Why Do We Teach our Students (_________________)?

A quick post here as I get ready for our first full day of staff meetings. Yesterday, at a lunch with department chairs for our lower school and our upper school, one of my colleagues raised a nice question. We were discussing our goals for this afternoon’s joint department meetings and we were bouncing around some topics related to summer reading, content alignment, etc. We are a PK – 12 school but we are on two campuses separated by three miles so we do not see each other as often as we would like. Meetings like the one we will have this afternoon are few and far between. So, the question raised by one of the chairs was this – ‘Why do we teach, fill in the blank?’ In other words, can our English teachers say something similar to each other about why we teach English? Can my math team say something coherent and cohesive about why we teach math? I titled this blog post the way I did in honor of Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs) who reminded us this summer at TMC15 that it is important to remember that math is the subject we teach (at least all of us there!) but we teach people.

So, what would you say in response to the question ‘Why do you teach math to young people?’ Why do you teach chemistry to young people?’

I think I have an elevator speech in mind but I realize, when pressed, that it is not as succinct as I would like it to be and I am not convinced that there is enough overlap between my reason and those of my departmental colleagues. I think that, for the benefit of our students and for coherence in our program, that we should probably share this question with each other. I would love to hear in the comments or over at twitter (I am found there @mrdardy) what you think of this question and what your answer is.

Off to full faculty meeting starting in 33 minutes!

One thought on “Why Do We Teach our Students (_________________)?”

  1. I feel like there’s a lot packaged up in that question, actually. First of all, where the emphasis is: Why do WE teach our students () – as opposed to leaving it up to someone else – versus putting the emphasis on the (subject). But let’s assume the latter. The “obvious” (or more standard) answers would probably be “because it’s useful/necessary/fun” – not necessarily all at once. But that’s not really subject specific.

    Going a bit deeper into mathematics, I might go along the lines of because it’s important to recognize patterns – or in the case of randomness, the absence of patterns? – for the purposes of planning in our lives. It’s also important to be able to think logically (and/or statistically), and to devise ways of solving problems, for daily living.

    Here’s the thought that really drove me to comment though. What if you asked all the SCIENCE teachers, “Why do we teach young people math?” What if you asked all the MATH teachers, “Why do we teach young people english?”. (Do some people really think it’s all about grammar and poetry?) As education becomes less compartmentalized, how do we see other subjects? I don’t have an answer for this, but I wonder. Hope the faculty meeting went well!

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