Thanks to my mountain biking neighbor for this find.
“So the U.S. education system is actually doing fine in many areas and is not being outpaced by competitors. The one exception is math, where the U.S. really does underperform. Poor math education isn’t a problem for U.S. technological dominance; the country can always take in more skilled immigrants to fill engineering and research jobs that native-born workers can’t do. But it’s not fair for native-born Americans to be shut out of high-paying STEM jobs because of the low quality of the nation’s math education. The U.S. needs to do better.”
Why do US students do badly in math?
“It might simply be because the US directs more resources toward reading and verbal education to the detriment of quantitative skills. It stands to reason that if American kids can learn to read better than kids from Taiwan or Germany, then they’re smart enough to make up some of the gap in math. Another problem might be a culture that believes too much in the importance of inborn ability rather than hard work and persistence. Students often tend to view math as an intelligence test rather than a skill to be learned, causing anxiety that worsens their performance. Additionally, evidence suggests that more active student participation and the cultivation of a mathematical mindset are effective approaches. It’s also possible that U.S. math education has never fully recovered from a failed experiment in teaching methods in the 1960s and 1970s.”
1. Exactly how did the Egyptians build the Pyramid of Khufu and its two great successors on the Giza Plateau? Super detailed which my engineer friends will appreciate. And no, it wasn’t space aliens, supernatural powers, or super-advanced predecessor civilizations. Makes me want to visit.
2. The big lie: What it’s like to cycle illegally as a woman in Iran. The things we, meaning cyclists in the west, take for granted.
“The boy cyclists used to tell me, ‘you have good co-ordination’. I owe this skill to the police — I learnt it when they were chasing me in the car and I used my bike riding to escape.
But there were times when they caught me. It was as though they had caught a thief. They would push me into their car, shouting, with several police women guarding me till we got to a police station. One time they even threw my bike in the street — even then I stuck to my bike and wouldn’t let go of it.”
3. I had the pleasure of serving with Sidney Rittenberg on my university’s Chinese Studies Program committee. Wicked bright, funny, and personable. Who has had as long and interesting a life? The one thing I never understood about him. How two lengthy imprisonments seemingly softened his stance on China, capitalism, and US-China business relations.
4. ‘You Failed Us’: Teen author asks 40 students of color to share their experiences at Seattle schools. The disadvantage of being one of the only students of color in a classroom?
“It’s more than having someone to laugh with during class,” Savage writes. “It’s the advantage of having someone to ask for help on homework, to study for the test with, to stand up for you, to confront the racist teacher with.”
Maybe not the worst advice ever, just the least practical.
That’s what a former engineer recommended we do at last Sunday’s annual congregational meeting when discussing the uncertain status of the After School Tutoring Program (ASTP).
It’s been a tough year for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Maybe historians will point to my being elected to the Church Council as the catalyst for the downturn.
Recently, my fellow Council members and I asked the pastor to resign. Inevitably, that upset some members, some so much so they left. Others stopped attending probably because they had enough conflict in their lives already. Consequently, we have challenging budget decisions to make.
Despite the fact that the After School Tutoring Program represents somewhere between 2-2.5% of the total budget, the congregation spent 90% of last Sunday’s budget discussion debating whether we should continue it or not. This wasn’t a one-off, the church is preoccupied by it. I am totally flummoxed and exasperated by the congregation’s seeming fixation with the ASTP. The attention is receives is totally out of proportion to that of other programs, ministries, and issues.
Which begs the question why. My only conclusion is that my engineering friend has it completely backwards. It’s impossible to take the emotion out of it because it’s exclusively based upon competing emotions that have formed over its long history.
I am resigned to the fact that the ASTP is our Ford Mustang. Of Ford’s decision to eliminate every sedan except the Mustang:
“. . . the Mustang’s survival isn’t really about numbers. ‘Five years from now, whether Ford decided to keep the Mustang or not isn’t going to be a material factor,’ Mr. Jonas said. ‘It’s more of an emotional thing. They’re trying to preserve the sexuality of motoring the way it used to be known.'”
Apparently, Ford suits gets what my engineering friend does not. You can’t take emotions out of things. At least not completely. And in the case of the ASTP, hardly at all. Resistance, I’m finding, is futile.
1. Dammit, this makes me sad. Forget the “sooner the better” sentiment. Extend the innocence as long as possible.
3. Okay Dan, Dan the Transportation Man. I concede, engineering can be cool.
4. What happens when primary health care is universal? The case of Costa Rica. What are we waiting for?
A good friend of mine spent decades as a sales manager. Now he manages managers. His compensation has always been based in part on commissions; as a result, he thinks employees are almost entirely motivated by money. Not just his employees, all employees. He’s grown so accustomed to the cutthroat competition of his workplace, he thinks free-market capitalism is the answer to whatever the question is. There’s no public sector, tenure, or labor unions in his work world, so they are economic problems, not solutions.
