I sat down with a group of 12-14 year olds, most of them boys. We were talking about sports, mainly basketball. At one point, one of them mentioned that Kobe Bryant was an amazing shooter, a guy who never missed any shot he took. I pointed out that Kobe was great, but that his shooting percentage was just slightly above average.
Blank looks. Only two boys nodded, My nephews, with whom I've discussed this point before. The other kids were puzzled. I explained that Kobe shoots a little under 50% (actually, about 45%), which given his position and the defenses he faces, is pretty good.
More blank looks. I explained that Kobe made about half of his shots. One boy, a little miffed, said: "But he scores like 30 points a game!" I nodded. "How many shots does he take?" The boy said "About 50." That's when the argument began.
You see, the kids had no true idea of what 50% meant in the context of "real" numbers. They couldn't equate "50%" to a basketball game, to a player taking a number of shots and making half of them and thus estimating his/her scoring average. They had Kobe taking anywhere from 10 to 50 shots a game, but none could state with a reasonable degree of certainty that Kobe takes about 20-21 shots a game to average his close to 30 points a game (free throws percentage not factored in).
Here's the problem: All of these were kids who had high or very high grades in school, all of them in grades 6 to 8. Despite this, they could not apply what they had learned to a context that they were very familiar with. They couldn't wrap their minds around the notion that "50%" is not some abstract mathematical test concept, but an actual component for real-life observation and analysis. In short, they couldn't use their knowledge because they didn't think it was useful.
I'm not going to advocate more "real-life math verbal problems" or any crap like that; that's beside the point. The point is that Our children are being force-fed a smelly metric ton of "facts" without the benefit of contextual application (not just "what," but "how") and without being taught any method whatsoever to create connections between those facts. As one boy said when he didn't understand what I was saying, "The (shooting) percentage doesn't matter," and it was only when the other kids practically ganged up on him that he finally understood that, yes, a 50% scorer is worth more than a 10% shooter.
In Our rush to have Our kids "score high" on tests, We have developed kids who score low on pretty much everything else beyond those tests. Kids who have the fascinating abilities needed to understand and master complex games and a wider range of scenarios than any other generation in Our history are treated daily in Our wretched educational system like coin-operated fact machines and kicked when the "product" is either examined too closely ("No questions!"), changed in some way (that's what "learning" is, a bad thing in this system) or worse, is the wrong product (makes the whole system look bad, you know.)
The debate moved from Kobe's shooting percentage to who's the better player, him or Lebron James (I voted for Kevin Durant) and then to less weighty matters. The kids scattered and I know I'll see most if not all of them again and again in the coming years. But aside from My nephews, and My son, I doubt any of them will learn to make connections between facts, to seek links where none are laid out clearly, to consistently think and relate what they know and learn to what's going on around them, in essence, to learn to learn every day. Too many of those kids will turn into semi-comatose drones, unthinking consumers, puppets in the hands of loudmouths and servants to energetic idiots. Like their teachers. Like their parents. Ten percent shooters in a world where 50% is considered good.
The Jenius Has Spoken.