Sunday, February 1, 2009

Teaching Idiots

I went digging through my boxes looking for some stuff. Boxes and boxes and boxes, that used to be all wrapped in plastic and neatly labeled. Now, in tatters, mostly. I found the phonics book I was looking for. Brought back a lot of memories. And after quite a search I found the method I'd developed for teaching cursive writing. And after an even longer search I found the method I used to teach the multiplication tables. So now I have it, and I've spent a few hours looking through it all. All I can say is that I really impressed myself. I must have been one fantastic teacher.

Job of a teacher is to do ahead of time as much as can be done, so that it's as simple as possible for the student. Prep prep prep. And some intelligence. Take "block" or "print" or "manuscript" writing -- don't teach it at all. They didn't used to. Then some educational genius decided it would be easier for the little ones to learn two almost discrete things, one of which will become obsolete within a few years. Brilliant. Y'see, it's too hard to read something one way, and write it a little differently. Just like when I say "I", and when you say "I" -- well, that's so confusing, isn't it. How am I supposed to know who's talking? Brilliant.

I'd broken the cursive alphabet into 7 basic groups, in each of which a single shape predominates. So the kids only have to master a basic common stroke, and the rest follows. Why teach the letters in alphabetical order? Serves no purpose. Mechanical. Unthoughtful. Inhibits learning.

“arounds”: a d c o

“loops”: e l b

“up-downs”: i u t w r

“bumps”: m n h v x

“left-loops”: g j y z

“right-loops”: f qu

“overs”: k p s

Well, the font leaves something to be desired, but you see the upshot. Each stroke has a name. I'd say, for a, aroooouuuund, give-it-a-tail. For d, arooouuund, way-up, give-it-a-tail. m, bump, bump, bump, give-it-a-tail. l, big-loop, give-it-a-tail. u, up-down, up-down, give-it-a-tail. t, way-up, give-it-a tail. Then there were the "outlaws": they didn't have "tails" -- b, o, w, v. Bow V, git it? qu. Git it?

As for the math, same sort of thing. Flashcards, with, say, 7+9 and 9+7, or 9-7 and 9-2 -- or 6x8 and 8x6 -- right next to each other. They'll discover the pattern and feel smart and sneaky because it got MUCH easier. Cuts the effort down hugely, right away. For addition/subtraction, use worksheets, with the two equivalent problems in the same box, and with a numberline up to 20 at the top of the page. For multiplication, teach the 0s, 1s, 2s, and 5s. That takes care of almost half the task. Really easy. Then the 9s and the squares. Then the memory group, only ten of them: 3 times 4,6,7,8; 4 times 6,7,8; 6 times 7,8; 7 times 8. Pow. Tens are easy. Done. Do zeros to drive home the point: when you see a zero, you're done -- you know the answer. Do ones for the same reason. Same with tens.

Phonics, same deal -- a more complex skill, but it's just organization. Take the alphabet: the names of the letters are functionally useless. Need to know them, but they're not about reading. The sounds are about reading, not the names. So the ABC song should be sung phonetically -- aa buh ss duh eh fff guh, huh ih djuh kuh, ll mm nn ah puh.... Really fewer than 44 fundamental sounds in English. On the same flashcard, pair the unvoiced and voiced letters: p b; t d; f v; k g; ch j; s z; th th; sh zh; then, unpaired, h l m n ng r w y. Note the difference between sustained and abrupt consonants -- the ones you can drag out: f h l m n r s v w y z; and the ones that are all about ending: b c d g j k p q t x. Under "f" have "ph" and "gh" -- make the magic h fun. Under "k" have "ca" "co" "cu" "ch" (ache) "qu" and "x"; under "s" have "ce" "ci" and "x"; under "z" have "x"; lots of fun with the "sh" sound. About 24 consonant sounds. A bunch of vowels -- long, short, oddments, diphthongs. Some fun with variant spellings. Done. Pow.

Why do they make this so hard to learn? Idiots. Oh, yeah -- I didn't mean they're teaching idiots. I mean they're idiots, who are ... ahem ... teaching. I guess they're teaching something. Like how to fail. I was in second grade twice. They should have put me four grades ahead -- and maybe supplied a little emotional support. The Star Child, encircled by cavemen. Trust? Do not trust. If you want them to learn, you have to do it yourself. Nobody gets paid to be a parent -- just maybe to take up the space of a parent.

So that's what I did for a few hours tonight, digging through my boxes. And I found my gun. 357 S&W Magnum. Never been fired. Bought it just after clinton had been elected. Found it in one of the open boxes, in its little plastic carry-case, along with its box of bullets and the trigger lock. The trigger lock was off. The gun was loaded. There is no safety. This is very, very unlike me. What was I thinking? I must have had a plan. I always do.

Now I'm a little frightened for myself. Or of myself.


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