My mother is an accomplished pianist heralded for her "ear for music." Playing in churches all of her life, my mom developed a unique ability to fuse jazz chords with gospel syncopation to create beautiful versions of classic songs. As a stay-at-home mom, she took several years off before working to finish her undergraduate degree in music. By the time she went back to school, I was already looking for colleges for myself. In her late thirties she changed her major to music and started back to college. She thrived in the music classes (even theory which she had previously not been exposed to). However, my mom is now nearing retirement age and has still not received her degree. The problem? A College Algebra requirement she simply can't pass.
I am exactly opposite my mom in many ways...especially academically. School always "worked" for me. At a young age I realized I was above average at math and science and that I was good at logic driven exercises. However, I also wanted to be good at music like my mom (and the rest of my family). I took several years of formal piano lessons and listened for hours as my mom would play and try to explain some of the things she was doing. I never got it. When I sit a piano today, I can't play a single song. Though I have had nearly four years of formal music lessons, I still cannot read sheet music (even the simple grade-school books). I am just not wired to "get" music in that way...certainly not on the same level my mom does.
In 21st century education circles, it has become increasing popular and acceptable to claim that every student is capable of being accomplished in STEM related fields. While I do not disagree with this concept, I staunchly oppose the pigeon-holing that has emerged. It would be deemed outlandish for a stakeholder to host a press-conference and claim that every student in the country is capable of becoming a concert pianist, but politicians, educators, and directors are heralded for claiming that every student can be an engineer, architect, or computer programmer. Not only is this absurd, it is crippling. As Malcolm Gladwell suggests in Outliers, it sends the message to students that if you don't excel in STEM related fields, you are not "smart." I am called smart all the time, but there are tens of thousands of people who are much more advanced than I am in math and programming. I'm just better than average in those fields. Conversely, my mom is rarely referred to as smart, but many would argue she is nearly genius level in her natural musical abilities.
As a teacher, I believe it is my job to find my students' genius and make my content fit. It is my responsibility to tailor my content to their innate strengths in order to help them develop their whole mind. However, I also believe we have a problem entrenched in American education. There is no good reason every student needs to pass Algebra 2 to indicate they are ready to excel in college. Why do we require students with non-STEM genius to prove themselves in STEM classes? Math came easy for me so this wasn't an issue. But, if you told me I would have to acquire 4 piano, or 4 art, or 4 drama credits to graduate, not only would my GPA have cost me scholarship opportunities, it might have kept me from getting my diploma. Surely we can revamp this system and celebrate student strengths equally (whether deemed valuable by manufacturing/tech industries or not)!
--Comments, opposition, questions are always welcomed...that's how I learn best :)
NOTE: I intentionally mention STEM related fields and not "STEM techniques." I do believe that with modern technology demands, all students need to develop learning strategies that align closely with the STEM movement. I am referencing STEM as the basic acronym Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
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