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How US Schools' Culture Stifles Math Achievement

timothy posted about 6 years ago | from the expensive-gubmint-babysitting-castles dept.

Education 888

Zarf writes "I'd like to file a bug report on the US educational system. The New York Times reports on a recent study that shows the US fails to encourage academic talent as a culture.'"There is something about the culture in American society today which doesn't really seem to encourage men or women in mathematics," said Michael Sipser, the head of M.I.T.'s math department. "Sports achievement gets lots of coverage in the media. Academic achievement gets almost none."' While we've suspected that the US might be falling behind academically, this study shows that it is actually due to cultural factors that are devaluing the success of our students. I suspect there's a flaw in the US cultural system that prevents achievement on the academic front from being perceived as valuable. Could anyone suggest a patch for this bug or is this cause for a rewrite?"

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Answer: Money (5, Insightful)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 6 years ago | (#25333899)

Make it financially rewarding to learn and teach math.

Re:Answer: Money (5, Insightful)

isBandGeek() (1369017) | about 6 years ago | (#25333963)

Exactly. When NFL quarterbacks get millions and top-of-the-line math teachers get a few tens of thousands, guess which way a physically fit but also smart student would go.

Re:Answer: Money (0, Offtopic)

Lobster Quadrille (965591) | about 6 years ago | (#25334105)

Potato farming?

Re:Answer: Money (5, Funny)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 6 years ago | (#25334185)

"Exactly. When NFL quarterbacks get millions and top-of-the-line math teachers get a few tens of thousands, guess which way a physically fit but also smart student would go."

My thinking soon as someone starts earning 7+ figures, is on TV, gets endorsment money from calculator companies, and all the chicks they can handle, then people will start migrating to and excelling at mathematics in droves.

Trouble is, you don't generally get famous and rich solving derivatives.

Re:Answer: Money (5, Insightful)

dalurka (540445) | about 6 years ago | (#25334511)

The people that grew up with the moon landings on TV are getting old and replaced by a generation that did not have such great role models. Many of the scientist today were inspired by the astronauts. Today science is not that high profile. We need something like the moon landings to inspire children for a lifetime.

Re:Answer: Money (4, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | about 6 years ago | (#25334197)

When a math teacher can get millions of people to watch commercials and thousands of people to pay $40 to watch them teach math for 2 hours, then they'll get paid as much as pro athletes.

Some use of mass media might actually make this closer to reality. The best math teachers could teach millions of students using video and the Internet -- with lower-paid local assistants to help one-on-one and answer questions.

But the current union structure of education makes experiments like this impossible. Unions don't want one teacher teaching thousands of students. They want the maximum number of union teachers teaching the minimum number of students. It's not about quality. It's not about productivity. It's not about achievement. It's about expanding the union payroll and nothing else.

Re:Answer: Money (5, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#25334463)

But the current union structure of education makes experiments like this impossible. Unions don't want one teacher teaching thousands of students. They want the maximum number of union teachers teaching the minimum number of students. It's not about quality. It's not about productivity. It's not about achievement. It's about expanding the union payroll and nothing else.

Blaming teacher unions for unsatisfactory results is a kneejerk response. A few months back, the Wall Street Journal had an article on how many American educators are looking to Finland for teaching models, because Finland has remarkably high student achievement across the board. Yet, Finland and its fellow Nordic countries are marked by some of the strongest unions on the planet.

Furthermore, I suspect many individual American teachers, not just the union fatcats you imagine, would prefer teaching classes as small as possible. The best teachers get great pleasure out of directing young people and showing them that learning can be fun. If you have too many students, it's just too impersonal and the emotional contact is lost.

Re:Answer: Money (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 years ago | (#25334493)

I don't think that the difference in payoff is the reason. Very, very few student athletes will ever end up making any notable amount of money on athletics. Many of them will make nothing, most of the rest will make some little league coaching fees and maybe a smallish athletic scholarship. Very few math students will ever make big money with math(with a fairly small number of finance types, startups that do really well, and similar being the exception); but there are a lot more solid middle/upper-middle level jobs that you can get with math than with sports ability.

I think it has much more to do with culture. Either people are utterly failing at calculating expected value, and actually think that they are going to be NFL stars, A-list actors, rock gods, or whatever and are acting rationally; but on the basis of bad data, or things like sports, music, and entertainment industry stuff have greater cultural attraction. I'm guessing the latter.

If it were a money thing, the least popular kids in school would be the B-list athletes: Not good enough to earn any money playing sports; but still busting their asses(and their knees) on the field. Suckers! That isn't the case at all. A-list athletes tend to be more popular; but the social hierarchy seems to have very little to do with the expected lifetime earning potential of those involved.

Re:Answer: Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334005)

It is. The article talks about that. It just isn't publicized.

Knowing math is an easy way to float to the top in economics and finance, two very lucrative fields.

Re:Answer: Money (5, Funny)

uassholes (1179143) | about 6 years ago | (#25334055)

Going to Wall Street and getting rich off fucking up the world economy is always going to beat teaching math.

