So that whole "I don't have kids" remark from the previous post is only partly true. My neighbors have a 2 year old. I went to the hospital the night he was born, and I love this child. I miss him when I travel, and I'm just the neighbor. In part because we're more or less on the same maturity wavelength, we get along very well, Connor and I. And so it was nothing remarkable when, a few weeks ago, Mark and Megan (the rents) asked if I could get him to eat his peas. No problem, I thought. I've done this before.
The "If you don't want them, I'm going to eat them" line usually works. It has in the past. As you can see from my reaction in the video, though, it didn't take too long to understand why Connor wouldn't eat his peas. You know why?
Because peas are gross. That's why. They're mushy and gross. Fresh peas may be good, but these had never even heard of fresh; they were born in the can, and there they should have stayed. At what point, then, did we adults convince ourselves that peas must be a staple of the modern toddler diet? Why do we care so much?
Seriously. Why do we want kids to eat peas? Do we want them to eat peas for the peas' sake, like going to the gym so we can lift more weight tomorrow? Or do we want them to eat peas in order to have energy to do something?
You see where this is going. Why math? Do we want kids to learn math because we want them to learn math, or do we want them to learn math in order to use it? It seems a bit silly to ask students to calculate the slope of a line between two points, but to never give them an opportunity to use it in a real-world situation. (Which isn't to say that I haven't done that. Oh, have I!). That's like a shop teacher explaining how to use a hammer, but never having his students build anything.
In addition to being silly, a strictly math-in-a-vacuum is also backwards...and nature abhors it! Slope didn't exist before we invented it, and we didn't invent it on a whim. Rather, I imagine at some point humans said, Oh, check it out. There's this rate-of-change phenomenon that keeps coming up. We should probably call it something.
We need to join these pieces of wood together. Hammer and nails.
We need to make sure that we don't put too much sugar in this cake. Measuring cup.
We need a way to... Math.
We need food to do. We need tools to build. We need math to use.
Of course, this is not to say that math class should be all applications, all the time. If Connor ever takes a shop class, I want him to know how to properly use the band saw, lest he cut off that little arm of his (he's going to bat clean-up for the Red Sox). In the meantime, I also want him to eat his peas, because you know what? Peas are good for you--vitamins and minerals and all that--just as factoring 100 polynomials in 10 minutes is also good for you. Just as Sudoku is good for you, lifting weights is good for you, sit-ups (I'm told) are good for you.
We need to be able to say to students, "Do this because it's good for you." But the only way they'll do it is if they see the point. Pease are great, but it can't be all peas.