Thursday, October 18, 2007

Survey says maths and science skills over-rated

Christopher Sessums has been examining the survey claiming that people don't see the need for maths and science skills. I was initially tempted to launch into my usual rant about the power of mathematics and the scientific method to facilitate individual development of analytical skills but I'll refer you instead to the more measured Sessums response via a different tack:

"The report, commissioned as part of a $25 million, 10-year initiative by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to improve math, science, and technology (MST) education throughout the Kansas City area, suggests that the "2,600" parents and students surveyed clearly understand the importance of math, science, and technology skills -- they simply do not see it as important for themselves.

The report was compiled by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research organization... Interestingly enough, I found it a bit odd that Public Agenda offers a video on it's site that argues for the critical importance of math, science, and technology education in Kansas and Missouri...

This led me to wonder why a self-proclaimed, nonpartisan research organization would provide a video outlining the importance of math, science, and technology education on a site offering a "non-biased report" about parents and students being unenthusiastic about math, science and technology skills?

In then struck me that Public Agenda clearly has an agenda on controversial topics... I am not writing today to take issue with Public Agenda's agenda, but I am concerned about the credulity of their research given their claim of unbiasedness...

In the end, the Important, But Not for Me report shows us that parents have different opinions and understandings about schooling. Surprised? Public education is a complex enterprise where some individuals come out ahead, others behind. Will this ever change? Can it be changed? At some micro and meso levels, yes. But again, it depends on the collective effort of individuals in their community. Regulating education sounds good on paper, but the everyday realities of life make that a much more political and thus difficult enterprise."

Actually I do think public education can be transformed within the space of a generation - it would take 20 years, not the massively intrusive and constant political tinkering and sophistry about apparent improvements that schooling currently gets subjected to. But it would involve massive structural changes, personalising education partly Education Otherwise fashion (not necessarily abolishing schools though they would be far more anarchic places than the kind we have today e.g. with the gifted teachers having total freedom to explore their own and children's interests), to really facilitate the ability of each and every child to develop their full potential. I have absolutely no confidence that it will happen, though, so public education will continue to fail the vast majority of kids that get processed through the sausage-machine-like system. It remains in the hands of the children, their families and communities to ensure, as Samuel Langhorne Clemens said, that they do not allow their schooling to interfere with their education.

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