Unless we bring back lynch mobs.

Those were the days.

Re:Answer: Money (4, Insightful)

irtza (893217) | about 6 years ago | (#25334057)

It already is; people just don't see the connection. Strength in math has done wonders for my career. It has allowed me to take on projects that would not otherwise be available to me.

The problem is related to probability in a way. Success at sports is highly rewarded but difficult to achieve (as defined by a standard of playing in a professional league at a national level). In academics, success (attainment of a graduate degree) is easier (number of people able to reach the goal) to achieve though still a difficult task.

What would promote "stronger" academics would be a pay grade within the academic realm for achievements.

Also, keep in mind that the patent and copyright system were designed to do exactly what you are saying. Promotion of the arts and sciences is why people are supposed to get exclusive rights to "their" idea. It is up to them to profit from it. There is an opportunity for success, but the problem is the link between the success and the academics is missing.

and to rile the anti-MS crowd a bit - Bill Gates is considered by many (of the non-programming crowd) to be the biggest nerd/genius in this respect. That is what a competitive academic environment would entail.

(sorry for my over- and mis-use of parenthesis)... (actually I'm not, but thought I would appologize anyways).

Re:Answer: Money (1)

overshoot (39700) | about 6 years ago | (#25334061)

Make it financially rewarding to learn and teach math.

I had some truly great math teachers. Makes no difference if you have to choose between number theory and nookie.

Horse, water.

Re:Answer: Money (5, Interesting)

garett_spencley (193892) | about 6 years ago | (#25334223)

I think it comes down to what's fun and what attracts girls. Which are somewhat inclusive.

If you're physically inclined you can attract a lot of attention (and thus popularity and girls) in school by becoming a star athlete. If you're not physically inclined then you can do the same by getting into the arts. Pick up an instrument, start doing drugs and attract a different kind of girl and become popular that way.

If you go into math and science most of the girls (and the people having all of the fun) will label you a nerd and want nothing to do with you because you are associated with courses that they find hard and boring.

I didn't know very many kids in high school who really thought about money all that much. Some of them had part time jobs to pay for their weed and dates but thinking ahead to making tons of money and being rich was something that you did via a) fun (playing sports or an instrument) and b) luck. Maybe my position is unique because I went to an arts school and played in bands but most of us figured we'd end up starving junkies trying to "make it". Money just wasn't something that we thought all that much about.

I don't know what the answer is. You're not going to make math and science fun for people who don't like it. The real issue is that it doesn't have mass appeal. I know there's going to people (I'd be one of them) pulling their hair out and screaming "WHO SAYS MATH ISN'T FUN!?" ... but the majority of people who I know simply don't like it. And thus it's not culturally popular. Of course this doesn't answer the question of why adults and mainstream media doesn't encourage academic excellence. Only why most kids don't chose to excel at it.

Re:Answer: Money (4, Insightful)

netruner (588721) | about 6 years ago | (#25334237)

For crying out loud - MAKE IT INTERESTING. I remember doing what I referred to as "Math for the sake of Math". Show how it's useful - the easiest way is through teaching Science. And separate the students that have talent from those who don't. It's not about leaving the "dumb" ones behind - having no talent in math/science doesn't make them dumb. These people probably don't care about the subjects anyway. Just don't hold back the ones who could go further.

Do this and you will also be able to attract better teachers. I know multiple would-be teachers that won't teach because of the level of nonsense related to disruptive students that must be dealt with over and over again. Disruptive students are often ones who have become bored because they're studying things they aren't interested in.

Re:Answer: Money (5, Funny)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 6 years ago | (#25334517)

A good example calculus problem would be:

"Johnny is staggering home from a party but has to urinate. The parabolic arc of his piss-stream can be modelled by the equation 3t-16t^2. If Johnny's weenie is three feet higher than the ground, then how far will he pee? how long will it take for his piss to hit the sidewalk? What is the velocity of his piss be when it hits the ground? "

Make a textbook with similar examples and its 120-dollar price tag will be fully justified :)

Re:Answer: Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334403)

> Make it financially rewarding to learn and teach math.

That deserves at least a 6. There are a lot of unemployed Math PhDs. The problem isn't a lack of people going into math, it's a lack of good jobs for them.

Or show the alternative? (2, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | about 6 years ago | (#25334427)

It's not as if the media were ignorant of the trends. They have seen the future and made fun of it [] .

The current trends are worrisome, not only in the US, but in the whole world. The easiest way to become a millionaire seems to be in sports or music, and in many countries, including a large part of the USA, being a "scholar" means studying religion.

And don't think that a long-lasting total cultural decadence cannot happen, because it has happened before [] .

This is no joke, if mankind forgets math, we will suffer a worse fate than global warming, communism, and radical Islamism put together.

Heaven forbid some students do better than others (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25333905)

That will just make little Johnny feel stupid! So, instead, let's just make everyone stupid and pretend they're not. In no time, we won't even know the difference. Now, where's my Brawndo?

