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 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]
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


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