that's what they do, and this teacher is teaching honors algebra. And so they classify this teacher as a gifted teacher. So I told the kids, "Look, this system it's wrong. Probably they call them gifted because they like math."

In Japan, for example, when the kid is only five years old, mom gets a private teacher, practices piano, violin or something, because their grandfather used to play, and the private teacher is going to practice two minutes, then five minutes, 30 minutes.

Then when the kid's seven years old, two, three hours -- and by that time, the kid develops the flexibility and reads the music. Mom controls what you practice. When the kid's seven years old, he takes his bow, he gives the concert, and the Americans they look and say "Oh, he's gifted."

The kid, he's not gifted, -- mom, she's the one that makes him gifted.

A kid came to me and said "how come I'm only getting a C in this class?"

I said, "why?"

He said, "I'm gifted."

"Oh, then I'm going to change the grade to A" I said (laughs).

 

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GT: I see you don't use computers in your classroom. Why is that?

Escalante: Americans like to find easy ways to do things. If anybody invented a device that if you just pushed a button and you'd know everything, everybody's going to buy that. They think that computers and calculators can be a substitute for their own understanding. I say no. Advanced technology is only useful to those who understand the basics without depending on a machine.

Some of our kids, they don't want to learn their times tables, because they have the calculator. And at the end, the student is the slave of the calculator. He depends on the calculator, he can't even estimate.

I said this in the classroom, "10 percent of $80 is less than 8, more than 8 or only 8?" Some of the kids didn't do anything, and I don't understand, "You can't do this?" [They say] "I don't have my calculator."

One kid came to class with a sophisticated calculator. He had the program and he was doing the correct answers. And I said "you have to show the steps to the end." And he said "I did it with the calculator, I programmed it."

And he don't know what the maximum minimum inflexion point is. So it's the answer but no understanding -- nothing. He does not have the basics, he doesn't have the knowledge.

In order to understand something, you have to assimilate some knowledge. Many people think computers are going to do everything for you. They don't realize the best calculator, the best computer is your brain, you're going to give commands to the computer. If you teach the kid the basics, he's going to develop, he may be an inventor or do something. But if he depends only from the tool, he's not going to be able to do it, because he has only the tool.

GT: So the teacher needs to get the concepts across to the students?

Escalante: That's right, If you don't have the concept you don't store enough information, you just did it mechanically. When you teach math, you don't have to make any science, anything, you don't have to make it really easy, and you don't have to make it real hard, you have to look at the balance, the kid's got to be able to absorb the concept. That's the key. The kid has to get the clear picture. If he gets the clear picture, he's

Wayne Hanson  |  Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government