Re:Heaven forbid some students do better than othe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334137)

So set up and teach your child math at home.

Microsurvey (3, Informative)

jadedoto (1242580) | about 6 years ago | (#25333945)

For what it's worth, my mathematics professor saw this. And she polled our class this morning in lecture, seeing who was an immigrant or of immigrant parents. And most of us were. :\

Re:Microsurvey (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334279)

Being an immigrant of from immigrant parents is rare for an American?

Apparently you do well in math, but suck at history.

Re:Microsurvey (5, Insightful)

netruner (588721) | about 6 years ago | (#25334335)

That's too bad - we discussed this where I work (we're all software engineers) and one guy hit it on the head: "American popular culture does not value intelligence." It values the quick wit of a one-line zinger. It values those who can intimidate others. It values quick fixes over long term solutions.

This is a really scary conclusion to come to. Even scarier is that I don't think anyone knows what to do about it.

Gee, what a surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25333965)

Who knew that youth culture frowns on academic achievement and prizes athletics above all else? This is a startling revelation!

Unattractive (2, Funny)

rogere (1353247) | about 6 years ago | (#25333967)

Maths are simply not lovable

Re:Unattractive (3, Funny)

Maria D (264552) | about 6 years ago | (#25334035)

I was going to ask "Are you an American?" but I see you put an "s" at the end of your mathematics abbreviation, so you are probably not. There you go, spoiling a perfectly good burn!

Re:Unattractive (1)

rogere (1353247) | about 6 years ago | (#25334089)


Re:Unattractive (5, Funny)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | about 6 years ago | (#25334081)

Please. Lovable isn't going to make Americans want to do math.

We gotta make it fuckable.

Re:Unattractive (2, Funny)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | about 6 years ago | (#25334193)

Please. Lovable isn't going to make Americans want to do math.

We gotta make it fuckable

Society and the internet are trying their best. 69 and 34 have broken the ice... who knows what number will be the next pornographic integer!

Re:Unattractive (4, Funny)

compro01 (777531) | about 6 years ago | (#25334293)

71? Or maybe ln(2pi) [] ?

Don't forget 71! (1, Offtopic)

domatic (1128127) | about 6 years ago | (#25334295)

That's a 69 with 2 fingers in yer ass.

Re:Unattractive (1)

somersault (912633) | about 6 years ago | (#25334195)

You gotta teach those kids how to unlock the bra in "algebra", bra'!

Re:Unattractive (1)

Kohath (38547) | about 6 years ago | (#25334229)

If only someone knew a way to quantify exactly how fuckable.

Re:Unattractive (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334243)

Please. Lovable isn't going to make Americans want to do math.

We gotta make it fuckable. []

Re:Unattractive (1)

Mgccl (1380697) | about 6 years ago | (#25334519)

I don't want to advertise my site but I think this [] is the most fuckable math article out there. Unless you also love some Polly Nomial [] fun...

For the Love of Math (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334091)

Re:Unattractive (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 6 years ago | (#25334433)

Are you kidding? My first serious girlfriend did math with me (cue up "in bed" joke), far beyond what we were being taught in school.

Duh (5, Insightful)

DogDude (805747) | about 6 years ago | (#25333971)

I suspect there's a flaw in the US cultural system that prevents achievement on the academic front as valuable

You think? Anybody paying any attention to the current presidential election will see the Republican Party attempting to portray education = bad, ignorant= good. (Dumb) people buy it. It's a serious cultural problem in there here United States.

Re:Duh (2, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 6 years ago | (#25334103)

Troll, uh? Truth must hurt. Seriously. There is no country in the world that is as anti-intellectual as the US. Sorry, scratch that. That's an exaggeration. Yemen, Zimbabwe, Lesotho heap similar scorn on education and knowledge. I might also add Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a few other theocracies to it if we discount respect for religious scholars. That's one hell of a company to keep.

Instead, try comparing the respect that intellectuals get in the US with what they get in the other G8 countries, or in any of the Eastern European states. Heck, even China values its scholars more - as long as they don't tread into politics.

Unless the moderator was referring to the specific link to the Republican Party? Sorry, I'd have to agree there, too. The Republican Party is the only party where ignorance and being average is actually sold as a presidential trait.

Re:Duh (4, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | about 6 years ago | (#25334445)

The Republican Party is the only party where where ignorance and being average is actually sold as a presidential trait.

Because "average" people want their leaders to make decisions like they'd make themselves. Because "average" people don't want their leaders to treat them like serfs or proles or subjects or children. Overt contempt and condescension for "average" people is doesn't earn their votes.

"I hate them and their culture so much. Why won't they vote for me?"

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334499)

Unless the moderator was referring to the specific link to the Republican Party? Sorry, I'd have to agree there, too. The Republican Party is the only party where ignorance and being average is actually sold as a presidential trait.

I've thought that the Republicans were more equal access than the Democrats because of that. Take both Bushs and Regean. Look at 'em. Don't you feel like like anyone in your HS top 10% was just as smart as them and as able to get that far with the right team behind them?

Now look back at the other party like Clinton or JFK... You've gotta be a near genius, good looking, and get laid from lot of different sources for them to consider.

As an honest slashdotter, do you really think that any of us or most of the folks you remember from HS could match up to their critia? I'm sure we knew folks with 1 or maybe 2 of those traits, but all 3? ;) O.k. We'd like to pretend to have those traits, but feeling like we ourselves could achieve those results within that party? Nope not gonna happen there.

Of course this election has become let's remove all the sane people and find the craziest folks possible from each party to run. Maybe its some plot to legalize drugs, because it would take heavy drug use to view either party as a sane choice at the moment.

Re:Duh (1, Flamebait)

Proudrooster (580120) | about 6 years ago | (#25334171)

Sarah Palin has made it clear that Joe-Six-Pack only needs to count to SIX! Also, hockey mom's don't need much math since the scores at hockey games are usually in the single digits.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334217)

Ya, that whole "nerd gets his lunch money stolen and is stuffed into his locker" stereotype is a pretty American thing, isn't it?
These things tend to go in cycles, I'm thinking we'll see the peak of this anti-intellectualism soon. You'd think this whole Bush thing would have effected more of a backlash, but sooner or later...

Re:Duh (1)

Loopy (41728) | about 6 years ago | (#25334309)

I'd love to see some example of this, considering how obfuscatory the classical media is about some of the "facts" surrounding the candidates. (The videos of semi-literate rednecks getting themselves stirred up against "osama" aren't really representative of anything, btw, as most of them can't afford to drive into town to vote.)

Re:Duh (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334495)

Hey dumbass, ever stop to think it may be the liberals who are fucking this up? Come on, when art and music get more attention than math and science...get the picture? Next time you want to cop-off at a specific party, may you should take a freaking look in the mirror.

Liberals == Can't do your math, that's ok. Here, take a crayon and draw a pretty picture. You will feel better and realize it is ok to be dumb. Some day, maybe the whole US will be dumb and we can live off of some great social program supported by the government.

Get rid of religion (0, Flamebait)

mozumder (178398) | about 6 years ago | (#25333973)

It's the reason people are so against.. reason.

Let's be proactive about it, too. Let's start with children, by teaching them that religion is a problem, instead of a solution. Let's treat religion as a mental disease like schizophrenia. Let's go ahead and remove the first amendment "freedom of religion" clause and actually make religion illegal and dangerous.

Nothing good has come from religion that can come without religion.

Re:Get rid of religion (2, Insightful)

Garrison_O. (1382655) | about 6 years ago | (#25334117)

I must say that I completely disagree with what you said. I am a Christian, and I am all for reason. Actually, part of the reason that I LOVE math is because of my religion. I am amazed by the way God set up math, and believe, in the words of Galileo, that "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." I'm pretty sure that what I said here won't affect anyones decision, and neither will what you said, but I just had to protest and say that religion doesn't cancel out reason.

Re:Get rid of religion (1)

nawcom (941663) | about 6 years ago | (#25334315)

I must say that I completely disagree with what you said. I am a Christian, and I am all for reason. Actually, part of the reason that I LOVE math is because of my religion. I am amazed by the way God set up math, and believe, in the words of Galileo, that "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." I'm pretty sure that what I said here won't affect anyones decision, and neither will what you said, but I just had to protest and say that religion doesn't cancel out reason.

To believe in something supernatural like an immortal male superpower shows that you lack reason. Back when math and science wasn't the thing to follow, you would kill someone who decided to use reason instead of faith. Now, in the 21st century, christianity, among other existing paternal forms of monotheism, decided that reason solely exists inside a boundary of faith. "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." More proof that instead of humanity being made in your god's own male image, it shows that your god is a creation made from humanity's own image.

Re:Get rid of religion (1)

nawcom (941663) | about 6 years ago | (#25334451)

Also, notice that just like some of the middle eastern countries, the United States is one of the only places where religion is considered an important part of who runs the government and who the government serves. It doesn't matter if there is freedom of religion and separation of church and state. In Europe, religion is the last thing spoke about - for a person in government's beliefs is personal.

Admit it Garrison O. - you would rather have a christian man as president (like bush) promoting faith based programs than an atheist man as president promoting programs based on science and reason. And you still wonder why Math, let alone Geography [] , still isn't as important in the US as it should be.

Re:Get rid of religion (2, Insightful)

geckipede (1261408) | about 6 years ago | (#25334441)

I'm sympathetic to this kind of argument, and I do think that eventually it will be inevitable to treat religion as a sort of mental illness. Note "eventually" as in probably more than a hundred years from now maybe a lot more. You lost my support with calling for religion to be illegal though, nobody should ever be punished for being wrong.

On an only vaguely related point, one of the first uses of calculus was Newton attempting to determine a limit on the second coming of Christ based on population statistics. He calculated that it would have to be before the 3000s because it would be around then that christianity died out.

good luck with that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25333981)

good luck with that.

It goes to the top (5, Insightful)

SoundGuyNoise (864550) | about 6 years ago | (#25333983)

It's unfortunate that even in politics, some group will try to say that if someone is highly educated, they are labeled as "elitist, cause they ain't like us folk."

Re:It goes to the top (0, Troll)

Kohath (38547) | about 6 years ago | (#25334125)

Also, they're elitist because they don't trust individuals to make decisions about their own lives. Elitists think everyone is a child that needs a government parent to make their choices and take care of them. Elitists know how fast you should drive, where you should live, where you should work, how much you should be paid, what you should buy, what you should eat, and how long you should wait in line at the government health center when you get sick.

They are smarter than you. They know they are. You should be happy to have these people make your choices for you. You couldn't do it yourself. You'd just mess it up, like you always do. Trust them because they're better than you.

Re:It goes to the top (4, Insightful)

Jherek Carnelian (831679) | about 6 years ago | (#25334307)

Also, they're elitist because they don't trust individuals to make decisions about their own lives.

Sounds like you have confused statism [] for elitism. []
A common, almost defining, error among those who think that working hard to meet high goals is undesirable.

Homeschooling (5, Insightful)

ohxten (1248800) | about 6 years ago | (#25333985)


Re:Homeschooling (5, Insightful)

WAG24601G (719991) | about 6 years ago | (#25334475)

It's great that you brought up this point, however briefly. I have had a rather low opinion of home-schooling throughout most of my life. The home schoolers I knew seemed to have a rather vapid curriculum (mainly focused on passing yearly exams and requirements) in contrast to all of the cool activities I had a chance to take part in at public school (like physics & robotics clubs, advanced science & math courses, etc).

My opinion changed dramatically when I attended a small liberal arts college with a significant proportion of home-schooled students. Many of these students had excelled well beyond high school curriculum to college-level study in the course of their home-school education. They were deeply involved in their studies, often side-by-side with parents who shared their academic interests.

The moral of the story:
Home-schooling is a double-edged sword. Some parents home-school because they can offer their children a richer education away from the time-wasting of the public education system, and they do so quite successfully. Other parents are home-schooling because they want to shield their children from the influences of their peers (or possibly everyone), and they generally rob their children of any education in the process. I haven't met a lot of folks in between.

If he knew... (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 6 years ago | (#25333991)

I bet if he knew what lengths those people go through to sell themselves, what malleable whores they are when you get right down to it, and how he'd be expected to be the same if mathematicians were treated like sports and theater and music, he wouldn't want them anywhere near him.

If you're a great mathematician, and someone needs a great mathematician, it doesn't matter if they hate your fucking guts, they still need to treat you with respect and deal with you. That's one of the perks of the field.

Re:If he knew... (1)

somersault (912633) | about 6 years ago | (#25334221)

On the other hand, all those sports, theatre and music personalities are actually getting some.

Its not just math, but grammer and speling too! ;) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25333993)

Schools do more for teachers than for students.

The future is depressing (1)

Talisein (65839) | about 6 years ago | (#25333995)

I agree that the culture we expose our youth too doesn't really encourage kids to learn math and science. I doubt we're capable of turning our culture around though. It is pretty much depressing, but I guess that will make me an even more valuable employee. I just might have to learn another language.

Sorry right wing but I have to do it... (2, Insightful)

yoshi_mon (172895) | about 6 years ago | (#25334015)

While this may seem very partisan I think it's timely and as such I'm going to risk getting modded down by right wing zealots.

The GOP has increasingly become a huge fan of this 'dumb is good' type of culture. For a number of reasons. It's not that they don't want any smart people. Rather they just don't want everyone to be smart. If your smart you can see though a lot of things that they would rather you not. Now the same is true to an extent of people on the left. And even some in the center. However no party has embraced this idea of keeping the populace as a whole dumbed down as the right wing/GOP. []

David Brooks does a great idea in showing how this mindset has been honed over the years.

Re:Sorry right wing but I have to do it... (2, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 6 years ago | (#25334121)

Yeah, I'll take the NY Times word on that. They have suck a great recent history of honesty and professionalism in journalism.~

R's aren't the ones running most Universities.

D's love dumb as dirt, well indoctrinated *Studies majors. Who, as a group, are required to take no college level math (back on topic). Maybe they get high school stats again (or for the first time). These are the people that can't pass business school (aka baby) calculus.

Re:Sorry right wing but I have to do it... (5, Informative)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | about 6 years ago | (#25334215)

Umm... Not to rain on your parade, but David Brooks is an archetypal neoconservative. His opinion pieces have nothing to do with the political leanings of the New York Times. Secondly, the New York Times, with few exceptions, is still one of the most reliable and trustworthy sources of new out there. While it may have a liberal bent, and the Jayson Blair scandal tarnished it's reputation, it is still a far better source of news than any of the 24 hour news networks.