He’s a conservative. Another good friend, a liberal, is a transportation engineer for the Feds. Since he’s in charge of Washington State’s highways, I
like love to complain to him about my daily commute. As an engineer, he believes any problem can be solved if we’re just rational enough. One form that rationality takes is letter writing. He thinks everyone should write letters, like he does, to people in leadership positions because they still influence policy even in this information saturated, digital world in which we live. And he’s absolutely right, the world would be a better place if everyone followed his lead.
But his engineer friends and him don’t seem to appreciate how differently other people think. People like me. I confess that I don’t feel much sense of efficacy at all. If I’m honest, I feel like my worsening commute is done to me, I feel totally defenseless. As evidence of that, I don’t even vote in a lot of local elections. I’m an educated writer, so if I feel that way, how many others are likely to pick up paper, pencil, envelope, and stamp despite our engineer friends’ very well intended rationality.
That sorry state of affairs didn’t stop my friend from sending me an email yesterday titled “Public comments wanted on the draft Washington Transportation Plan”. With this little addendum, “No comments made then no whining allowed.” The bold is him raising his voice which he only does when a local high school football ref makes an iffy call. One more detail to note in the email. “Washington State Department of Transportation seeking input on 20-year plan by Nov. 6.” 20-YEAR PLAN. That’s hilarious.
I’m glad our state’s traffic engineers are thinking in 20 year terms, however, it’s cray cray for them to think non-engineers like yours truly think similarly. In twenty years I want to be napping in my back seat as my car drives me to the Home Course for a quick 18. When I think of transportation infrastructure, hell, when I think of life, the short-term is 1-2 years, the medium-term is 5 years, and the longest term is 10 years.
Note to engineers. Non-engineers think differently. If you want to enlist their help in data gathering and problem-solving, you have to be a lot more savvy in reaching out to them. You’re probably better off delegating it to people rooted in the social sciences and humanities.
This subconscious tendency to generalize from one’s work and then to project one’s work worldview onto others is probably inevitable. As are the associated conflicts and frustrations when others don’t conform to expectations.
I’m sure I generalize from my work and project my work worldview onto others too, I just need to think more about the ways I do that. I will report back in 20 years.
- The Problem With The Simple Living Movement
- Two Types of Self Esteem
- School Mission Statements
- When Parents Are Too Child-Centered
- What Engineers Get Wrong
Each was written prior to 2015. Meaning it’s time to step up my game this year. Thank you as always for stopping by. Most readers were from the United States, with Canada and the United Kingdom close behind. Most groovy of all, readers were from 139 different countries.
My two favorite Christmas gifts this year.
Mr. Money Mustache, a former engineer and Longmont, Colorado-based blogger, has struck a chord with his retire early gospel. To the tune of about 800,000 separate vistors and 3.5 million page views a month. A large part of his appeal is his directness about people’s tendency to waste money unnecessarily.
I like his thesis that community is far more fulfilling than material pursuits, but dislike the groupthink his followers often display.
His advice is to get a good paying job (easier written than done) and then work for 10-15 years saving half of what you earn. Then, when you have $500k or so saved up, quit work and spend time doing whatever you find most meaningful. For him that’s blogging, carpentry, and spending time with family and friends. $500k is far less than nearly every other retirement “expert” recommends saving. MMM believes everyone can do what his family does, live quite comfortably on about $25k a year.
Their house is paid off and they have one inexpensive car that they rarely use. Instead, they bicycle almost everywhere. His most recent post was titled “Bicycling: The Safest Form of Transportation”. That post has generated over 360 comments, many which consisted of a mathematical back and forth, some challenging his use of statistics, others defending him.
In reply to one commenter, he shouted, “You can’t disagree with the math by listing four pieces of anecdotal evidence!” And then, at the end of the of the same reply added what might be the engineers’ motto, “Calculations and spreadsheets for everything.”
These aren’t just the words of one widely read blogger, they succinctly articulate the central message of a wide range of policy makers that see data analysis as a panacea for nearly all of society’s ills. That belief, “calculations and spreadsheets for everything,” is what informs the emphasis upon STEM education—science, technology, engineering, and math—at the expense of the the humanities, the arts, and foreign languages.
I can’t help but wonder if MMM only interacts with other engineers with the exact same “calculations and spreadsheet” worldview. Mind boggling that someone as smart as him believes that any spreadsheet might make someone less afraid to ride their bike across a major metropolitan area. As if phobias are rational and can simply be argued away with math. If that was true, people wouldn’t see psychologists, they’d see mathematicians. “Let’s see, you’re afraid of flying in airplanes. Take a look at this spreadsheet then.”
Engineers think people are rational. If that were true, people would change their favorite Starbucks order based on their new calorie charts and every investor would always buy low and sell high. A more realistic counter motto is “Subjective emotions for everything”. Few people study calculations and spreadsheets when making friends, love, or decisions about how to get to and from work. They do it based upon a messy, unscientific, imperfect combination of intuition, feel, and emotion.
That’s what engineers get wrong.