Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Falling Behind in Math

There’s more to life than being good at math. And yet, when a nation systematically fails to teach its children proper mathematics, it puts its future at risk.

The Daily Telegraph reported the results of an extensive study of high school students’ math performance around the world.

It found that the children of upper middle class British professionals not only performed worse than the children of their Chinese counterparts. They performed worse than the children of Chinese manual laborers..

The Telegraph explains:

British schoolchildren are lagging so far behind their peers in the Far East that even pupils from wealthy backgrounds are now performing worse in exams than the poorest students in China, an international study shows.

The children of factory workers and cleaners in parts of the Far East are more than a year ahead of the offspring of British doctors and lawyers, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Obviously, the British newspaper was more interested in the decline and fall of the British Empire than in what has been happening in American high schools.

But, the Telegraph eventually reveals that the children of American professionals do not do any better than their British counterparts, when compared with lower class Asian children:

The report said: “In the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest-paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries — nor do they perform as we as the children in Shanghai-China and Singapore whose parents work in manual occupations.”

Does it matter? Of course it does.

Elizabeth Truss, the education minister in Great Britain explained:

The reality is that unless we change our philosophy, and get better at maths, we will suffer economic decline. At the moment our performance in maths is weakening our skills base and threatening our productivity and growth.

Where’s the Tiger Mom now that we need her?

All of those who criticized the Tiger Mom as an abusive parent, who disparaged self-discipline and even rote learning, have some ‘splaining to do.

And, so do the American educators who foisted “fuzzy math” on the population because they decided that right and wrong answers would damage a child’s illusions of self-esteem.

There you have it: sacrificing our children’s and our nation’s future to a dumb idea.


Joshua said...

There are people who advocate -against- teaching math for the sake of some ambiguous "social skills" that are learned regardless of whether one learns math or not. There is apparently an entire faction of people who believe math is pretty unimportant:


Fun quote: "We agreed that subjects like math and reading are the least important things that are learned in a classroom."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the link. It's difficult to believe how badly math is being taught unless you have some concrete evidence... like this article.

And, this is from a very popular website... though one that I had not known about before.

Again, thank you.

Joshua said...

I thought it fit the topic well. Its become a habit of mine to keep links to things sorted so I have them on a moment's notice - even stuff like this.

I love reading your blog, so I'm just glad to have had the opportunity to contribute something :)

Lastango said...

Joshua writes: "There is apparently an entire faction of people who believe math is pretty unimportant."

I totally agree. These people have become teachers. That's what happens when a problem has been around long enough to infuse several generations: eventually dysfunctional people come to occupy key positions from which they are spread their own deficiencies to others.

For one example, consider the poor drawing skills exhibited by art students. Because drawing is THE core skill of all representational arts, the artwork produced by people who do not draw well lacks energy or is outright poor. Why can't these young artists draw? Because the problem has been around long enough so that their art teachers can't draw either. A teacher cannot teach what they do not understand and do not value.

(...the role of the teachers' unions and the educrat establishment in deliberately creating unmeasurable, standards-free public schools -- and of tuition-hungry universities in creating failure-free curriculums through which they process their "students" -- being a whole other subject.)

Anonymous said...

We are raising a generation of phonies with imaginary "social skills" that are nothing more than the slick wordsmithing we've come to expect from brand marketing: lifestyle tied to product, not the merits of the product itself. It's the world Edward Bernays gone mad. Nothing is real.

Math represents everything that is real. That's why it's "unimportant." Reality is becoming increasingly unimportant. If one can't do math, logical thinking is almost impossible. One can't put anything together. And those too stupid to know any better can't calculate the economic catastrophe that's coming when people/countries stop buying our treasury notes.

The reason our "infrastructure" is falling apart is that we've elevated the creative, conceptual arts into the most important "skill" we have to impart in education. This is nonsense. We cannot have a functioning economy without the engineering side: plumbers, electricians, metalworkers, carpenters, etc. AutoCAD drawings don't work if they don't translate into real materials.

Whenever I watch biopics about people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, there is never enough emphasis on how they worked their asses off late at night coding, building, soldering, ruining things and having to start over, etc. That's the crucible of learning to create a product… ANY product. It doesn't just miraculously happen. I have students who think Jesus' miracles are all rubbish, but think they are going to get jobs because they're special.

Math doesn't just happen. Problem-solving is tough, hard work. My biggest complaint with how math is taught in the United States is that it's not linked to practical applications. Project-based learning is important, but then teachers have to know what they're doing, and then we get the problem Lastango is pointing out.

We are lobbying, legislating and lawyering ourselves into sclerosis. Read the WSJ Weekend interview with Eva Moskowitz. The teachers unions hate her. I'm finding there is a correlation between who the teachers unions hate and common sense thinking.


n.n said...

Progressive corruption is likely to be both an organic and designed process.