Nathanial Garrod

Benefitting from a Verbal Faceplant

Oh man, did I make a mistake the other day. Like, a real “Learning Reconsidered” fail moment. One would think that as an individual who is earning a degree in education, I would properly consider all areas of education.

Here’s what happened:

I was asked to help judge the Mr. & Mrs. International pageant this past Friday at the institution of my graduate assistantship. This was a very exciting moment. Problem number one: no one told me how formal I was supposed to dress. So I was definitely the only male judge not wearing a sport jacket. Whoops.

While I was waiting with some of the other judges to move to our seats, I was talking to the man next to me – the chair of the math department. We got to talking about how I am taking a stats class for my grad program. I am, of course, slightly concerned. My bachelors degree is in words, numbers are not my thing.

I mentioned the last time I took a class, and used some vernacular that I had not even thought for a second about – in fact, I did not even realize what I said until the professor called me out on it.

“Yeah, I got my undergrad math requirement out of the way with a class on the history of math, where we talked about the meaning of infinity and Fibonacci numbers and stuff.”

Do you see it? Right there?

“Out of the way.”

“Oh, out of the way, huh?” the professor looked at another faculty member sitting across the table. “Don’t you just love when students get classes “out of the way?””

I think my face must have been as red as a cherry. I was so embarrassed at this mistake. Flashing through my mind were the pages of Learning Reconsidered – a document which advocates the importance of general education courses and poses that education is a holistic experience.

Out of this verbal faceplant came the opportunity for a really fun discussion on math for liberal arts students. Most liberal arts students are unlikely to use math beyond algebra, and the professor noted that classes where the concept of infinity or number sequences or how space is used are far more useful, and I agreed, sharing the benefit of my experiences.

To really educate students, it is important to give them tools for their own personal success, not a cookie cutter. Instead of shoving someone who is never going to be good at math in a million years into a calculus class, give them a chance to talk about the idea of numbers, what zero means, if you can subtract from infinity, and why Fibonacci numbers exist. Find a way to teach that science student how to write the types of reports they will need to write, not analytical essays on Moby Dick.

What do you think? Should there be more flexibility in General Education pattern options to better suit a students path? Or are there already enough options? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments

 

4 Comments on “Benefitting from a Verbal Faceplant

  1. Allyson Hanstad
    April 3, 2013

    First of all, don’t sweat the comment you made, Nathan. It wasn’t a facepalm comment but merely an honest comment about your disposition on the subject of math. Older professors are generally pretty hard to offend if they are well seasoned.

    Second, to answer your question, I believe that the system we have in place offers enough opportunities to create a well rounded education without overloading the student with classes they don’t need. (To give my position away, I am a very analytical “math brain” person.) I appreciate that I only really need to complete three courses in the language arts for my transfer requirements to cover my basics of reading/writing, speech, and comprehension/critical thinking. These are the basic language skills needed to live and interact with others productively. I am not, however, required to submerge myself in mountains of books, just for “the fun” of reading and pouring over them to analyze them and write papers for the sake of analyzing and writing papers. Instead I can choose to take extra math courses or an astronomy class in the summer which sounds like some real fun! ;p

    In any event, as long as we can keep the higher education system up and running, and make it readily available to all in terms of attainability (financially and educationally), we will groom a society for the future that is more aware of the world around them. How could that go wrong?

    (P.S. I realize that our system is not perfect and that there are many ways that it could and has gone wrong, which is another subject, but I am referring to a more educated population. THAT, my friends, could never be a bad thing.)

    MTA

  2. Marisa
    April 3, 2013

    I don’t agree with the reference to “someone who is never going to be good at math,” as it’s a very defeatist statement, and most people can learn new things (even things that aren’t their strong suit) with motivation, patience, and help. But I definitely think that tailoring education to a variety of students with a variety of goals is an awesome concept and a better way to do things. There are many different uses for math, language, art, etc., and there is no one correct approach or one aspect of each subject that every person should learn. If a liberal arts student derives more benefit, enjoyment, and understanding of math through a class like you describe than through a calculus class aimed at engineers, or a scientist derives more benefit, enjoyment, and understanding from a class that focuses on writing lab reports and scientific papers, then isn’t everyone involved better off?

  3. Alisha Leu
    April 3, 2013

    I have absolutely uttered those words before. When I was taking my gen eds, I wasn’t fully aware of the purpose of gen eds. Now I see their value and I wish I had taken them more seriously. In a nutshell, I think students need to be more aware of how the gen eds that they “want to get out of the way” are valuable. Faculty should help students draw connections to their majors or areas if interest. Maybe this is a place for student affairs/academic affairs collaboration?

    • njgarrod
      April 3, 2013

      Yes! I definitely agree. As an English major, during undergrad it was challenging for me to draw connections to biology or math or even psychology. Looking back now, I see where it makes sense, but I think having those conversations with students is so important.

      If you look at the founding documents of student affairs, part of the purpose of the creation of SA was for us to be a resource of what our students want and need for faculty members. This definitely falls into that responsibility.

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