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Education: back to the future?

Recent post by Glyn Meek, the geezer geek, in Computer World blog has caught my attention. I wonder how much of this "back to basics" musings on the state of the education in the USA is colored with nostalgia for Mr. Meek's youth, yet some of this does ring true to me (full disclosure: I have two teenage sons in the US public school system).

Multiple choice questions might be good for a quick refresher test but it has no place in situations where real deep knowledge is to be tested. The analogy with fast food is uncanny - while providing some immediate sustenance, it is not good for you.

Long summer holidays is a curse upon working families - either the kids are  at home playing their brains out and watching TV, hanging out with buddies or attending expensive summer programs… I am all for schools over summer; the problem is to find qualified teachers capable and willing to teach. <sigh>

Uniforms… there is something in there, mostly about peer pressure being somewhat alleviated. Yet I remember how much I hated my navy blue uniform in high school!

Single sex schools is a mixed blessing. Sure it will keep my boys more focused on their studies (maybe), but in a coed environment they will have an opportunity to develop their social skills communication with the opposite sex. In the end, social skills trump formulas every time.

Streaming. No contest here. People are different, they have different abilities, pace of learning, attitudes. And they should be educated differently.  In high school there is an option to take challenging AP classes but the problem is that it builds upon foundation laid in the middle school, and more often than not the material and the pace of learning there is dictated by the lowest common denominator… most people simply cannot take calculus without solid background in algebra!

Corporal punishment… While I support the idea of respect for the teacher through establishing  barriers with “sir” and formal attire nevertheless an “occasional slap” could all too easily transmogrify into an abuse. I’ll draw line there - no corporal punishment for my kids in school.


Sky is blue; money is green…

It should not come as a great surprise, but... Engineering, Computer-Science Pay More Than Liberal Arts

While some might pause and think twice before recommending Computers Science or Engineering as a career choice to the youngsters, I'd say go for it !  But not because of the money - this comes as an icing on the cake - but because of genuine interest; you won't be able to survive otherwise in this demanding fast-paced field.

P.S. The post's title was lifted verbatim from the discussion following the article, and is attributed to Jay Sun


Scarcity of will

US elementary school teachers are pretty efficient when it comes to scaring kids out of their wits with predictions of doom and gloom... A ten years old cannot find Europe on the map, or do long division, or say what WWII was about, but he knows for sure that the world is doomed, that humans destroy the Earth, and it all will be gone by the time he grows up! Progress became a dirty word, science is barely tolerable, and most of the time represents the root of all evil - that's it, when it not entertaining or focused on ecology… (and I am speaking from personal experience)

It is a wonder that some kids still find the will to wake up and face the doomed world another day!

As the saying has it: where there is a will there is a way.  If one to accept it as an axiom (and I do), then the logical conclusion would be that the world would run out of ways only when it runs out of will.

This "doom and gloom" culture constantly underestimates human ingenuity. William Stanley Jevons  in 1865 confidently predicted that the world will run out of coal within a generation; the latest reports tell us that we have more discovered deposits than ever.  Sheikh Yamani, former OPEC oil minister, hit the nail on the head when remarked: “The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones"...