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Laser Focus - On the Wrong Things

Original post made by Hoodwinked, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 15, 2008

According to this article, other countries around the world have a "laser focus" on increasing competitiveness by increasing science, math and engineering graduates. The US is falling way behind.

Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto, our time, energy and passion goes to developing new boutique language immersion programs. (Yay for us.) Its just sad that a supposedly stellar system like Palo Alto schools can be drawn in to such a fad, go off on such a misguided tangent, and be so defocused on what our kids actually need to sustain their (our) future.

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Comments (26)

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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 15, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Science, math, and engineering are for geeks and only geeks. You got the talent or you don't. If you got it you'll figure out how to develop it, likely a lot on your own. That's why the US has been the creativity capital of the world despite all the know-nothing bitching about its education system. The fact is nobody can make a geek out of an ordinary human, whatever classes they are forced to take.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2008 at 12:39 pm

An Engineer,

Some of my favorite relatives are geeks/nerds--and their siblings are not. I think there is something to be said about encouragment and availability.

Though it's funny, I've worked with very small children and sometimes you can just tell at least one parent is a programmer/engineer type--the personality and interests are there in utero.


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Posted by RP
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2008 at 1:04 pm

A laser focus on science and math can rob children of the opportunity to explore all of their creative talents and passions.

There are lots of careers in the world outside of science, math, and engineering. Wouldn't it be sad if a truly gifted writer was not encouraged to develop her innate talents, and was instead "encouraged" to become a engineer - only to be disillusioned years later?

And please remember, there are plenty of kids in the US with gifts for science, math, and engineering. Most of these kids will seize upon their talents and ambitions and contribute to our technological growth, continuing the US tradition of innovation that has been present for generations.

I applaud our more progressive school districts for recognizing the contribution that a diversity of fulfilled individuals can make to a society.


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Posted by Blonde engineer w. bxxbs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm

"Science, math, and engineering are for geeks and only geeks."
That is so incredibly not true! Are you trying to perpetuate an old stereotype? You're not doing any of the tech fields a favor. We (this country) could use more talented people in these fields. The longer we tell people they have to be geeks to join us, the harder it'll be to attract young adults who don't percieve themselves to be geeks, but who have every bit as much science/math potential.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Denial.

The fact is that the US (and PAUSD) can do a much better job of increasing everyone's experience in math and science without sacraficing a well rounded, creative education. Plenty of kids with talent and interest get nothing but cheated in a system that serves only those with the $$$ to make their own fantasies come true.

No one's talking about forcing anyone into anything - its about finding the talent/inclination where it resides, then nurturing it - Instead of ignoring the need to pay any attention whatsoever to the critical skills for the 21st century. Resources for public education are finite - why are we squandering them?

If people want to be wasteful with education resources, let them go squander it on their own dime in private schools.


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Posted by Walter E. Wallis, P.E.
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Engineers don't have all the answers, but at least we usually know the questions - like why doesn't Hansen release the code on his magic box, or why refuse to use that magic box to demonstrate the expected change in global temperature if each of their recommendations is fully met. If totally trashing our economy and making the US the world's petty cash drawer makes no measurable difference, why bother?
Welcome aboard, BEwB, and please GET REGISTERED!!!


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 15, 2008 at 3:47 pm

"Are you trying to perpetuate an old stereotype?" No, I'm promoting the new idiom of distinction, even elitism. In the old world the terms geek and nerd were interchangeable. Today geek <> nerd, and nerd <> geek. Geekdom must be earned, it cannot be merely claimed or perjorated. It's a peer review process. Only established geeks can certify membership in the guild. Demonstrated facility in math, science, or engineering is an absolute prerequisite.

Anybody hung up on the old stereotype can find the antidote at girlgeeks.com.


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Posted by BEwB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2008 at 4:05 pm

We have a basic difference in philosophies, Engineer. You're promoting elitism, whereas I'm promoting inclusionism. You may assign any definition to nerd & geek as you like, but they're still subsets of engineering. Some geeks are engineers, but not all engineers are geeks. Thankfully.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 15, 2008 at 4:55 pm

"...not all engineers are geeks." Sadly true. They should have taken up another line of work.

Look, my reading of the original message on this thread is that forcing more students into science, math, and engineering classes will magically ensure American dominance in those fields and that not forcing more students into science, math, and engineering classes will tragically ensure American decline in those fields. That is flatly not true. Only a few are qualified for careers in math, science, and engineering. That is not a fault of our educational system, it's genetics.

Inclusionism is a noble sentiment. But let's be careful not to confuse it with results. We may force every child to take violin lessons, yet only an elite few will ever qualify for the philharmonic.


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Posted by Walter E. Wallis, P.E.
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2008 at 5:32 pm

An engineer HAS to engineer.


