I hope you all have had a great holidays so far. I have had a good old time here at home in Minnesota (yes, it is cold, people). Surprisingly, we do have computers in Minnesota, and just recently moved into real houses from our igloos.
My dad and I were rehashing some of the issues I've discussed on this blog the other night. (By the way, it's been made empirically certain that I got the ranting gene from him. Not that my Mm is too shabby at it either. I love you guys!). We actually got to discussing my own education, which was an interesting comparison to what I've been doing this year.
I went to my local public high school here in Minnesota. We live in a wealthy suburb of Minneapolis that is known for its good schools, which is why my parents chose to live here. In fact, the high property values here are largely based on the reputation of the school system. This gives incentive to older residents and those without children to vote for high levels of funding for the school system, despite the fact that they themselves do not partake of it. Thus, local referenda on increases to school funding usually pass quite easily. (One exeption is our crotchety right-wing neighbor, who doesn't see why he has to contribute to the education of the pesky kids of the neighborhood. Personally, I think he's just bitter because they discovered that the haunted park monster is really this guy in a mummy suit. Pesky kids.)
Anyway, my school was pretty good. They offered AP Biology, AP American History, AP European History, AP Calculus, AP American Literature, and a variety of AP languages. Kids could choose to take these advanced classes or not. The only tracked subject was math. Teachers were smart and competent (with notable exceptions. One of my teachers would regularly let my friend leave class to drive somewhere and buy bagels. And another time we spent an entire class period searching for textbooks that some kid had hidden in the ceiling). Administrators were proud of the academics (although not as proud as they were of the sports) and tried to protect them. I am grateful for the education I got there.
Still, overall, I don't think it was enough. This was supposed to be the best public high school in our state. But when I got to college (I went to a good one), I realized that I couldn't really cut it in the areas of science and math. Granted, I'm not exactly a whiz at either of these subjects, and they aren't my passion. Still, compared to kids who went to private schools or magnet schools, I was definitely behind. And compared to kids from other countries, I was definitely definitely behind. The entire math department at my school was dominated by foreigners, to the point where they couldn't find PhD students who spoke good English to teach intro math classes. The biggest complaint I heard about calculus classes was not that they were so difficult, but that the students couldn't understand what their teacher was saying. Most were from Asian countries and had very thick accents. I had a German dude who was reasonably understandable. But also freaky in a German grad student/robot kind of way.
As a freshman, I was still ambitious and over-confident in my academic skills. I was still in small-school Minnesota mindset, as opposed to world-class university mindset, which is "if it's math and science, you probably can't do it." I took a multi-variable caculus class and an advanced general chemistry class. It was the worst semester of my life. Multi-variable calculus was extremely difficult, mostly because it was taught in a completely different way than any of my high school math classes. Our textbook did not walk one through the problems. Problem sets had to be solved by combining different theorems and procedures in creative ways. Class met only three days a week, and the lectures were fast-paced. You had to give yourself the quizzes. There were only two tests, and they were impossible. I got decent grades, but only because the curve was so incredibly generous that a trained gerbil would have had to struggle only slightly to pass. For example, on the midterm exam, a 22 out of 100 was a D. A 56 out of 100 was an A-.
My chemistry class was worse, for me. I had taken only an intro type chemistry class in high school. My advisor, who was clearly a sadist, told me to take the advanced one anyway. I struggled. I went in for office hours, I asked my friends how to do things, I cried, and I worked all the time. I did ok...I was really proud of my B-.
I don't know...maybe it's just that I'm not talented in these areas. But still, I think that it was generally just difficult for me to cut it at my college based on the preparation I had been given. I think if my math and science education had been more rigorous, or even if there was a more rigorous option available, I could have survived and even though about majoring in one of those subjects. As it was, an "ordinary" student like me would not think of doing that. It was a small elite, at least among the American students, who could cut it.
Let me know what you think about this issue. I would like to know what the situation was like at other colleges.