Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2002 / 20 Kislev, 5763

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Multi-colored math, sensitive science | Native Hawaiian students will be taught Hawaiian-style science, technology, engineering and mathematics, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant to the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Advanced classes would include rain forest restoration, volcano studies and "ethnomathematics," which would look at the math of Hawaiian navigation, symmetries in Hawaiian textiles and spatial relationships in fish nets and knots, for example.

Color-coding the curriculum is patronizing and stupid, writes Marc Miyake on Amritas. Most native Hawaiians aren't primitives in paradise: They're more into downloading MP3s than casting their nets into the sea. TV beats taro.

There’s no harm in using island examples to teach real science and math: That guy rowing against the current -- a staple of my math education -- can be a native paddling her outrigger against the tide. That’s math. But it’s not ethnomath. When the ethno comes in, the rigor goes out.

In theory, native Hawaiians’ self-esteem will be boosted by hula-ized curriculum. In practice, hula-izing the curriculum implies that natives can’t learn like other students. As Miyake notes, students of Asian descent learn without abacus training. Dutch-Americans don’t need dike and windmill problems, nor do Italian-Americans do math with Roman numerals.

Typically, ethno-curriculum defines science as white, and therefore cold, while the warm-hearted natives have... spiritual stuff. It's hard to think of anything more racist. Europeans (and, mysteriously, Asians) get science, math, technology and engineering. Hawaiians get poi.

NSF also is funding research on teaching science to Native Americans via culturally sensitive "science stories."

There were five or six Native American students in my freshman dorm. Those who'd gone to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools had received fourth-rate educations. An Arizona boy wanted to major in geology or petroleum engineering, but his school hadn't offered lab science or college-prep math. A girl from the Northwest told me girls did "domestic science" (cleaning the boarding school) while boys did "environmental science" (maintaining the grounds). No other science was offered. These students didn't need stories about the rain god or story problems featuring Brave Elk and Spirit Woman. They needed to be taught biology, chemistry and physics, algebra, geometry, trig and calculus.

Human beings with gray, wrinkly brains thought up science and math. Humans with gray, wrinkly brains can learn -- if they're taught.

Where in the World is Geography?

Geography students in Britain aren't taught about mountains and rivers, countries or climates, writes Alex Standish, who taught geography in London. U.K. kids are taught the right (that is, left) way to think about environmental and development issues. And they're taught "soft skills" such as developing self-confidence, healthier lifestyles and good relationships. Just no geography.

Geography also has gone green and fuzzy in the U.S., writes CalPundit, who has questions from the NAEP geography test. Such as:

Many children all over the world know what rock-and-roll music is. What has made this possible?

According to National Geographic, only 13 percent of Americans 18 to 24 years old can find Iraq on a map of the Middle East; 11 percent of Americans couldn’t find the U.S. on a global map.

No Americans in Maryland

A Marylander says his sixth-grade son has to do a family tree for English class. There is no writing involved. There are no grammar or punctuation lessons. But what really bugs the dad is this instruction for the verbal presentation: "Do not refer to yourself as an American unless you are an American Indian."

The kid’s mom has a couple of American Indian great-grandparents, but the family doesn't want their son to think that's the only way to qualify as an American.

We have already helped our son a little with what he is going to say. I expect he will not get an A.

Big book

A stepmother is discovering what schooling is like these days. Her stepson never studies in the evening, yet makes As and Bs. At Open House, a teacher explained that he has students do homework in class, because they cheat if they do it at home. Yet, a second teacher said students are allowed to retake tests and quizzes as many times as they want to raise a bad grade.

They can bring the test home to take it again. So, at this school, which has a high academic rating, you can bring a test home but not the homework. HUH?

When I asked his English teacher what book they are studying now, she said "It's a big book -- Jurassic Park!" Talk about your classic literature...For their current assignment, they are to write a paper on anything they like. Sounds good, except she said they don't need to worry about grammar or spelling this time around. This assignment is just to have them open up and express themselves creatively. Per the teacher, they will "worry about the grammar and spelling later."

These are sophomores, two years from graduation. God help them when they enter the real world.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs