On the Slow Death of Proofs and Other “Useless” Material

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“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”

Malcolm Forbes (1919 – 1990), in Forbes Magazine, courtesy of bob@lakesideadvisors.com.

Eduhonesty: Forbes was lucky enough not to see the current post-NCLB educational apocalypse. Currently, I sometimes think we are emptying minds as we teach students that the purpose of education is to pass tests. With this focus, the joy of learning may become utterly lost. Students hear, “You need to know this for the test,” — all the time.

How often do they hear, “Isn’t this fascinating?”

Among other considerations, curricula aligned to the test can ensure that teachers won’t get a chance to teach interesting material that they and their students will enjoy.

Example: I love geometric proofs. A small, but mathematically hardy, group of students can be expected to feel the same way. No true mathematician exists who can’t and doesn’t produce proofs. Unfortunately for students, some expert in my state determined that proofs represented such a small percentage of overall standardized test requirements that teaching proofs was a poor use of instructional time. My then-high school stopped teaching proofs, except for a brief, essentially useless introduction to the idea.