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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

MOOCs, the XPRIZE join many others who will never change education

I have been in Computer Science nearly all my life, but I didn’t get interested in education until the early 1980’s. I looked at was going in computers and education work at that time and was unimpressed. Those who were doing that sort of work seemed mostly interested in tutoring programs that helped kids do algebra better or taping and sending out lectures in what was called distance learning.

I found these thing totally uninteresting and began to think about how to really use the power of the computer to build simulations or games or activities that would excite kids about learning. But, it was hard to get schools or publishers interested in what I was doing because they were committing to making no changes whatsoever in how education had functioned for the last 1000 years.

Well that was 35 years ago. What has changed? Nothing it seems. There was the MOOC craze, which is a different way of taping lectures. Fortunately this craze seems to be over.

This appeared in the Chronicle of High Education today:

Optimism About MOOCs Fades in Campus IT Offices

So, thats nice, nothing good will happen online for a while because of MOOCs, but we can stop pretending that education is about listening to lectures and passing tests and go back to thinking about how real learning has always been about trying to do something you want to do and having someone available who knows more than you do who is willing to help you do it. (Sometimes these are called teachers.)

But then I read this:

New $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE wants to disrupt education as we know it

Wow! Great! Someone with real money wants to change education. Oh, wait. Too soon to get excited. This is what they are worried about:

As Diamandis emphasizes, what’s needed is a new way of thinking about education if we plan to educate tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of children: “Traditional models of learning are not scalable,” Diamandis said. “We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers, which brings us to a pivotal moment where an alternative, radical approach is necessary.”
So, traditional models of education, (kids packed into classrooms all doing the same stuff despite their interests and being made to pass tests and listen to lectures) are not scalable! Right. That was the problem. If only we could have more of that stuff that has made children miserable for 2000 years:

“I believe that school makes complete fools of our young men, because they see and hear nothing of ordinary life there” Petronius Arbiter  (said in the year 60)
And, there won’t be any more teachers if the XPRIZE has its way:

“there won’t be teachers the way we think of teachers today. Even students learning autonomously will require much more peer-to-peer learning, in which students armed with apps and tablets teach each other about the world. Finally, there won’t necessarily be “courses” or “learning modules” involved in the next iteration of educational innovation. There will be software and apps, and it will be up to the prize teams to define exactly what these do.”
Their intention, as I understand it, is to eliminate the only things that matter in learning. These are, in my opinion:

  1. a goal
  2. a person who can help you more clearly define that goal
  3. people to work with towards that goal
  4. new goals that come from having accomplished that goal
  5. being able to fail and get help
  6. being able to write about and talk about what you have done
  7. fielding reactions from those who can help you improve what you have done
  8. getting help in thinking about what else you might accomplish

Instead they want kids on tablets using apps to learn the same old crap we have always been teaching but this time they are on their own. Yea!

I believe that learning is a conversation, as I have said in this space before. Technology is helpful to the extent that it lets you try to do things you might not have been capable of doing before. Design an airplane, start a business, plan a career, invent something. These require teachers (or mentors) and plans of attack and simulations, and expert advice. Now I still believe that technology can save education, but we need to define more reasonable goals

“We’re aiming at kids who live in villages where there’s nothing. This has to take them from complete illiteracy to basic reading, writing and numeracy.”
Or to put this another way, yet again, someone is trying to teach the same old junk. There is nothing wrong with learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is a problem with every subject taken after third grade however. The only thing that is good about the first three grades (apart from the 3 R’s) is the presence of the teacher. The teacher is what they want to eliminate.

Here is an idea. The best use of technology in today’s world would be to hook up those who want to learn with someone who wants to to teach them. You could learn a language on line by talking to someone who speaks that language on Skype. You could learn how to start a business by talking with business experts and discussing your plans. You could learn to think out and discuss complex ideas in a Socratic seminar lead by.... a teacher. The real value of the computer in today’s world is that everyone is connected. And, there are a lot experts (people my own age, who have little to do for example) who would be happy to mentor kids who wanted to do things that were not part of the existing school systems. The XPRIZE,  I assume, will soon have a prize for the computer that tutors algebra most efficiently and we will be back to where we started.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Big Lie: we need to know that teaching never matters in university rankings

There was an almost perfect article in the BBC news on line today:

What makes a global top 10 university?

