Friday, November 07, 2008

One Plus One Still Equals Two

Recently the Curmudgeon at the Second Effort Blog has written several Blogs about the importance of teaching our children mathematics. Specifically he mentions teaching Calculus at a High School level.

I don’t particularly agree with this because any Engineer, Scientist or Mathematician worth his salt usually has at least a Masters Degree, if not a Doctorates in his chosen field of endeavor. That’s 2 to 5 more years of college.

But, I agree that there should be an option for students to take Calculus as an elective in High School. Judging from the recent national average of SAT scores, it would be a very small class in most public schools.

I had fairly high scores on my math SAT’s. I answered the questions that I knew quickly, worked out the problems that I thought I could solve and on the ones that I didn’t have a clue, I answered C (at the time a probability of being 40% correct). I didn’t take Calculus until my third year in College. I was not planning to become an Engineer, Scientist or Mathematician.

Now my opinionated story!

When my now 41 year old daughter was in the First Grade, her school had a “meet the teacher’s” night. Being concerned parents, my wife and I attended. My daughter’s teacher attempted to explain “New Math” to a group of predominantly college educated adults. We didn’t have a clue as to what she was telling us. First, her command of the English language was sub-standard. Secondly she couldn’t convey her message to educated adults. And this woman was teaching my child.

After Parent’s Night I called a former Professor, who was also my mentor and a friend. I related my experience at the school. I told him of my encounter with the first grade teacher and he said that he wasn’t amazed.

His explanation was:

Sometime in the late 60’s the college admission requirements were lowered. It was done to accommodate minorities who had attended high schools that didn’t have the proper curriculum for college admission via the SAT’s. Therefore many non-minority students were admitted that didn’t really belong in college (the males were probably trying to avoid the draft).

The majority of these students could not keep up and had a low GPA, but it was still high enough to receive a degree (class curve standards had also been lowered). He said that a B+ (cum laude)student in the early 1970’s was the equivalent of a C+ student in the mid 1960’s. This explained why I made the Dean’s List (with a 4.0 average) 3 semesters in a row.

Many of the new college graduates could not find a job equivalent to their educational level. Therefore they took two 3 hour courses, in Elementary Education, which qualified them as teachers.

Unlike the old days, they became teachers, not to teach, but to earn a living. They had no love of their job. They were not there to disseminate information but to follow the lesson plan prescribe by the school board. They didn’t care about their students nor their student’s progress.

This is a sad commentary on our educational system that my Professor Friend made it in 1973, thirty-five years ago.

Now back to the original topic: Math.

Either you have a desire to learn the subject on a higher level or you don’t. A student shouldn’t be pushed or forced into any discipline. If you don’t want to be an Engineer, Scientist or Mathematician there is very little need for you to take upper level Math courses. There are still very many professions that do not rely on an upper level math background.

The Curmudgeon is correct; our school systems do not push mathematics to the level that they should be pushing them. But as my Dad would say “The world needs ditch diggers too”.


The Beach Bum

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8 Comments:

Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

But do we need so many ditch diggers? (Particularly those with college degrees....)

You're right about the draft and the Vietnam War leading to a lowering of standards by sympathetic profs... and education classes being the path of least resistance towards a degree.

At my college in Chicago we didn't have football. But we had a one-time big-time basketball program... and nearly all of the players were education majors.

But I can't knock the New Math entirely. Using set theory, I can demonstrate conclusively, though I have children in their early 20's, I myself am still only 23.....

Sun Nov 09, 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger The Beach Bum said...

The Ditch Digger comment was one that my Dad used when I brought in grades less than a B. I personally know a Grave Digger who is a college Grad. Most modern day ditch diggers are currently serving time.

So you were either a Blue Demon or a Rambler. I’m guessing the former because of your past comment about Dave Corzine (who, by the way, was a Math Major). My sister’s husband was a graduate of Loyola with a degree in Accounting. He is now a High School Science Teacher (Biology and Organic Chemistry).

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