The space that ParaEducate operates in is pretty much stacked in an assortment of gifts and ribbons this time of the year. And like our students, we have only one thing on our mind: vacation. The upcoming break is much wanted right now. There was a lot going on this week at work: students have abundant access to sugar at this time of year and even if the air in California is not tinged with the potential snow in every corner of the state, it is at least tinged with the knowing expectation of a break from school. Every adult on campus knows without a doubt that the students are about to explode with every moment thrilled that school will let out for days.
But sometimes at this time of the year, there are things that make us stop and remember that school is still in session. So when the question that came up from someone, “When am I going to use this?” snapped us out of our stupor of trying to maintain a hold on the little bit of world we were trying to control, we had to take a moment.
We have issues with this question when it comes from a student. Academically speaking, all of “this” curriculum is necessary. It’s training about thinking, it’s the challenge that broadens the mind. Even as we, ParaEducate, like to look at big ideas and not the factoids that drive some ideas.
Individually, however, the answer is much more complex to a student. Adults, both in and out of education, recognize that the life that awaits all of us can be complex and we will not know what skills any one person will need.
It is fundamentally possible that a person can legitimately avoid ever needing the quadratic equation outside of a direct math class. However, the quadratic equation teaches many skills. The process of using the equation, including keeping track of multiple variables, understanding multiple symbols of math, tracking multiple answers, is the real goal. For some people, even knowing and applying an existing equation to a solution is far better than trying to develop an answer with limited resources. This yields also to the skills of understanding to know when the answers inside the box are as important as having an unusual answer.
The world is changing. Having more skills and being able to flex those skills is important for all students of all abilities. And perhaps the skill of learning to waiting out the answers for not peering into the mountain of one’s future should not always come as an ascent but as a single step.
On the other hand, is the lesson so indirect students are unable to reach quick conclusions about academic relevancy? The pursuit of knowledge is a goal and finding the questions to fuel individual curiosity is the challenge at the root of every lesson in school. But all too often the option of ‘not teaching this topic’ is too easy to separate out some students from others. This raises other issues of equity in education.
There is, of course, the immediate response: is the student annoyed or is the student rude? There are ways to derail class with the tone and suggestion that class is not relevant to just one single person, that even though few people may directly use a specific skill sometimes is limited to only a specific industry. But the investment in “now” should be ‘figure this out’, and wait and see. It is hard to deal with students who seem jaded by the education system—many students with disabilities are legitimately jaded by the never ending following of being challenged by things that are too far over or too far below their skills. The rallying cry then becomes “teach the way they learn” or engage the students at their level and the push back is from other educators and parents demanding to keep students accountable. It is a very strange place to be in the middle whether or not any student has a disability or not. Teaching students that patience is the skill. That one day the skill could matter.
Skills look different for all students and skills need to be varied. Not all students will learn all the information for the long haul, no matter how the information is taught, explored, or built. But the process remains. And so we continue on.
One last bit…
Before we close out, if you celebrate Winter Solstice, Festivus, Christmas, Kwanzaa, other holiday, or calendar New Year’s: enjoy the celebrations.
We are signing off until January 10, 2019. May you and your loved ones have time together, however you define it.
ParaEducate will sign off for Winter Break, next week, December 20. Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here,and on our website. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate,the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.