This has been my experience for more than 25 years, and over that time the fraction of young, American-educated engineers continued to dwindle. I was reminded of this state of affairs reading Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal about several initiatives, launched by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, designed to attract and retain foreign entrepreneurs, particularly those in the high-tech sector who wish to launch start-up companies in the United States.
One could well ask why in the midst of a recession (“recovery” in some circles) the U.S. would try to attract more foreign, highly educated scientists and engineers to our shores. Yet we, who live in the Silicon Valley, know the answer: fewer and fewer American students are interested, or able, to enter demanding science and engineering programs.
With new (national) science standards being published, we might expect this issue to be addressed--and it is, but in entirely the wrong way:
Yet as I kept reading the document’s 280 pages of lofty prose, I noticed something odd: The framework does not expect students to use any kind of analytical mathematics while studying science.Uh oh.
For example, the framework promotes a practice called Using Mathematics, Information and Computer Technology, and Computational Thinking (p. 3-13). Yet one observes that after singing paeans to the importance of mathematics, it only expects students by grade 12 to be competent in "recognizing," "expressing," and "using simple … mathematical expressions … to see if they make sense," but not in actually solving science problems using mathematics. Its other suggestions include the use of computer programs and simulations, ability to analyze data using computer tools and spreadsheets, modeling, and describing systems using charts and graphs. But there is nothing about actually being able to model a system by its equations, or solve it using mathematical techniques. The framework also includes as one of its Cross Cutting Concepts something it calls Systems and System Models (p. 4-7), but there, yet again, it does not expect students to use mathematics for that modeling. Its models "can range in complexity from lists and simple sketches to detailed computer simulations or functioning prototypes," but mathematics is left behind.The author tells where this will lead:
One searches in vain for words like “algebra” in the text...
All of this made me think. Before Lavoisier’s quantitative approach there was no chemistry, only Alchemy. Before Newton’s invention of calculus, physics was more a craft than a science. Mathematics has been inseparable from science for the last 300 years, and has been largely responsible for the world we live in. Yet here we have a “21st century” science framework for our students that effectively ignores mathematics.
Suddenly it all became clear. This framework does not expect our students to be able to do any science, or to be able to solve any science problem. This framework simply teaches our students science appreciation, rather than science. It expects our students to become good consumers of science and technology, rather than prepare them to be the discoverers of science and creators of technology.There's a time and a place for watered-down courses like this--required courses that everyone must pass in order to graduate--but let's ensure our standards allow for some rigor somewhere, no?
Hat tip to Joanne for the link.