It starts with the usual list of top universities:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is in first place in the latest league table of the world's best universities.
It's the third year in a row that the US university, famous for its science and technology research, has been top of the QS World University Rankings.
Another science-based university, Imperial College London, is in joint second place along with Cambridge University.
Behind these in fourth place is Harvard University, the world's wealthiest university. And two more UK universities share joint fifth place, University College London and Oxford
Then, it goes on to list how these rankings are calculated:
But how does a university get to the top of the rankings? And why does such a small group of institutions seem to have an iron grip on the top places?
The biggest single factor in the QS rankings is academic reputation. This is calculated by surveying more than 60,000 academics around the world about their opinion on the merits of institutions other than their own.
Ben Sowter, managing director of the QS, says this means that universities with an established name and a strong brand are likely to do better.
The next biggest factor - "citations per faculty" - looks at the strength of research in universities, calculated in terms of the number of times research work is cited by other researchers.
As a template for success, it means that the winners are likely to be large, prestigious, research-intensive universities, with strong science departments and lots of international collaborations.
So, just to be clear, the rankings are all about how much research money the professors have to play with and how famous they get by utilizing that money. I was a professor at top ranked universities for 35 years. I brought in lots of money. I was cited often. And I helped my university in its rankings.
Great. What about teaching students? Never mentioned. I don’t mean never mentioned by this article, I mean in my 35 year career no one mentioned it. In fact, the more money you bring in, the more famous you are, the less you have to teach. That is one reason poorly paid adjuncts are teaching more these days.
I like this article because it says just this quite plainly:
Is that a fair way to rank universities? It makes no reference to the quality of teaching or the abilities of students?
The idea is that a student wanting to find an undergraduate arts course isn't really going to learn much from rankings driven by international science research projects.
And then this:
Those that focus on teaching rather than research will not be as recognized.
They leave out what I like to call “the big lie of college education.” No one ever tells a student applying to Harvard that he will be taught to do research almost exclusively because that is all his professors do or know how to do. He will not be taught to program by his computer science professors because they haven’t written a program in years. He will not be taught how to start a business by his business professors because they have never started one. He will not be taught anything about being a medical doctor because they don’t teach undergraduates. In fact he will not be taught anything of any use in his life at all in college unless he plans to become a researcher.
I never planned to become a researcher but that’s what I learned in college so thats what I became.
So, parents: when you decide to fork over $50,000  a year for Harvard remember Harvard’s goal will be the creating of a researcher. Do yourself and your kid a favor and ask him if that’s what he wants to be when he grows up.
Last week I had a business meeting in New York, and as I often do, I asked the people I was meeting with where they went to college. One said Harvard. He had majored in Economics. So, I said, “you got to meet some Nobel Prize wiener and hear all about microeconomic theory. Do you use any of what you learned there today in your work?”
“No” he said.
Isn’t it time we started talking about teaching? And, while we are at it, could we make that be teaching things that you might use as an adult?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My granddaughter goes to school; yet another sad story

This is another depressing story about school. Hearing about my children's and now grandchildren's time in school is what has turned me from being an AI researcher and into an education reformer.

This was written by my daughter. She is describing her daughter's first day of school:

We arrived the first day and were instructed to do all the usual first day things - I found her name tag and her desk and her cubby, we unpacked her backpack, hung up her hat, and then I signed her in.  Kids and parents were milling around in various stages of anxiety, ranging from sitting wordlessly in a corner to full on screaming. After a while we were directed to find a seat on the floor and choose a book to read. Mira went over the bins of books that had been placed on the floor, leafed through them, and then looked at me in astonishment.  "They're all ABC books," she said.  She looked back at the books with disdain, and I knew what she was thinking.  ABC books were for pre-schoolers.  She was a big Kindergartener now.  We'd promised her she'd be working on her reading in school (she already knows how to read simple books). Where were the books that were going to help her learn more about reading?

"Maybe that's just for today," I said.

Later that day, after pick up, I asked her how school was.

"The only good part was when we got a cookie," she said.

"That was the ONLY good part?" I asked.  "There must have been other good parts."

"We did math," she said.  

"Oh, that's great, you like math."

"No, it was RIDICULOUS."

I had never heard her use the word ridiculous before.

"Why was it ridiculous?"

"Because we did attendance, and we said how many people were there and how many people were absent, and then we counted the people.  That's not math, it's COUNTING."

The next day Steven dropped her off.  The ABC books were still there, in a bin on the floor.  He told her to ask the teacher if she could pick out a different book.

"The teacher said no," Mira reported back.  "Today we are doing ABC books."

The teacher, I'm sure, thought she was just being difficult.  She probably didn't think, well, obviously this child already knows how to read and doesn't need an ABC book.

When she came home she was most excited about lunch.

"Did you know that cafeteria is another word for lunch room?" she asked incredulously.  "Also, why didn't I get chocolate milk?  Why didn't I get school lunch? Why do I have to have home lunch?  Did you know that Kindergarteners get to eat in the cafeteria?  The preschoolers have to eat in their classrooms, but we're bigger so we get to go to the cafeteria."

This morning I promised her school lunch.  Just wait until she finds out today is Mexican Fiesta day in the cafeteria.

Monday, September 8, 2014

I have always wondered why the New York Times is obsessed with education

The New York Times is obsessed with education, but until now I never understood why. In Sunday’s Times Magazine we have Bill Gates deciding he now wants to change how History is taught. When did he become an education expert? I thought he was a college dropout who used his family’s money to build a giant company that never invented a thing. Well, what do I know?

So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class ...

There are numerous other articles in yesterday’s times about college and the wonder of calculus and the Chinese obsession with test scores. The Times never actually wants to change anything. They like whining about things they don't understand. Still I didn't get why.

Liking Work Really Matters

A College Education Should Include Rooming With a Stranger

A Fairer Shot for Student Debtors

And then I read this: 

Demanding More From College

This article contains the following quote: “If college graduates are no longer reading the newspaper, keeping up with the news, talking about politics and public affairs — how do you have a democratic society moving forward?”

The New York Times thinks that if you don’t read the New York Times you can’t participate in a democratic society. This can’t be true since watching and reading about what politicians say and do simply isn’t something I notice the vast majority of people doing any more. Neither are they learning calculus (except under duress) nor are they interested in history. But the Times marches on demanding that whatever has been done historically in education be done again.

This is just one more vote for making students do whatever the person writing the article’s favorite thing is (see my last outrage). But, people don’t learn from being forced to study a subject. They learn because there is a need that they have that drives them to find out more.

The Times wants them to read the newspaper.


Maybe they can team up with Bill Gates to produce a New York Times test that every kid must pass.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Music, Golf, Humanities, or Algebra: why we must make students study stuff that some adult likes

We are constantly being told why kids must take subjects in school that they obviously dislike. Someone is always promoting the benefits of forcing kids to do what they hate. So, for fun, I found some lists. I start with things very few kids are being forced to study which apparently would be very good for them, and end with things kids are also forced to study because they are also very good for them. See if you can tell who is right (and what we should make kids do even if they hate it.) (Hint: the last one is the best (or anyway, the funniest.))

18 Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument  

1. Increases the capacity of your memory.
Research has shown that both listening to music and playing a musical instrument stimulate your brain and can increase your memory.
2. Refines your time management and organizational skills.
Learning how to play an instrument requires you to really learn how to be organized and to manage your time wisely.  

3. Boosts your team skills.
Playing an instrument requires you to work with others to make music.
4. Teaches you perseverance.

Learning to play an instrument takes time and effort, which really teaches you patience and perseverance.  

5. Enhances your coordination.
The art of playing an instrument requires a lot of hand-eye coordination.  

6. Betters your mathematical ability.
Reading music requires counting notes and rhythms and can help your math skills.  

7. Improves your reading and comprehension skills.
When you see black and white notes on a page, you have to recognize what the note name is and translate it to a finger/slide position

8. Increases your responsibility.
Maintenance and care are very important in keeping an instrument in working condition.  

9. Exposes you to cultural history.
Music itself is history, and each piece usually has its own background and storyline that can further your appreciation of other cultures.

10. Sharpens your concentration.
Playing music by yourself requires you to concentrate on things like pitch, rhythm, tempo, note duration, and quality of sound.  
11. Fosters your self-expression and relieves stress.
It's your instrument, so you can play whatever you want on it!  

12. Creates a sense of achievement.
Overcoming musical challenges that you thought you'd never quite master can give you a great sense of pride about yourself.  

13. Promotes your social skills.
Some of the best people join bands and orchestras, and many times the friends you make here become like family.  

14. Boosts your listening skills.
Although it's pretty obvious, playing an instrument requires you to listen very carefully to things.

15. Teaches you discipline.
The best musicians in the world are masters of discipline which is why they are so successful on their instrument.

16. Elevates your performance skills and reduces stage fright.
The more you get up in front of people and perform, the more you'll reduce any stage fright.  

17. Enhances your respiratory system.
Air is one of the key components in making wonderful-sounding music.  

18. Promotes happiness in your life and those around you.
Playing a musical instrument can be very fun and exciting.  

Sounds great. Let’s make every kid learn to play an instrument.

1. Humility and Respect
Golf requires that you show courtesy to others and that you communicate with respect.   with an exchange of a hand shake.
2. Punctuality
If you are late to the tee box, you are automatically disqualified, no questions asked.  
3. Confession
Golf is a game of honor, and recognizing that a transgression has occurred and taking responsibility for the transgression is a part of the game.  

4. Safety
Golf balls and clubs are very hard and dangerous instruments, and one of the first and foremost rules of golf is safety.  
5. Quiet
Golf requires an amazing amount of concentration, and quiet is required at all times on the golf course.  
6. Visioning
Teaching them how to "see the end in mind,"  is a key to goal achievement.
7. Problem Solving
Rain, wind, trees, multiple sand traps, and deep rough can make for a challenging day of tournament play. These are a normal part of golf and can be an amazing opportunity for clever problem solving and personal growth.
8. Focus
Golf is a tough sport. It requires that you not only know the physics of hitting the ball (and what club to use when) but requires intense mental and emotional concentration.  

9. Practice, Persistence, and Listening
In life, it is important to know that we rarely reach our goal in one "stroke." By practicing, making corrections along the way, being open to coaching, and being persistent, we can tackle most of life's tough challenges.
10. Graciousness
At the end of each tournament, competitors thank and shake the hands of the tournament chairmen and follow this up with a handwritten note of thanks

Wow! Who knew? Every kids should study golf.  

Why do the humanities matter?
Insights Into Everything
Through exploration of the humanities we learn how to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions. Because these skills allow us to gain new insights into everything from poetry and paintings to business models and politics, humanistic subjects have been at the heart of a liberal arts education since the ancient Greeks first used  them to educate their citizens.
Understanding Our World
Research into the human experience adds to our knowledge about our world. Through the work of humanities scholars, we learn about the values of different cultures, about what goes into making a work of art, about how history is made. Their efforts preserve the great accomplishments of the past, help us understand the world we live in, and give us tools to imagine the future.
Bringing Clarity to the Future
Today, humanistic knowledge continues to provide the ideal foundation for exploring and understanding the human experience. Investigating a branch of philosophy might get you thinking about ethical questions. Learning another language might help you gain an appreciation for the similarities in different cultures. Contemplating a sculpture might make you think about how an artist's life affected her creative decisions. Reading a book from another region of the world, might help you think about the meaning of democracy. Listening to a history course might help you better understand the past, while at the same time offer you a clearer picture of the future.

That was from Stanford, so they must be right. Every kid should study the humanities. Sounds a lot like golf though.  Let’s hear from another university (that I have never heard of, but what do I know?)

Ten Reasons to Study the Humanities

1.            To practice the analytical thinking skills you need to be a successful student and employee.
2.            To improve your skill at oral and written communication.
3.            To see the interconnectedness of all areas of knowledge - how it all fits together.
4.            To develop a global perspective by studying cultures throughout the world.
5.            To deepen your understanding and appreciation of other's cultures and other's points of view.
6.            To support and strengthen your local arts community by learning to appreciate the importance of creativity.
7.            To clarify your values by comparing and contrasting them to what others have thought.
8.            To deepen your sources of wisdom by learning how others have dealt with failures, success, adversities, and triumphs.
9.            To appreciate what is enduring and to be able to tell the difference between the meaningless and the meaningful.
10.        To be inspired by some of the greatest minds and thoughts of the ages.

Sounds like golf and music put together. How about algebra?

10 Everyday Reasons Why Algebra is Important in your Life

The key to opportunity
Having the ability to do algebra will help you excel into the field that you want to specialize in.  
Taking a detour on not
Having the ability and knowledge to do algebra will determine whether you will take the short cut or the detour in the road of life.  

Prerequisite for advanced training
If you want to do any advanced training you will have to be able to be fluent in the concept of letters and symbols used to represent quantities.
When doing any form of science, whether just a project or a lifetime career choice, you will have to be able to do and understand how to use and apply algebra.
Every day life
Whether we drive a car and need to calculate the distance, or need to work out the volume in a milk container, algebraic formulas are used everyday without you even realizing it.
When it comes to analyzing anything, whether the cost, price or profit of a business you will need to be able to do algebra.  
Data entry
When working on the computer with spreadsheets you will need algebraic skills to enter, design and plan.
Decision making
Decisions like which cell phone provider gives the best contracts to deciding what type of vehicle to buy, you will use algebra to decide which one is the best one.  

Interest Rates
How much can you earn on an annual basis with the correct interest rate.  
Writing of assignments
When writing any assignments the use of graphs, data and math will validate your statements and make it appear more professional.  

So, algebra teaches you everything and you can’t function without it.  But there are all those people who can buy cell phones without it. What do I know?

What subjects should be required then? My vote is for golf. It teaches quiet and graciousness which is better than interconnectedness and data entry any day.

Oh wait. Here is an idea. Stop telling kids what to study and let them follow their own interests. Nah. Too radical.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Learning is a Conversation

We learn by talking.

Wait, haven’t I always been the guy who said we learn by doing?

Of course. Talking is a kind of doing. But that is hardly my point. Plenty of academic courses insist that they use learning by doing as a methodology. After all, writing an academic paper is a kind of doing too. So, one would learn how to write an academic paper by writing one. But, some clarification is needed as to what kind of learning matters. Is it important to learn to write an academic paper? It is if you plan on becoming an academic.

But the real question about what high school or college should be like should be centered on what learning is like, apart from what is actually being learned. We need to understand what the fundamentals of learning really are.

Many years ago I was having lunch with my closest colleague. I was complaining to him about the way my wife cooked meat. It was always too well cooked for me. He responded by saying that fifteen years earlier he had tried to get his hair cut in England and they wouldn’t cut it as short as he wanted it.

It seemed like an odd response, so I spent some time thinking about it. What did haircuts have to do with rare meat?

At one level nothing. But, at a higher level of abstraction these were identical stories. We both had asked someone to do something for us that they were capable of doing, but they had refused because they thought the request was too extreme.

Instead of focusing on why my friend was peculiar because he had answered the way he did, I assumed something interesting was going on in his head and attempted to figure out what had happened. I wound up focusing on his need to reconcile a failure he had had years ago. (We remember our failures.) I focused on how the process worked. In a short time, I had come up with a theory of how memory is organized (around stories indexed by abstractions such as “refusal to satisfy someone else’s goal.”) This began a long process that I still work on, together with many students and colleagues, to get computers to self-organize their memories. (We work on this by talking about it.)

Thinking by oneself is hard because there are too many distractions. I noticed that I would wake up in the middle of the night with ideas and I wondered how that was happening. I realized that our non-conscious mind does all the thinking (my friend wasn’t consciously looking for his haircut story after all, it just showed up in his head.) I began to realize I could let my non-conscious self do my thinking and then later consciously recognize what I had thought.  

Conversation is a non-conscious act. We don’t know what we will say next. We don’t know what we have just heard will remind us of. And we don’t control our thought process. Conversations with other people enables our thought process to begin by inciting reactions and ideas that we feel the need do try out on others. We need to find out what we think.

Turning off the noise to allow nonconscious thought was hard when I was working on this problem 35 years ago, it is twice as hard today. Your phone is always available, your computer is nearby, and there might be a text message, or a tweet, or a Facebook posting. But those are not conversations, although they may look that way to people at first glance.

A series of cute remarks are not conversations. Even a discussion on Facebook, while appearing to be a conversation, is not likely to challenge one to come up with better ideas and quickly think new thoughts. I have yet to see a Facebook comment that said “you are, right, I never thought about it like that before.”

What does this have to do with learning? Dialogues were used by Plato to discuss how learning works. But one needn’t go back that far in order to understand that the true relationship between teacher and student ought to be one of dialogue.

We see this easily when we consider graduate education. Students meet with their PhD thesis advisors to discuss their progress, their ideas, their problems, and then, presumably, they are ready to go back to working on what they were doing with new insights.

This same sort of thing happens between parents and small children when they ask numerous “why” questions on being confronted with new things, new people, or new ideas.

Why does conversation matter so much for learning? Couldn’t you just read a book or listen to a lecture? Wouldn’t you learn from those experiences as well?

Well, no.

To explain what I mean here, consider the last time something interesting happened to you. What was the first thing you did when that experience was over?

People really have only two choices when something interesting happens. The first is to sit and think about it some. To have a conversation with oneself in other words. But it is rare to choose that option when there is another person available to whom you could tell about your experience. That person has to have some qualifications of course. You can’t just tell anyone. We find people to talk to who will empathize with what just happened, or who will help us think about it better, or who will challenge our assumptions, or will just think what you have to say is wonderful. No matter the kind of reaction we get, we need that reaction. We must tell our story, even if it is just a story about a movie we just saw, a book we just read, or a lecture we just heard.

