed that got me interested in political journalism. For two years after that class, I still met up with him between classes and after school, bouncing ideas off of him and effectively sharpening my tools.
    • I developed creative writing on my own, largely by reading The New York Times seven days a week and writing parodies of events in the newspaper and at my school, getting people to look at situations from a different perspective. I failed at it sometimes, but I didn't need a grade or a class to know when I failed at it.
    • I taught myself HTML by taking apart other people's code on real Web sites and making small changes to see what happened. Within a couple years I had knowledge of HTML you wouldn't find in any book that gave me a huge advantage over people who took a class on it. In my sophomore year of college, I was teaching a 300 level class on online journalism because my 30,000-student university didn't have anyone more qualified to teach it.

    All of the above, taken as a whole, resulted in an internship and a salaried job working at the very publication that is hosting TFA (ironically, I was reading Slashdot back then, but hadn't set up an account, and now Taco's working where I was). I used to run the business [] and technology [] sections, and later developed HTML for the site that loaded faster than code by the "certified experts" they hired to "improve" my code. Then I left for a job in Silicon Valley, making HTML do things the engineering staff said weren't possible because they hadn't read them in a book.

    The point is that kids need a variety of experiences... especially the ones they will fail at. The failures open you up to other things which you pursue in your spare time. And if this guy's kid actually does have ADHD as TFA claims, the biggest problem he has is figuring out how to fill all his spare time. People I've known who have ADHD are constantly trying to squeeze as many activities as they can into every waking moment of their day... and at least one of them taught herself to develop Web sites and sits up late at night coding when her ADHD won't let her sleep.

    If you let your kids eat whatever they want three meals a day before they, they'd probably die of scurvy before they were able to figure out what they really liked and what they really need. If you let them throw out whatever classes they "don't connect with," you're doing the same thing to their brains.

  • Re:Translation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tyrione ( 134248 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:37PM (#41687263) Homepage

    And not a single example of those classes are worth a shit in an Engineering Curiculum because any ass hat with a semi-decent attention span realizes that your first year in High School isn't Math, Chem, Physics, Biology, Woodworking, Mechanics and Computers. In fact, no high school in America Teaches a Math Class, but you know that. They teach a specific discipline of Math, predominantly Algebra or Geometry, depending on how well you did in Junior High. And that was in the '80s when we were already lax on standards.

    In Junior High School, I took Woodshop and Plastics but it wasn't building a Cabinet, a small skiff or a fucking row boat. It was building a small CO2 based balsa wood race car connected to a string and we raced them off, to making a little keepsake box, to a router that made a sign. Big fucking deal. Plastics was about using adhesives to bind multiple layers together and then using a belt sander and other buffering tool that make useless plastic art, but I still learned something as an adult I can extrapolate more on.

    High School was Metal Shop for a fuck off class learning a spot welder and the oxy-acetylene torch but never an ARC Welder or a Metal Lathe or anthing necessary to make something other than a stupid tool box. But I still learned more than before I took the class and when I did take Manufacturing Engineering I remembered it all, especially how similiar and different Lathes are for differing materials.

    Wood shop in High School was better than Junior High but still we had several numbnuts nearly cut their hand in two with a band saw, or catch their clothes on a table saw. No one handled a skill saw like you do building a home or other self inflicting tools that on a construction site is routinely expected. How come? Because kids are too stupid to realize the mortality of the situation and pay attention.

    High School Physics is dumber than College Physics for Non-Science majors. Biology and Chemistry as well are not much more challenging. But if I didn't have that exposure going into my university days, I would have been in a deeper hole while studying to get into the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department at WSU and any other Pac 12 university. This asshat's dad should shut his mouth and demand the school up the ante for requirements, not lower them.

    We didn't get credit for showing up. Today's kids get 50% of their grade by putting their butt in a chair. They deserve 0%. Shakespeare develops the mind and language skills clearly this country continues to devolve away from by the simpleton minds thinking Mr. Stick Up his ass Romney has a brain other than to legally fuck the masses over.

    I would have flunked your ass and kicked you out of school for whining you were fucking bored. STFU, sit up and listen up. The Internet sure has made a lot of losers money by writing HTML but it sure as fuck does nothing for advancing a nation, never mind Mankind with such skills a 10 year can do just as well.

    Life is what you make it. Opportunity to see how courses evolve ones ability to problem solve, articulate their observations and how to influence their peers all comes from a diverse education, not some cookie cutter solution that a kid decides what he wants to learn, or what to eat. America needs to offer a more diverse and longer year of education, an investment that made this nation great. Instead, we've got parents who should not be parents and who whine that Tommy is bored.

    P.S. Don't procreate. We already have too many idiots with kids who don't push them to think and learn for the simple sake of learning.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson