Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Math, Science, and the World of Tomorrow

In 1957, a small satellite called Sputnik was launched from the icy tundra of the ex-superpower, Russia, into Earth's orbit. As a result, American educators posited new fundamentals of learning in their characteristic ambiguity: Children of these modern times need to learn Science and Math. If the communists could send a hunk of metal into space, then it somehow seemed imperative that Americans overhaul their education system so they could send hunks of metal into space as well.

A huge need arose for math and science teachers to train students not only to master arithmetic, but complex algebra, Geometry and its endearing proofs, trigonometry, and even calculus. In Science, kids embarked upon the etymological terminology of Biology, the titrations of Chemistry, the rocks of Geology, and the infinite variables in Physics. The crown jewel of these classes would be the shoddy projects submitted to the school science fair. In modern society, these seemingly abstract disciplines and their charming empirical ventures would help Americans cope with the evolving job markets and world challenges facing us. No one actually verified this hypothesis posited nearly half a century ago but rather pushed it even further. The pundits and politicians prescribed more math and science for everyone.

Naturally, because enthusiasm in space exploration has waned recently, "experts" have employed a different line of reasoning for the perpetuity of abstract mathematical and scientific concepts. Edifying themselves with a few science fiction novels, they claim these disciplines in math and science will lay foundations of understanding new technologies and their functions which will thus help mankind's pursuit of a better life. Furthermore, Americans must compete with the throngs of Chinese and Indians graduates with Math and Science degrees. If they don't, the Asians might steal American jerbs. (Never mind the fact that Indians and Chinese will steal these jobs anyway since they will work for a fifth of the price.)

Unfortunately, this reasoning really doesn't work. While Technology and Engineering might utilize a few concepts of math and physics, most of the jobs in these fields are learned in training or tinkering with the machines. Universities and many community colleges can usually lay the groundwork for any necessary knowledge required to set up networks, repair and construct manufacturing machines, constructing bridges and buildings, etc. However, pumping kids with more formal (remember, most of this material is far from applicative) math and science from elementary to high school seems unnecessary and tedious.

The actual need for formal mathematicians and scientists really remains the same as it ever has in history. The people of today face problems that existed half a century ago that technology was supposed to solve, and most people’s daily concerns remain the same. The changes in society concomitant with computers, nuclear power, internet, and cell phones, in reality, raise more philosophical questions than scientific ones. However, the philosophical disciplines like history, language, and the social sciences take the backseat to math and science. Even practical applications like mechanics, carpentry, computer programming, and robotics take a backseat to math and science. The foundations of humanity and culture in the arts take the backseat to math and science. Students will have to meet today's actual challenges on their own time because schools would rather prepare them for the next superfluous standardized math test.

The problems waylaying the world today can be derived from an ultimate lack of wisdom, practical and moral. The lack of a historical conscience leads Americans to make the same mistakes again and again, on civic and personal levels. The lack of language mastery and the active acquisition of knowledge from literacy lead to the intellectual and professional stagnation and exploitation of the lower classes. The lack of the arts results in a materialist gaudiness that taints and clutters the surrounding environment. The lack of philosophy and social sciences result in so much waste, bureaucratic irrelevance, and spiritual oppression. The lack of vocational training leads to crime, unemployment, and more waste.

Young people really do want to face the world of today and work for progress, but they don’t have the tools to do so. That pivotal enthusiasm to make a positive difference and benefit society wanes as the years of useless classes render them apathetic and despondent. The problems of society remain or actually become compounded by unmotivated graduates. These problems will need attention sometime, but all the algebraic theorems and dissected hamsters in the world won't solve them. The neglected subjects of History and common sense might show this.

1 comment:

relievedebtor said...

I agree with many of your thoughts, mainly that a moral framework is more important than a math/science framework. Without a sense of right and wrong, it doesn't matter what progress we make. It also seems to me that allowing children what to specialize in makes more sense. Kids passionate about math and science are free to pursue it. But as a nation, do we really need to legislate it?

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