To put this another way, the only reason that reading and listening aren’t totally useless experiences from a learning point of view (they might be good entertainment of course) is the conversations that they spark later. The real learning takes place in the conversation that follows. And, conversations follow conversations. You hear someone say something and you repeat it to someone else and discuss some more. This how human beings work. But, it is not how school works.

Of course, schools pay lip service to the idea of discussion. The MOOCs that have dominated recent conversations about education have discussion groups for exactly this reason. But, these discussions are not one on one with the teacher. (How could they be with 1000’s of students?) So MOOCs are taking the very thing that is most needed in education, one on one conversations with the teacher, and eliminating their possibility.

My view is more radical than just that MOOCs are bad however. If learning is fundamentally a conversation, then conversation is all that should be taking place in education. Well, not all. You have to have something to be talking about. You should be doing something and talking about what you are working on. Learning is a conversation. We need to get rid of classes (unless they have less than 10 people and are really a conversation), tests, which are the antithesis of conversation, and any other aspect of school that does not involve learning to express your ideas and have them dissected and responded to by interested parties who can help you make your own ideas better.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NY Times obsesses about math again; every kid loses

I have a confession to make. I did graduate admissions in computer science for more than 25 years. The first thing I looked for was the applicant’s math GRE score. I eliminated anyone under 96th percentile. (Also, to add to my confession. I majored in Mathematics in college.) 

Why did I use this measure? Because ability to reason mathematically is an indicator of rigorous thinking, exactly the same kind of reasoning needed in Computer Science. Does that mean I needed my students to know mathematics? Not at all. Mathematics never came up in any way in our PhD program.

I mention this because there seems to be a national obsession with teaching mathematics and with math test scores. This is especially true when one reads the New York Times. Here are two articles published just this week:

Don’t Teach Math, Coach It

Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

The first article is by a math professor who wishes his kid liked math as well as he likes baseball. It has no business being in the Times except that the Times seems a bit obsessed with math. The second article is really about how to teach better but the math panic headline is obviously exciting stuff to the Times.

Here is one from a month ago:

Math Under Common Core Has Even Parents Stumbling

Naturally the Times draws the wrong conclusion from their own article. Instead of realizing that Common Core math is out of the scope of even the parents of their own children, it goes on about teaching methods so that kids will do better at Common Core.

And the of course, we have the real stuff:

American 15-Year-Olds Lag, Mainly in Math, on International Standardized Tests

There is an international math competition going on and the Times wants the U.S. to win. We also want to win the bobsled competition.

It is time to be honest about what is really going on. Why is math important?

It isn’t.

(Now all the math teachers can tell me I am crazy, as they usually do.)

Why are math test scores important? All you need to know is here:

Harvard College announced Thursday that it has accepted 2,023, or 5.9 percent, of 34,295 students applying for admission to the Class of 2018.

I didn’t really want to read 300 applications for Computer Science when I did admissions. So I took the easy way out. I relied on a simple but reliable metric. If you do well on an absurd math test, then it means you will work hard and can think logically, both of which are important qualities for a Computer Science PhD student.

Harvard cannot read 35,000 applications (nor can Yale, Princeton etc.) So they need test scores. The test makers cannot read millions of well thought out answers to complex questions, so they need multiple choice tests. No one needs any of these tests to be about mathematics  (I assume you the admissions people, don’t know algebra or calculus either.)

But, mathematics has a really good property. There are correct answers. Ask applicants what we should do about ISIS or the Ukraine and you can’t use multiple choice tests to judge the responses. Someone would have to actually read student’s answers. And there would be no “right” answer.  2 +2 really does equal 4. So math wins. And multiple choice tests win. And all our kids lose.

Our kids learn to hate school (because math is boring to most.) They lose self-esteem (because they “aren’t good at math.”)  And, what schools teach continues to be irrelevant to the real needs of children.

How about instead of math we teach how to get along with other people? How abut teaching personal financial management. Teach kids how to get a job. Teach them   to learn real skills (pick any of 1000). Teach them how to raise a child or  how to eat properly. Teach them how to negotiate or how to speak well, or how to plan well.

Ok, enough. Math will win every time for the reasons I stated above and the New York Times (undoubtedly populated by editors who majored in in English and were “bad at math” will continue to make the country hysterical about why Finland or China have better math scores than we have. I have only one question. Are kids (or adults) happier in those countries?

Silly question. Who cares about that?