Defending Computer Math in USA Public Schools

Discussion in 'Python' started by, Dec 11, 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 unimaginative 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
    totalitarian 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 requirements that coercively force
    kids *away* from more experimental approaches that might
    center around Python, neighboring agiles, as notations of

    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 encourage 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
    recruiting tools and as a models for classroom teachers seeking
    ideas for lesson planning. 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 professor 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 arithmetic.

    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 engineering.

    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 students.

    Kirby Urner
    Oregon Curriculum Network
    , Dec 11, 2006
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