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Posted by BEwB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Absolutely. But an engineer does not HAVE to be a geek in order to engineer. Well.


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Posted by Hoodwinked
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2008 at 10:53 am

An Engineer - wrong. The original post's point is that PAUSD administration (and US in general) has to do a better job of providing strong math science education so that more students are ready for science and engineering opportunities. And desit from allowing their (school district's) attentions and resources from being diverted into the lastest fads. Like MI.

Absolutely ridiculous to say that the schools are going to force more kids into science and engineering -but they can do a much better job of teaching math and science, to spark enthusiasm for these careers and allow as many kids who have the will, to get prepared for these careers. ALL kids need excellent math, English and Science education to prepare them for whatever fields they eventually enter. I dare say NONE of them need excellent Mandarin education - and PAUSD is wasting our resources on such frivolous and off-point programs - while the rest of the world (including China) seems to understand how to focus their education efforts on what's important.

Typical engineer (geek) - to miss the forest while wandering around in the trees.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 16, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Hoodwinked: Please. I claim that the US is doing and has done an adequate to excellent job of providing "strong math science" [sic] education for those who have the ability to use it. I say that because I've been through the course and have applied it professionally for many years, and I came through an educational system far less supercharged than Palo Alto's as have most of my colleagues. FYI, entry-level engineers are much better prepared than we seniors.

I don't know what your qualification to make your judgements might be, but the content of your posts indicate it is minimal to formulaic at best. Your resort to ad-hominen attacks suggest it is even less than that.


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Posted by BEwB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2008 at 2:03 pm

An Engineer,
I won't spend time debating your 'it's genetics' comment or we won't get anywhere. Let's just discuss the children for whom your following two statements are true: 1) Only a few are qualified for careers in math, science, and engineering. 2) …it's genetics.
Are you aware of how many intelligent, talented children steer away from math, science and engineering careers – even though they have the genetics (or whatever you'd like to credit) to succeed?
Too many genetically gifted girls (or boys – gender is irrelevant) get turned off by math at an early age. It's boring for them. The pace is too slow, or the presentation is dry, or the teacher is inadequate. Or, they're told that only geeks do engineering. They like sports or cheerleading, reading books, theater, art, girl scouts, shopping at the mall, makeup, lifting weights, or countless other things that your typical geek doesn't do. They don't see themselves as geeks. Therefore they should look for other careers because "Science, math, and engineering are for geeks and only geeks."
We're losing talented children because of outdated stereotypes. If you don't think this is a problem, look beyond PAUSD and Cupertino school districts where the damage of appearing smart is more noticeable. If girl or boy wants to be viewed as hip & cool & popular, math and science is NOT the way to do it.
We're also losing the future tech force due to a lagging education system. And that brings us back to the point the original poster is making. In some school districts, not necessarily PAUSD, only geeks survive the school system with both their talent & desire intact to follow a high tech career. Our challenge is to improve the education system as well as social opinions so that we don't lose those talented students to other careers. Whether the children are naturally gifted, hard working, or late bloomers with a passion for science/math is irrelevant. Lost talent is lost talent, regardless how it was formed.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 16, 2008 at 2:32 pm

BewB: I know very well a very talented engineer who was steered away from the profession because of stereotyping. We've been married for many years.

As for "boring math" in grade school (aka the mindless drill and kill which too many self-styled education critics advocate even today), it almost killed off my career plans, even though I loved building and inventing and reading about same from my earliest age. Learning to use a slide rule, then later a computer and a calculator, is what saved me. I'm still personally terrible at arithmetic, although I cause many billions of calculations each day.

But speaking of stereotypes, you have the wrong attitude about the word "geek." I should have deduced that sooner from the alphabet soup in your original signature. Don't be afraid of it. It is a term of pride among the qualified, and I assure you that we are as socially adept (and even good looking) as a sample of the general populace ecven if we are interested in many thinge they are not. I again strongly recommend a visit to www.girlgeeks.com.

Finally, please re-examine your own attitudes and help promote the profession. We are losing talented children because of outdated stereotypes.


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Posted by Hoodwinked
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2008 at 8:02 pm

An Engineer - did you read the article? I guess they're all wrong too, just because you and a couple of your closest dweeb (or is that geek) friends are doing just fine? Nice math.


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Posted by Hoodwinked
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2008 at 8:10 pm

An Engineer - you prove the point in your post. Even someone as genetically gifted and supremely qualified as yourself almost got turned off to your profession by the system. How many just like you weren't 'almost' turned off, but all the way turned off? Let's refocus the attention of our education system on how to teach these kids in a way that turns them on to math, science and engineering. What's your complaint with that? I'd much rather see our district spending time on creative math and science programs for all the elementary kids, than creative mandarin programs for 2%. Do you really disagree? I don't see how you can if you are who you claim to be.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 17, 2008 at 11:51 am

Hoodwinked: I'm sorry, but you exhibit a keen aptitude for missing the point. I kept my resolve for a scientific career despite the mindless rote approach to math instruction I received. Then when I bought my first slide rule in a local drugstore and taught myself to use it (an act of rebellion, BTW), I was on Mt Everest and I never left it. The drudgery was gone, and the relationships between numbers became clear. It was by far the best dollar I ever invested.

