Defending Computer Math in USA Public Schools

Discussion in 'Python' started by, Dec 10, 2006.

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    Cyber-curricula have a leveling aspect, as kids
    nearer Katrina's epicenter tune in and bliss out
    on 'Warriors of the Net' (why wait for stupid big
    dummy textbooks to catch up?). They feel more
    empowered by Python and Ubuntu than by any
    King's English I'd warrant, given how the latter
    has been dumbed down (slowed, degraded) by
    unimaginative bankers who can't fathom open
    source and its math-teaching significance to
    our digitally savvy ethnicities.

    --- Kirby Urner

    Any of you stateside tracking our 'Math Wars' know there's a movement
    afoot to legislate
    excellence through politicized standards bodies, with parents
    encouraged to push their
    "math militancy" into the foreground as a chief concern for local
    politicians to grapple with.

    I editorialize against this trend at my Oregon Curriculum Network
    website, in part
    because I'm leery of state standards becoming boring clones of one
    another, reaching
    an apex in some National Standard that's as dangerously obsolete and
    as most pre-college math teaching today.

    Here's a link to said editorial:

    I'm especially suspicious of the inertia behind indefinitely continuing
    this pre-college
    focus on climbing Calculus Mountain (as in getting over it), with
    little attention given
    to the regional and/or ethnic differences that might argue against such
    uniformity. Calculus is not the be all end all mathematical machinery
    in every walk
    of life, and I say this as a former full time high school math teacher
    who taught
    AP Calc proficiently, had many success stories (OK, so I'm not famous
    like Jaime
    Escalante, who cares? )

    Here in the Silicon Forest, it's the discrete math of computer science
    that excites
    many students, is their ticket to hands-on access to the defining toyz
    of our region,
    i.e. flatscreens, CPUs, one computer per child, a shared classroom
    projector, and
    with a fat bandwidth pipe to/from the Internet.

    Our math students would like the option of specializing in computer
    languages and
    algorithms rather earlier than is traditional, as a part of that very
    important self-casting
    and self-scripting that goes on in one's formative years. They've told
    me this to my
    face. I'm not just making this up.

    How are students to realistically decide if a future in computer
    science is really for
    them, if all the schools' resources have been diverted by narrowing
    that coercively force kids *away* from more experimental approaches
    that might
    center around Python, neighboring agiles, as notations of choice?

    Here's what a college level math or philosophy course of the future
    might look like,
    if we don't kowtow to the calculus moguls, other vote-seeking
    piggybackers treating
    the math wars like some private popularity contest:

    def checkbucky(n):
    return 10 * sum([i**2 for i in range(1, n+1)]) + 2*(n) + 1

    >>> [checkbucky(i) for i in range(10)]

    [1, 13, 55, 147, 309, 561, 923, 1415, 2057, 2869]

    >>> def checkoeis(n):

    return (2*n+1)*(5*n**2+5*n+3)/3

    >>> [checkoeis(i) for i in range(10)]

    [1, 13, 55, 147, 309, 561, 923, 1415, 2057, 2869]

    One strategy to combat the dumbing down state standards movement is to
    local institutions of higher learning to reassert their ability to
    offer guidance. Follow
    the example of MIT and open source more curriculum materials, both as a
    tools and as a models for classroom teachers seeking ideas for lesson
    Faculties should advertise standards proposals, not leave it to state
    governments to
    appropriate the Ivory Tower's historic prerogatives.

    California is a good example of where Oregon might be headed, if we
    don't apply the
    brakes. Given how upper level math professors typically leave the
    lower levels to
    non-mathematician education specialists, a few overbearing types,
    flaunting their
    credentials, have managed to muscle their way in to the legislative
    process, while
    encouraging their counterparts across the land to do likewise. These
    activist math
    warriors like to fly the "anti-fuzzy math" banner as a rallying point,
    but offer only
    "turn back the clock" solutions in case of victory, all of them bereft
    of much computer
    language exposure, e.g. minus any Python + VPython fractals, or vector

    In Portland, defending our freedom to explore alternative, more
    futuristic curricula, means
    focusing on the existing relationships between Portland's public
    schools and its Portland
    State University. We also have our Institute for Science, Engineering
    and Public Policy
    (, a think tank with a reputation for keeping our students
    ahead of the curve.

    And last but not least, we have Saturday Academy (,
    an institution
    created by Silicon Forest executives in the last generation (23 years
    ago), and with a similar mission: to protect future career
    opportunities from encroachment by mediocre and/or simply
    unsuitable curriculum imports. We have a knowledge-based economy to
    protect. We can't
    afford to be "just like everyone else" when it comes to mathematics and

    Python should already be much stronger in our region, given its many
    advantages, especially
    over calculators. Computer science already suffers the disadvantage of
    being an elective,
    with its teachers dispersed to cover music or gym, required math
    courses, whenever the
    school's budget tightens. Further straitjacketing the math curriculum
    to forever lock in some
    "one size fits all" formula, will only add to the delay and further
    frustrate Python's potential widespread adoption by eager beaver

    Kirby Urner
    Oregon Curriculum Network
    , Dec 10, 2006
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