Re:Sorry right wing but I have to do it... (3, Informative)

megamerican (1073936) | about 6 years ago | (#25334213)

In case you missed it, George Bush isn't a right-winger. Most conservative right-wingers want to get rid of the Department of Education and government out of education all together.

If you want to blame someone, blame everyone. Just read this article [] about how brainwashed kids are becoming. They are making kids religious zealots, although its not Christianity.

Maybe you should read this book, [] The deliberate dumbing down of america. The author of this book was one of the top people inReagan's Department of Education.

You should also check out the Reece Commission, which investigated the tax-exempt foundations in the 1950's. Then you'll find out that this was completely deliberate. You'll also find out it has nothing to do with political parties or the false left-right paradigm we're fed on the TV all day long.

Of course you'll probably just call me crazy without looking at the documents. All I ask is you look at it yourself, then call me crazy ;)

Re:Sorry right wing but I have to do it... (1)

yoshi_mon (172895) | about 6 years ago | (#25334321)

Where exactly in my post did I say anything about Bush Jr?

Of course you'll probably just call me crazy without looking at the documents. All I ask is you look at it yourself, then call me crazy ;)

I'm afraid I'll just have to settle for calling you crazy for not reading my post well. You might want to look at yourself and what your posting.

Re:Sorry right wing but I have to do it... (1)

Metasquares (555685) | about 6 years ago | (#25334273)

It is fashionable in general to be anti-intellectual these days.

And it is hard to be an intellectual to begin with. I don't even mean "knowledge worker", I mean outright "creating new mathematics". It takes a lot to think of things that no one has ever discovered before.

Given that mathematics is not an easy field to begin with, and that it also tends to make people terribly unpopular, it's no wonder that we're not doing too well in it. It's very easy to turn most people aside from that sort of career, even if the long-term payoff might be very high.

The question is, does this mean that the remaining mathematicians who defy the pressure are more talented/interested? It would be a small upside.

And don't forget (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334017)

Math isn't cool. Reading isn't either.

No improvement is possible (2, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | about 6 years ago | (#25334023)

The is no improvement possible in education. The system operates under union rules. There will be no changes except those changes that help the union.

Your goal for better math education and a higher value for math achievement is not useful to improve things for the union.

Today???? (2, Informative)

overshoot (39700) | about 6 years ago | (#25334027)

"There is something about the culture in American society today which doesn't really seem to encourage men or women in mathematics,"

Today? Was it ever otherwise?

I come to this as a "child of Sputnik:" I entered elementary school in 1957, and I can tell you that the "culture of American society" as found in any public schools I ever saw never came anywhere close to encouraging academics of any sort, much less mathematics. And these were far from poor schools or inner-city, they were districts where college graduates were the majority of parents.

I know some very sharp people from my high-school graduating class. They fall into two categories: those who were socially successful and those who made the mistake of letting other students find out that they had brains.

Example: Lynda Carter (yes, Wonder Woman) is now known as a very sharp businesswoman. Forty years ago, she was the quintessential airhead.

Flaw in School Focus, too (5, Interesting)

CannonballHead (842625) | about 6 years ago | (#25334047)

Even at the college I went to, a small, private liberal arts college that highly values education, sports achievement is made more visible by school. I was a music major, and computer science major; music majors are very busy with extra-curricular activities, but there is no Music Major Academic Achievement award. On the other hand, the school honors all athletes with high GPAs, because of the difficulty in balancing sports and academics.

I think even this trite example shows the sports-focus in a lot of schools. It's an achievement to be involved in sports on top of being a good student; it's a lesser achievement to be involved in music on top of academics.

Fixes for this? I don't know if it's just money. I think a focus does need to come away from sports. Part of that would be money (grants/scholarships for sports), but I think part of it is a culture that values entertainment and physical activity over, well, *thinking.* Even history seems to be going out the window because of fear of being politically incorrect or offending some people group or minority. Math and science are not taught because, IMO, kids don't "like" the as much, by default, as arts or sports (this coming from a half music major, mind you). This has definite effects on "thinking." "Thinking" is NOT always fun, but I think kids need to be taught that not everything that is necessary and good is "fun."

But that doesn't go over well in an entertainment-focused culture/society/world... nor an educational system that is more designed to please the kid than teach the kid, and more designed to push a worldview or agenda than real knowledge and the ability to think and come to conclusions based on factual knowledge, not interpreted evidence.

Re:Flaw in School Focus, too (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 6 years ago | (#25334261)

You got a CS from a liberal arts school?

You poor bastard.

Where did they teach CS? Math department? (Shudder)

Must be an unusual liberal arts school if the CS program is any good.

In my experience most liberal arts majors are just partying for four years and wasting their parents money. Hence the famous liberal arts major quote 'you want fries with that?'

They as a group are the least math educated people I've ever met. Arithmetic baffles them. They don't see anything wrong with being illnumerate (slightly on topic).

