Defending Computer Math in USA Public Schools



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]
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


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