Let's Ban English in School ... Except in English Class

07/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jeff Goldstein Director, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education

Here it is, my very first post. It wasn't easy figuring out how I wanted to start my blogging days at the Huffington Post. I needed to say something that would set the stage for all the posts to come (assuming they let me post this one.) Then I realized there was something I had to get off my chest so I could have the freedom to write in my own style, unburdened by preconceptions on the use of -- language. So here goes--

My first language is English. I have very strong beliefs about how English should be taught in schools. I guess I'm a traditionalist. I also think that my views apply to how any language should be taught in schools around the world.

I think English belongs in English class. Period. You want to speak and read and write English, well do it in an English class. It doesn't belong in a history class, or a science class, or for that matter a class on economics, art, sociology, psychology, or the law. Let's keep English where it belongs. It's just a language, so no English in those other classes. Just sit there and learn the concepts, nuances, big ideas, and emotional content of those subjects through .... osmosis. Think your thoughts toward other members of the class and share brain waves. And please, please ... when you do this -- do not think your thoughts in English!

Am I losing any hope of a fanbase already? What? You think what I said is just absurd? (Good!) You think that English, like any language, is the means by which we express and communicate the richness of our thoughts on all the subjects that address the human condition? Wow, that's a mouthful. You've got me thinking. And please -- don't leave! In my defense, I just thought that English should be treated like we traditionally treat math in school. Addition, subtraction, long division, algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus, statistics ... it often feels like the unwritten decree is "Let's keep it only in the math classes where it belongs!" Why isn't math a natural part of all the subjects taught -- as in the case of say .... English? And the result? Kid to parent, or kid to teacher, or kid to friend: "What will I ever need this for?"

Answer: because without an understanding of and appreciation for math you'll deny yourself the ability to see the richness and majesty of the world around you. A language like English serves as the foundation for our conversations about anything and everything -- and so does math. And if that's not a sufficient answer, (it's sad when it isn't) then more practically speaking, without math skills, competing effectively in the job markets of the 21st century will be very difficult -- because math is everywhere.

In this blog I'll practice what I preach. I'll try to get across powerful concepts with a seamless fusion of English and math, and for many readers I bet the injection of just a little math will be jarring.

But the math provides the insight into how I'm getting the high impact, "Oh Wow" conclusions. The math gives you the chance to take ownership in the story at a deeper level -- because I'm not asking you to take the conclusions on faith. We're reaching the conclusions together. And the math should be embraced at the same subconscious level as is the English you're now reading. That's what we should be teaching our children. Why? Because math and English have a great deal in common--

Mathematics is a language. It is the language of nature. If you yearn to know how she operates, you must speak her language. And nature isn't just found in science class. A human being is a biological entity, and human society is a biological system. All of humanity is part of nature, so all those subjects of importance to human beings are richer if their study includes mathematics. And I'm convinced that our capacity for mathematics is an outgrowth of nature developing the means to understand itself.

English or Estonian or Japanese or any other spoken/written language models our very thoughts. That's the point of creating them. Mathematics as a language provides a powerful means by which we can model the world around us so that we can understand it and navigate it successfully. (I've got plenty to say about Modeling). Imagine the power you have when you master a spoken/written language and math!

Finally, math is the only language I know that transcends societies and cultures. It is the language that binds all humanity. So why do we teach our children to treat math as something that is difficult, disconnected, irrelevant, and something to be avoided?

So there, I did it, my very first post. If you've not been offended then stay tuned. I'm very much looking forward to cross-posting with Dr. Jeff's Blog on the Universe right here at the Huffington Post. Let's explore Earth and the universe in a bold new way -- together. The embraced mantra will be get emotional about science.

And if you're up for a math challenge that couples the size of you to the size and scale of everything else, let me introduce you to my humongous sheet of xerox paper.