You would think that I would stop worrying about these babies eventually. You would be wrong.
On Thursdays, my friend DB and I go into a local high school classroom to teach the kids about the law. Ostensibly, it’s a class about the law when we’re not there, too. In reality, however, the poor head teacher, Mr. C., gets stuck with all the odds and ends of the curriculum, so it’s more like “social studies elective catch-all with some law mixed in.”
Thus, today, when we walked into the classroom the students were all bent over their desks, working diligently on….balancing fake checkbooks.
This was distressing for several reasons.
1) The fake checkbooks were, in fact, made up of photocopies of Mr. C’s unaltered checks. Routing number and all. Now I’m a trusting girl, but there are limits. 2) The “bills” being paid were all examples of actual student cell phone bills. And I thought I had problems managing my cell phone minutes. 3) This was, from the looks of it, a VERY CHALLENGING activity for far too many of these darlings. 4) Seriously? People still balance checkbooks?
After the check balancing was some tip-calculating. Mr. C wanted the kids to practice doing this in their heads so they can, (and I quote) “stop acting like fools like Andre did when he left the $25 tip on the $40 bill.” (Andre’s protest: “nah, man, that’s what I said I should have left. I didn’t have any extra money, so I didn’t leave her nothin’.” Deeply comforting, Andre.) The conversation went something like this:
Mr. C.: So, how could you calculate the tip in your head, without multiplying on a piece of paper?
Class: (sound of crickets chirping.)
Mr. C.: What’s a really easy percentage to calculate that I could use to get to 20%?
Class: (still nothing. Seriously, I’ve been to funerals that were louder.)
Mr. C: Remember? How 10% is the easiest percentage ever to calculate in your head? How do you calculate 10% in your head?
Mr. C.: For a bill of $45.00, you’d just move back the decimal point one place to get….
Whip smart girl in first row: $4.50!
Mr. C: nice, Whip Smart. And how would you get to 20%?
Whip Smart: double it. $9.
Rest of Class: blink blink.
The kids then proceeded to do a worksheet of these kinds of problems. I asked Mr. C. about the exercises later, and he explained that the kids have their Consumer Ed Test, an
But I don’t offer this little anecdote because I want to bemoan the lousy education these kids are getting. I’m nothing if not sympathetic to teachers like Mr. C., for whom I have a lot of respect. What got to me was seeing the kids as they did the worksheets. Probably a third of the class was bored to tears because it was so easy for them (as it should be- basic percentages and decimals like this is a 4th grade learning standard, reviewed again in 5th grade, 7th grade, and every year in high school.) But two-thirds of the class was totally lost. And that kind of broke my heart. I taught this stuff to my kids, and I’d never really considered what their knowledge would look like by the time they got to high school until today. The scary thing is, by the time they’re working on this in high school, there is no longer a middle range. They’ve either gotten it or it’s gone. It makes me worry for every kid who was still struggling to get it when they left my class, who hadn’t mastered it yet. I fear that each of those kids will be among the two thirds who are lost when it’s their turn to take the consumer ed test. This is, at a personal level, deeply terrifying: my inability to explain decimels well, extrapolating forward several years, could mean that even though I taught 5th grade I will be responsible for some kids not passing high school. God.
I realize I'm being, perhaps, a little melodramatic, especially since I taught in California, which has no consumer ed. test. But you get my point.