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December 28, 2007


Ouch. I always thought something was wrong when my HS required only 3 years of math and 4 years of English.
It is my opinion that America as a whole would compete a lot better on the world scale if more students understood computer science, mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry rather than topics that will not help them professionally such as art and music. That's not to come down on music or art teachers, but those areas should be developed optionally, while schooling should be used for preparing kids for global competition.

Furthermore, programs like TAG (Talented And Gifted), spelling bees, geography bees, and above all, mathematical/science competitions should be held liberally throughout k-12, to encourage students to always strive to best one another and outdo each other in intellectual competition.

Interestingly enough, maybe we should look to history for deciding how to teach. Ancient China was the nexus of the world in terms of knowledge and secular superiority such that people traveled across continents to study there. What it was about the Chinese that made them such excellent secular thinkers that their philosophies *still* hold true today (sun tzu's art of war) escapes me at the moment, but maybe we should start teaching little kids that the world is not about snack time and nap time, but about a constant competition to put yourself above the rest of the pack.

Yes, you hear about all of those successful entrepreneurs that never did well in school but nobody ever thinks that they're the exception, and you simply don't hear about all of those that flunked/dropped out and became nothing but failures.

When I was a student of civil engineering I had the chance to compare the old Soviet books about mathematics and physics to the Western books. I must confess I do not know a single word of Russian but, fortunately, most them were first translated into Spanish for the Cuban universities. The difference of level and style was enormous. Just check the books by Krasnov, Kiseliov and Makarenko.

Ilya, don't you think that future artists and musicians need as good an art and music education as future engineers and scientists need a good science and mathematics education? At least in the US, when someone is very young, no one knows what they will do in the future. It's just as harmful to neglect early education in the arts as it is in the sciences. A lot of young kids with the potential to be musicians (but can't afford private instruction) don't get a good public-school music education, and as a result, are unable to become musicians.

I'm not a big fan of spelling bees, geography bees, etc. It's not that they don't teach valuable skills or information; it's that after a certain point, they're not a productive use of time for the vast majority of participants. When you get to the point that the words to be spelled come from a very narrow professional specialization, most participants are not well served by memorizing these words for the express purpose of winning spelling bees. IMO, after a couple of advanced rounds, all of the remaining participants should be declared winners and their effort acknowledged. This would leave more time for other academic pursuits, such as art and music.

BTW, Dijkstra recommended a high degree of facility in one's native language as well as mathematics prowess for computer professionals.

What a great conversation here! You bring up powerful and sobering points about the challenges we still face as a nation within and around our K-12 educational system. The Post article hit it dead on when saying: "if teachers only know the bare minimum, they "often rely on memorization [to solve exercises] and aren't well-equipped to help struggling students."

The challenge is intensified as teachers today must be equipped and trained with BOTH the content knowledge,as well as the capacity and capability to teach learners how to think mathematically, think scientifically and operate as information mangers and critical consumers within those domains. The systematic training needed to accomplish both of these goal and provide EVERY student with the highest quality teaching and learning experience is unfortunately very rare.

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