Yes, let's refocus the attention of our education system on how to teach these kids in a way that turns them on to math, science and engineering. But let's keep in mind that it's "these" kids we're focusing on. Tuning a system can yield an optimized resonance, but only over a narrow band. Let's not delude ourselves that we'll magically double the number of technical graduates. The demand for them is cyclic in any case.

Plus, we need Mandarin (and Japanese, and German, and French, and Korean, and Hindi, and ...) speakers in this global economy.


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Posted by sparky
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Just as I thought. An MI proponent attempting to look like a concerned engineer defending the profession. Now we get to the inevitable (tired) discussion of the 'flat world' global economy - in which we actually do NOT need Mandarin, German or French to compete.

Actually, I think you miss your own point. The school system didn't turn you into an engineer - you turned yourself into an engineer DESPITE the system. Sounds like a failure of the school system to spot you and give you the educational spark you needed. But thanks for repeating the point. Again.

(Hmmm maybe the educational sevices administration and the board of education was too busy building immersion classrooms to remember to build their technology offering, or their science offering, or a creative all inclusive math program.)


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 17, 2008 at 3:03 pm

"The school system didn't turn you into an engineer - you turned yourself into an engineer DESPITE the system."

Finally somebody gets it. In the beginning must be the Will: engineering math isn't learned through casual efforts. So conversely, don't expect the school system by itself to turn random kids into engineers.

However, if I'd had the education I'd design for myself knowing what I know now, I'd have been far ahead of myself when starting college, and maybe even now. There was a lot to unlearn. But in that endeavor I immediately run afoul, not of any language immersion bogeyman, but the drill-and-kill rotehead know-nothing dogma that still shrivels students' interest in learning the real math that comes later in the geometry, algebra, trig, and calculus courses.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 17, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Engineer,

Since the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are all learning English (The Indians already know it.)--there's no real argument that we need to know those languages to stay abreast of the global economy. English is too widespread and easy to learn for it to be replaced as the global second language in our lifetimes.

Of course, conversely, if second languages are that valuable, we should offer language programs to all our elementary students, not a tiny percentage.

Either way, the global argument doesn't work for supporting a tiny boutique program benefitting a small number of children at the expense of others.

And say a kid really, really wants to learn Chinese--there are plenty of non-school, affordable options. All the arguments you make about being a born engineer apply even more to languages. Those who want to be fluent in a second language become so. Those who don't, forget the language.

Huge problem among English speakers in French Immersion in Canada. Goes along with the massive drops after elementary school in this country as well.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2008 at 10:51 am

An Engineer - wouldn't it be nice if our school system were spending time on developing and reenginnering math education programming that fixed for once and for all "the drill-and-kill rotehead know-nothing dogma that still shrivels students' interest.."

(you and I are saying the same thing here - we DON"T have fabulous math programming, it needs to be fixed to maximize the potential of our students - future engineers or not)

But Alas the district is using their expert resources instead on designing state of the art language immersion schools. And those are resources USED UP, NOT AVAILABLE to use on fixing what's wrong with our math and science programs. Those that would like to see some focus on fixing what broken about our math education indeed run afoul of a district hell bent on following FADS at the cost of focus on what's important.


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Posted by Math for All
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2008 at 10:57 am

Do we think that Engineers are the only ones who have a need for the 'real math that comes later'? Really? How arrogant.

Engineer- maybe you should use some of your 'real math' and figure out how much it costs to run the Education Services department in PAUSD, and how much productivity we LOSE in that department if they're spending all their time on MI, instead of on MATH programs.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Math for All: It's very simple. Get the data, get a calculator, and get an 8 year old to help you do the sums. The results will be as meaningless as your thesis, but maybe you will feel happier.


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Posted by mfa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Aw, c'mon now Engineer. I think you're just cranky cause you made my argument for me.

That's OK. Engineers aren't known for their common sense.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Actually, I know some 8-year-olds who are great with sums--of course, they're doing them in their head . . .

I'm not an engineer, but I do use algebra and geometry--even if I can't remember what qualifies as algebra. Mathematics is a set of tools--it can be used to solve all sorts of things. I pulled up a bunch of concepts from long-ago geometry to figure out the actual square footage of my quirky parcel not long ago. At some point, no doubt, I'll find I've been using some remnant of trig. as well.


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