Servo Magazine (January 2019)
Bryan Bergeron made some excellent points in his Mind-Iron editorial in the November-December 2018 issue, and I’d like to respond.
1. Depth of knowledge in high school students.
When you constantly change the foundation, any building is going to fail. We didn’t start tinkering with social engineering of education until the ‘60s. Prior to that, a student from 1920 or 1950 had a fundamental grasp of math and basic science.
My high school experience in the mid ‘70s was one of extremes. My physics teacher was old school, and my algebra teacher was new age. I earned an “A” in physics because our instructor engaged us and kept us on our toes while making sure we discovered underlying concepts. He did this right after lunch, when most students were nodding off.
If he caught you snoozing, a chalk eraser would be launched into your chest and you would wake up coughing from chalk dust (I’m sure that would be a lawsuit today, but it was highly effective at keeping you awake).
My other instructor was tasked with teaching new math. I was a challenging student (I’m sure!) as I asked repeatedly “Why?” He couldn’t answer basic foundational questions about why these algebraic steps were taken. It made no sense to me, and I used rational thought to work out the answers, showing my work.
Because I didn’t use “new math” even though I showed my work and got correct answers, I was given an “F.” When the teacher can’t grasp and explain the method but is telling the students to “trust the process,” it is a recipe for failure.
Our educational system has been overrun with social engineering (I hate that term, as it is anything BUT engineering). Every five years, a new “improved” method is introduced, and students again have to shift their foundational views of math, science, or “history.”
We can debate the reasons for the shift all day long, but the fact remains that we our failing our children with chaos and inconsistencies.
2. Parental involvement.
A parent cannot even begin to help their child with the “new” math until they have gone back and studied the book, worked through examples, and asked for clarification from the teacher (who may not even understand it themselves).
My mom was a whiz at math, worked in a bank, and understood numbers; ditto for my dad, who was an architect and bombardier in the war. Neither of them could grasp the “new math” and so could not offer any assistance.
Prior to 1960, most parents could help with homework if their child needed it. Today, parents have a monumental task ahead if they want to help their kids.
Most parents of school age children today are themselves a product of this educational social engineering. Parents who haven’t been exposed to ham radio clubs, electronics experiments, or basic chemistry or physics can’t encourage their child to explore an area they know nothing about.
My dad used an IBM 370 with Cogo (coordinate geometry program) at his office. He didn’t understand microprocessors, but he did understand how to think logically — and taught me to do the same.
3. Critical thinking.
Heaven forbid if your child questions the teacher’s theories or assumptions today. They will be labeled with “authority defiance disorder” for disrupting the class. Teachers in public education are not taught how to think critically or logically, so how can they teach those skills to our children?
4. Six figure incomes.
A child today being raised in the home of a doctor or lawyer may see extremes. There are more than a few struggling baristas who thought a law degree was the hot ticket (or the child may live a life of luxury). Ditto for the child of a doctor. We have a shortage of doctors because kids have seen the hidden and direct costs.
Doctors are working for less money, put in more hours, and must deal with insurance company policies and paperwork that would drive a normal person to insanity.
Electronic engineers may earn a six-figure income, but the half-life of an engineer is 40 years old. Senior engineers are routinely kicked to the curb in favor of hiring a new graduate, in large part because companies put zero value on experience, and the kid fresh out of school is fluent in the latest buzzwords (Python, Ruby on Rails, when it used to be C, C#, or FORTRAN in the early days).
When a lithium battery explodes in an airport, everyone shrugs, the lawyers come up with a settlement, and life moves forward.
A doctor or lawyer faces no such discrimination; an experienced attorney or doctor is far more preferable when your life is on the line.
A radiologist may be looking at your X-rays over in India because your hospital needs to keep costs down in order to keep the contract with your insurance company. “Acceptable risk” is great, except when it’s your life on the line.
Looking at all these factors, is it any wonder so few kids get excited about STEM?
Thanks Dave. All good points. And I’m with you on the comparison of engineers with doctors and attorneys.
(In the print magazine, Mind-Iron was mistakenly referred to as Developing Perspectives.)
Catastrophe in the Making?
I thoroughly enjoyed Bryan Bergeron’s editorial in the Nov/Dec edition of SERVO Magazine. I too am concerned with the superficial knowledge that the younger folks possess.
An allied observation that I have tells me that the younger engineers (mechanical and manufacturing) don’t have anywhere near the depth of understanding that an older engineer has.
Many of my “60 something” friends and I have arrived at the following observations: The younger engineers are more enamored with the process versus the product, and they apparently confuse information with knowledge.
I’m not sure how this will self-correct. I hope it will be gradual versus catastrophic.
Your comments are much appreciated. I too hope the correction will be gradual vs. catastrophic. Time will tell.