By April 22, 2014 Uncategorized 19 Comments

First, I must provide a disclaimer: I don’t watch “Dancing with the Stars.” It’s not that I don’t like ballroom dancing. I’m just not any good at it. Therefore, using middle school reasoning, dancing must be stupid right?

If you’ve met me, you know that I am rather tall. I am still waiting for my coordination to catch up with my 6’4″ frame, but alas, at age 52 I’m starting to think this may never happen.

I actually have perfected two styles of dancing. I have the slower type, somewhat waltz-like — where I hold my wife in my arms and shuffle back and forth like I’m in line for a Disney attraction — and fast dancing, where each of us is on our own, and which I don’t do anymore. At least not in public.

I shared with a colleague not long ago that the reason I don’t like to dance is because when I do, I look like a giraffe that has just been hit with a tranquilizer dart.

I’m not kidding. Here is exactly how I look getting a drink from our school water fountains, which are seriously too low!

Like most men, I have worked out my signature fast dance “move” and I’m sticking with it, no matter what. It’s the same one I’ve used since the late 1970’s. I move my feet back and forth as if I’m speed skating and, at the same time, move my shoulders up and down as if I’m rubbing my itchy back against an invisible tree.

Every once in a while, I’ll flip my head to the side, kind of like I’m shadow boxing. Oh, and three or four times during a song, I’ll snap my fingers or do a quick spin to add a little character to my performance. It works for most songs and it can be sped up or slowed down depending on the pace of the song. However, I haven’t figured out what to do with modern hiphop, other than hop up and down to the beat of the music, which looks and feels ridiculous.

If all this sounds awkward and a little painful, then I’ve done a pretty good job describing the whole mess. And, no, I have never taken any formal dance classes. At this point in my life, I view dance classes like Lindsay Lohan looks at rehab: I don’t think I have a problem and would not take classes without a court order. So there. But given that I only really dance once or twice a decade, at wedding receptions and such things, I haven’t given it that much thought or effort.

I do wish someone had made me take a dancing class when I was younger.  Some may find this hard to believe, but as a teenager I was painfully shy. I had very few friends and avoided eye contact with people I didn’t know. I did not attend my prom or any dances for that matter during my entire school career. Girls scared me to the point that I literally did not go on a real date until I was 21-years-old. I married her.

A dance class would have likely helped me develop better social skills, polished my manners, and boosted my then fragile self-confidence. Moreover, it may have improved my coordination and been a good way to meet new friends. I am not alone. There are many students in our schools today that would benefit from these attributes, particularly with the loss of social interaction brought about by modern technology.

And, if I had actually taken a class way back then, I might not dance like a sedated giraffe today!

However, “someone” did make me take a class called Algebra II. We still do this with most students in high school today. I’m not complaining because I always enjoyed math and science classes. It was in algebra II that I learned how to graph the equation of a parabola like the one below.

Remember how to do this? Me neither. Even though I love math, I can honestly say that the only time in my life that I have ever needed to know how to do this is in math class.

Some research states that less than 10% of all adults need any math beyond basic algebra. Yet, we still require every student in Oklahoma to pass Algebra I. I guess so they can move on to college and be forced to take even more algebra that they will never need. I remember struggling through differential equations in college to earn a degree in geology. Why I needed to know this I will never understand.

Math teachers—relax! I am not saying that the study of mathematics is not important. Having strong quantitative reasoning skills, knowledge of fractions, ratios, area, statistics, personal finance and  interest rates all contribute to a general competency in math that nearly all adults should possess.

But, honestly, why do we take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations to earn a high school diploma? Of course, many occupations do require a higher level of mathematics. But, does a young person pursuing a career in Journalism or English education really need to know college algebra? On the other hand, does an engineering student need Shakespeare?

I also know that some argue that study of advanced mathematics builds analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. At the same time, is it the only (or best) way to teach all students these skills? How about just imbedding real-world problem solving in all classes or teach them in the larger context of a class focused on entrepreneurial skills, creativity, and critical thinking?

Anyhow, I’m not trying to win a debate here—just posing a philosophical question. If you want to read more about this topic, HERE is an excellent article from the NY Times titled, “Is Algebra Necessary.”

Here is a question I asked members of our site leadership team a few years ago:  Which high school course is more valuable for students: Algebra II or Ballroom Dancing? Parabolas or Paso Doble?

I submit the answer to this question is it depends on the person.

Looking back for me, I would have to say Ballroom Dancing would likely have benefitted me more than Algebra II has in my life.

How would you answer this question? More importantly, how does this story provoke your thinking about the role of schools in developing knowledgable, competent, confident, and socially aware young citizens?  Should we only focus on college and career ready, or should we also focus on “life ready?”

I do think it is time we evaluate what the true purpose of education should be. Please understand, I am not advocating for a system that produces a slew of uneducated citizens who dance well. But, at what point do we release some autonomy to students to follow their passions…and just dance?  

If success in algebra is preventing students from graduating from high school and pursuing their dreams, maybe it’s time to rethink this paradigm. Maybe Algebra II could still be offered in every high school, but as an elective and not a required course.

More than anything, I think we need to instill in our children confidence, hope, and the undying belief that they are loved and valued. Too many students leave our schools without this.

My final message to all of us, young and old: When you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance. And when you get the chance to graph a parabola, don’t ask for my help!

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