Wrong Problem, Wrong Solution

This posting by Roger Shank
(found via Stephen Downes) uses widespread ignorance of the quadratic formula by successful people as evidence that mathematics requirements in our schools are excessive.

But I know that in BC it is quite possible to graduate from high school without knowing the quadratic formula. So, unless this jurisdiction is more unusual than I think it is, Shank doesn’t seem to know his head from a hole in the ground.

Of course it will always be true that “We need more people who can think. We need to teach job skills, people skills, and reasoning skills. And we need to make education exciting and interesting.” But Shank surrounds these observations with so much incoherent and contradictory posturing that I would consider his polemic virtually useless for persuading anyone who actually does know how to think.

For example, his “Here are reasons why” (teaching math and science “better”) “is simply the wrong answer“(to the question of “why American kids aren’t interested” in science and engineering) is followed not by reasons but by a series of rhetorical questions directed not at that issue but rather at the motives of foreign students – which he does not relate at all to the lack of motives for domestic ones.

Then later he says “The right answer would be to make math and science actually interesting” – but isn’t that exactly what teaching them “better” would consist of??? But then again, why *is* this the right answer if, as he asserts a bit further on, “What also makes no sense is the idea that math and science are important subjects.”? Of course they aren’t *essential* to everyone, and he seems in various places to acknowledge the need for at least some people to know these subjects, but someone who can’t correctly say what he means shouldn’t be pontificating about how to teach people to think.

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