Stocks fell 8% today, but not to worry, the President said gas prices are going to be lower.
“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.”
Last Sunday the family and I woke up at 3:45a to drive the college junior to the Portland airport to catch an early flight. The airport was the midway point of our ultimate destination, a vacation spot in central Oregon. Like a couple of comatose puppies, the high school senior was curled up with her older sissy in the back seat of the car. Picture overlapping blonde hair everywhere. While they dozed the GalPal and I listened to a BBC segment about job prospects in the new economy.
The participants were Oxford or MIT professors. Cut me some slack, at 4:30a.m. the world’s best universities all kind of blur together. They made two points, the first which I’ve been making for awhile. The more my daughters (and their friends) develop sophisticated data processing knowledge and skills, the more job opportunities they’ll have. Quantitative analysis is probably a better term since data processing might conjure up mindless keypadding. This turn towards numbers is not a fad, the Quantitative Era is here to stay. Nearly every organization is analyzing more data than ever before—hospitals, schools, businesses, prisons, college and pro athletic teams, churches, you name it. People steeped in statistics and adept at using SPSS will be able to write their own tickets.
Which doesn’t help the sound asleep sisters. They did well in math, but didn’t embrace it, and have and will stop as soon as they’re able. According to the egghead professors, all is not lost, there’s another strand in the economy that holds promise for secure employment. Work that requires empathy.
They highlighted the work of preschool teachers. I was surprised by the choice, but clearly, unlike most jobs today, skilled preschool teaching can’t be automated because it requires nonstop empathy. The problem of course is unlike most quantitative analysis jobs, preschool teaching doesn’t pay a livable wage.
This excellent BBC dialogue made me think about our empathetic daughters who may end up leveraging their empathy as teachers or counselors. Other empathy-dependent jobs include pastor, social worker, nursing home worker, and nurse.
Had the BBC invited me to participate in the dialogue I would have posed some questions.
• Given the breadth of probable work in the future, why do we emphasize STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) at the expense of the humanities and related disciplines?
• Certainly, empathy is part nature, but also part nurture. How do parents nurture empathy?
• How do primary and secondary teachers encourage it—without usurping parents’ rights?
• More specifically, how do we help young males be more empathetic?
As always it seems more questions than answers, for me, for you, for the sleeping sisters and their friends.