Thursday, May 13, 2010

More on Public Education

Reports are filtering back from the NCTM annual conference. I'm looking at Maria's recap of Ihor's talk in particular. Nothing too surprising.

The "kite campaign" was barely a blip on the radar, but then that was more for retrospective use. When drawing attention to "what's missing" (e.g. Mites), one needs a frame with cross-hairs, a camera lens to look through.

That sense of math education being under attack, with continued dismantling of tools, a rollback of advances, is felt around Portland as well. Benson, our polytechnic, was ordered to dumb itself down by the school board awhile back, as its math-science standards were considered discriminatory. The new proposal is to simply bus students there, i.e. to kill it as a school with a self-contained identity.

Obviously I've been hearing from some seriously distraught math teachers.

One could see where the economic incentive would be to prevent the local population from regaining its abilities to organize and staff industries. Now that the Silicon Forest is well established, why not keep it a preserve for imported workers? More generally, North America is being stripped of its human resources and dumbed down. High school no longer teaches much of anything about machine world or how things work.

Turning this situation around with free and open source software has been a theme in this doodle pad (not a diary really, usually). Another theme: a place-based education that really gives a sense of local timelines. Faculty have a responsibility to custom tailor curriculum imports. There's no "one size fits all" approach that's going to work.

Cultivating regional identity, versus some tendency towards mono-culture, enforced from some imperial center: this an old pattern, one that doesn't just apply in "the developing world" (as people used to say). In Biblical terms, one steers around Rome (take the Annulare?). Nor do we all get our news from the New York Times (at least not exclusively).

Xenophobia is not the way to go though. We're lucky to have a diverse and cosmopolitan population. Competence with tools and technologies should be encouraged everywhere, not just around Portland, Oregon (duh). This Global U infrastructure to promote more student exchange will make it easier to keep schools like Benson in business. Getting more households on stream and certified for visiting scholars is a part of the longer term plan.

In the meantime, our Radical Math and the Portland free school business are helping propagate mentors. Teachers are experimenting with new techniques, including more pair teaching. I've not been attending all of these classes (some in Spanish), but I do appreciate the efforts. Language and math do go together (and I'm not just talking about computer languages). We've been recommending Who Is Fourier? by the LEX Institute for some years on edu-sig (Jason Cunliffe and I especially). The teaching techniques are prototypical of O'Reilly's in the Head First series.

However, I'm not claiming these efforts to keep math on life support will be sufficient in and of themselves. As I was posting to Synergeo yesterday, I don't have too exaggerated a sense of my own importance in these efforts. The various networks have their own agendas and the synergetic result is more than the sum of its parts. The Pythonic Math curriculum we've been developing is just one effort among many. Functional programmers have their own ideas. OS Bridge is shaping up to have more talks on Haskell than Python this year.