It's windy tonight in los angeles. I haven't updated this for awhile so I thought I would-- but I don't have anything to say. Just listening to the branches swoosh in the wind, listening to a creaky metal something outside go back and forth.
If you are a scientist, engineer or computer scientist, I would like you all to look at this and think about how it will fit into your life. Right now I have my plate full with school and research, and I should focus these months if I want to get on the path to graduation. But I am thinking about how and when I will be a civic scientist. I think it's really important for all of us.
Additionally, in the past year I read this by syndicated columnist Richard Cohen and this by English Professor Eggenschwiler at USC. Here are my responses.
Hi Mr. Cohen,
I read your column on highschool algebra a while back, and I am hoping you will take some time to read my comments.
I am an electrical engineering PhD student who was bored by world history in highschool. I am wondering why algebra or other math courses should be only optional when biology, history, etc should be required. I know many people who don't ever need what they learned in history class, nor do they ever wish they remembered it.
I think, though, that you and I both would prefer that history be taught in highschool. Even if the student is not interested and never thinks of past wars again, at least he or she had the chance to find an interest in it, if that interest was there.
Perhaps you believe that history is useful because everyone should understand at least a little bit about the world and how we got where we are. I agree with you. But I also believe that everyone should understand at least a little bit about the global warming statistics, google search engines, computers and cell phones etc that they see and use every day. And to understand a little bit about these things, we need to understand math.
Why is it okay to be completely clueless about these things? They are now an integral part of our everyday lives. They provide us with information so that we can navigate the current world. Why is it okay to just accept what the devices and search engines give us without knowing how they work?
I read some comments to a new york times article about mathematics and science education in highschool, and one comment really stood out to me. The writer said something like-- I don't see the problem with math in this country. Here in the US we have Microsoft, Intel, several of the strongest tech companies in the world.-- Well, I would like to ask that writer just what percentage of engineering employees of those companies does he think were educated in the US? I don't know how to find out, but my guess would be under 50%.
I believe that the problem with math in highschool is twofold: We don't know how to teach it well, and we keep saying it's difficult and useless so why learn it?
Today I talked to an old friend who is applying to get her PhD in social welfare; she will have to take statistics in order to pass the course requirements. She was never good in math in highschool, but today she told me she thinks it's because she never had a good teacher. She said she would ask questions, and the answers would only serve to make her more confused. I believe that, instead of cutting math from the highschool curriculum, we should only encourage more innovative teaching of the subject and set even higher expectations.
Thank you for your time.
Hi Professor Eggenschwiler,
I just wanted to write and say Thank You for speaking up for algebra in the LA times. I feel that as math gets a bad rap for highschoolers so does critical thinking, and you have hit on them both in one column. I agree that math has taught me to be able to think abstractly and systematically, and I think it helps me interact with different cultures, find compromises during disagreements, and work toward developing my own moral compass.
I would also add that math is important in itself. Many would say, for example, that history classes in highschool are useful because everyone should understand at least a little bit about the world and how we got where we are. I would agree, and then I would say that everyone should understand at least a little bit about the global warming statistics, google search engines, computers and cell phones etc that they see and use every day. And to understand a little bit about these things, we need to understand math. It is not clear to me how it became okay to be completely clueless about these things. They are now an integral part of our everyday lives. They provide us with information so that we can navigate the current world. Why is it okay to just accept what the devices and search engines give us without knowing how they work?
Clearly I am more motivated to learn these things that most people-- I am getting my PhD in electrical engineering :) But anyway, those are my two cents. I am certainly a proponent of better math education in K-12, and I hope voices like yours can help guide our policy makers and educators toward such goals.