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Cultural problem (3, Informative)

wfstanle (1188751) | about 6 years ago | (#25334077)

I agree, in the US, it's not "cool" to excel academically. Our society tells its young what is important by the amount of money you are paid. Look at the salaries that sport and entertainment stars get. Ask many students what they want to be and these occupations are very high (if not at the top) on the list. Until US society gets its priorities straight, we will continue to decline.

Re:Cultural problem (4, Insightful)

Jherek Carnelian (831679) | about 6 years ago | (#25334397)

Our society tells its young what is important by the amount of money you are paid. Look at the salaries that sport and entertainment stars get. Ask many students what they want to be and these occupations are very high (if not at the top) on the list.

Or, if those students were just a little bit more numerate they would realize that for every high-paid star there are 10,000+ burger-flippers who didn't make the cut. Its a lottery mentality at its worst that they can only see the exaggerated success of that 0.01% and not the corresponding failure of the other 99.99%.

But then, that lack of numeracy seems to be a real catch-22.

Recognition (5, Informative)

N3Roaster (888781) | about 6 years ago | (#25334085)

Back when I was in high school, several times each year quite a bit of time was wasted in school assemblies. These always recognized the various sports teams, even the ones that were really not that good. It wasn't until my senior year that any academic achievement was recognized at an assembly. We had two students who (one that year, one the year before) had gotten perfect scores on the SAT and the academic decathlon team brought back a trophy. The two who had gotten the perfect SAT scores later told me that they would have rather not been singled out at the assembly. Never mind students who were going to various math and science competitions and bringing back awards. Who cares about that? (Not that any of the students really cared about anything at the assemblies. All it did was shorten the classes so that nothing meaningful could be done in any of them.)

Re:Recognition (2, Insightful)

oracleguy01 (1381327) | about 6 years ago | (#25334181)

And that is one of the core issues in the problem. Our culture has defined smart people as uncool. Those students you spoke of, they should be rewarded for their excellent work but when the school singles them out once and doesn't routinely recognize academic achievements, it just makes them social outcasts. Colleges recruit athletes from high school why don't they try and recruit the smart people too?

Re:Recognition (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334267)

In contrast, look to Japanese culture, in the manga "Death Note," for example. The main antagonist who also happens to be "the good guy" is extremely intelligent and pretty "cool" to boot.

It's the same thing here in Norway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334113)

At High School here you can choose if you want to continue with more *advanced math* or continue with english/german/french, athletics, economics, society & politics etc.

Most students choose something like society & politics because it's *easy*, and most student avoid math because its too *difficult*.

Where does the negativity come from?

Re:It's the same thing here in Norway (1)

ja (14684) | about 6 years ago | (#25334481)

Where does the negativity come from?

Simple: It's better to be ignorant and rich rather than educated and poor.

Why math achievement is stiffled in the U.S. (2, Insightful)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | about 6 years ago | (#25334127)

One reason: In this country, the rewards don't justify the effort put into becoming a good mathematician, scientist or engineer. Their financial rewards are relatively small, they are highly expendable and the job security isn't good. I am an engineer and lost a job recently that is now being outsourced to Taiwan. Another reason: Kids spend a lot of time in front of the TV and you'll rarely hear of an educational program outside of PBS, the History Channel or the Discovery Channel. Most TV programs today glorify hospital and courtroom dramas. The message: Its cool to be a doctor or a lawyer. Another reason: Many teachers in grade school don't REALLY know math or don't know how to teach it.

Ron Paul (0, Offtopic)

Ig0r (154739) | about 6 years ago | (#25334141)

Ron Paul?

It's totally culture (0, Flamebait)

Henry V .009 (518000) | about 6 years ago | (#25334159)

Just remember everyone, it's culture. And our lousy school system. Genes have nothing to do with it. Asians and Eastern Europeans, and for some reason their descendants in America, have a far better mathematical culture than we do. As the study says,

it is only USA-born white and historically underrepresented minority girls who are underrepresented, underrepresented by almost two orders-ofmagnitude relative to Asian girls educated in the same school systems

For God's sake, everyone, you're racist if you think this is genetic! Okay, it's not the school system, but it's still the culture. It has to be.

Re:It's totally culture (2, Interesting)

retchdog (1319261) | about 6 years ago | (#25334325)

Have you met a reasonable sample of second-generation Asian-American students (oh, say, more than four)? There's no way you can convince me, that culture doesn't have a whole lot to do with their strengths (and weaknesses). Eastern Europeans? They don't seem to have as consistent a trend in performance here, and again I believe largely cultural.

By the way, I believe in g (although its interpretation is a matter of subtlety) and its heritability; also its explanatory effect about performance in large populations (for example it's not a coincidence to me that nations with overall high g have overall higher per capita income). Still, it has to be balanced against other explanations which I find more predictive and significant for the individual.

The Problem is Negroes (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334179)

In order to endlessly promote merchandise and "music" sales, the media companies inundate our society with Negro culture. Music, and apparel and gear are heavily promoted in order to enrich the elites.

