Thoughts on School 1/30/19

Second semester of doctoral program has begun. A few thoughts hence.

  1. So I am going to have to force myself not to rush through work in statistics, because it’s not that complex, and it’s frankly not difficult math. (I didn’t say the CLASS was easy! I just mean I’m not doing things more challenging than multiplication/division/square roots, and we worked on the order of operations last night.) It’s not theoretical at all, and there are no shapes (aside from a bell curve, but nothing truly geometric), which is what became a challenge for me in high school. With that said, it’s remarkable, even from just an hour of work, how sloppily statistical terms are thrown around in popular culture. We all know people who confuse correlation with causation – it’s rare any onething can be conclusively proven to cause another – but even basic terms like “samples,” “populations,” and even “statistics” itself are used poorly. Not that calculus is useless, but I strongly believe that a basic literacy (well, numeracy) in statistics would be more useful for a young learner than most of the arcane and dense math that is foisted on high schoolers. It’s much, much easier to connect statistics to daily life, yet it’s not part of the regular program, and that doesn’t help anyone.
  2. On the other hand, I was lucky I almost always had enthusiastic math teachers, even up until the time when I struggled in higher calculus. You might laugh, but “math trauma” is a real thing, and I’m fortunate not to have suffered through it. Many tense up when even performing basic arithmetic, and I can certainly see how that might have a deleterious impact on anyone’s personal stability. We all need math – just like we all need writing – and the way it is delivered makes a massive difference.
  3. I’m also taking a course on Multilingual Learners, a phrase that is new to me but a concept with which I am deeply familiar. I don’t want to shame my MA program, which was great, but I hesitated going for another degree for many years because I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle reading scholarly writing. That was my own immaturity speaking, of course, but a lot of what I have read in these few months would have been invaluable eight years ago. I suspect I would have sought different professional experiences at the time. But I also know I lacked confidence, and probably wouldn’t have been accepted into a program.
  4. My broader point, though, is that liberal arts education is structured, generally, such that undergraduate education is for a broad base of knowledge with some direction and choice, a professional degree for specialization, and a terminal degree for scholarship. I understand the system, but I’m not sure the students who are interested in scholarship should be as separate from other learners as they are. On the other hand, there is a fierce engagement during my classes I have never encountered before, even at all my elite schools, so maybe I’m an example of a person for whom the system actually works. It certainly wasn’t an easy process for me to figure out, though, so I can imagine, and empathize with, the reasons why many students struggle, and I hope, in some small way, my future work can be of use to them.

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