However, one major tenet of Negro culture is the disdain for academics and learning. In Negro culture mathematics is perhaps the most scorned of all academic endeavors. In the parlance of the Negro, to excel in mathematics is to "act white"

As a footnote, let us examine the list of great mathematicians and physicists who are Negroes:
  1. (none)
  2. (none)
  3. (none)
  4. (none)
  5. (none)

Re:The Problem is Negroes (0, Flamebait)

ja (14684) | about 6 years ago | (#25334405)

You guys really allow Afro-Americans at universities these days? Wow, that's progress ...

This is news? (4, Informative)

AnalogyShark (1317197) | about 6 years ago | (#25334189)

As a just recently out of highschool into college student, I can tell you that anyone with a head on their shoulders has known this for awhile now. In America being smart in young culture has often led to downfalls. I know that throughout my high school career I often had to dumb myself down to fit in with my peers in my non-Advanced Placement classes. A peer who can't understand your vocabulary tends to start to shun you rather quickly.

The main cause of all this is that academic achievement gives you no social status amongst your peers until later years in your life. Hours spent increasing your knowledge and academics are hours wasted improving your social standing, and can lead to complete cuts from social communities, ie, how 'geeks' are truly born. The sad fact is that in most young cultures the driving force are the most 'mature' (in a twisted sense of the word) ones. The ones that go out, party, and experience the darker sides of the world the fastest, are usually the ones who take up the reign as the popular crowd. And are usually the least inclined to diligent study.

Michael Sipser (4, Interesting)

retchdog (1319261) | about 6 years ago | (#25334191)

Michael Sipser is one of the most friendly mathematicians/theoretical computer scientists I've ever met. I am sure he is helping MIT's math department greatly, and maybe even the US and world.

A long long time ago, after my funding fell through (long story), I unofficially attended a semester at MIT taking a few math and computer science classes. I cleared it with all involved, and no one really minded my sitting in, although a few people just tolerated me.

Even though I was almost totally unofficial, Sipser took the time to meet with me and talk about my taking the class in depth. He even wound up writing me letters of recommendation for research programs and grad schools, and followed through about them! Although I "earned" the letters (I'm not bragging by any means - it was a real class, but not an excruciating one; I'm just saying that it wasn't soft-hearted charity), I didn't realize at the time just how far beyond-the-call-of-duty this kind of support was, and how fortunate I was to get that opportunity.

If you're an MIT student, take Sipser's complexity class - it's awesome. If you're not an MIT student ... take Sipser's complexity class - it's awesome! ;-)

It might not be a surprise then, that he has an incredibly well-written (although typo-laden) and accessible intro book on complexity theory, the standard for beginning undergrads, in addition to his papers. He really cares about his subject, and further, the teaching of that subject.

I've said this for years.... it's the culture! (1)

Jason Quinn (1281884) | about 6 years ago | (#25334233)

I don't know how many people over the last 10 or 15 years --- probably 20'ish --- I have discussed America's math problems with who when I said that culture was the source of the deficiency told me that I was wrong and the problem was the way that we teach math is "dull", "boring", or "not hands on enough" or "not practical and relies on too much memorization". This was especially silly to me considering how American math classes are like Disneyland compared to other countries' curriculum, yet those countries continue to produce excellent math students.

Plain old anti-intellectualism (1, Interesting)

Loopy (41728) | about 6 years ago | (#25334239)

Look it up sometime, particularly in the US with regards to government (i.e.: taxpayer-funded) schools, which have almost zero accountability to the taxpayers themselves. Or watch the movie Stand and Deliver, or read the book Ender's Game. Or look at the way unions enforce industry pay rates. Or how islamic dictatorships suppress knowledge outside of the mosques. History (especially recent history) is replete with dramatized examples of the repression of "excellence" in the anti-intellectual vein. Most commonly, it is the symptom of the desire to maintain power but almost as frequently, it is done in the name of saving face.

Very few things have ever goaded me into a red haze. This sort of thing is one of them and is one of the reasons I'm so glad to see my family home-schooling many of my cousins. Their steeper learning curve constantly reminds me of just how destructive the lowest-common-denominator aggregation of our schools really is.

Academic Culture (1, Redundant)

spacemonkeyprime (1382659) | about 6 years ago | (#25334253)

It really boils down to the fact that Beavis and Butthead trumped Ferris Bueller. We are living in the aftermath of that cultural selection. Bread and circuses my friends. Bread and circuses.

Drop the tech the test system (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#25334283)

Drop the tech the test system and give the schools more funding.

Want Media Coverage? (1)

flydude18 (839328) | about 6 years ago | (#25334289)

Easy. Put a man on Mars. For only a few billion dollars, you can have all the coverage you want, and inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists (and mathematicians).

High School (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334327)

We had a football team in high school that got new uniforms and equipment every year. My chemistry teacher had to rent the van for the science league out of his own pocket.


I know this sounds cruel, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25334331)

We should stop federal funding for institutions that give full rides for sports scholarships. Too many teens already are turning to steroids to gain an upper hand. The idea would be the radical side of this, but I'm sure there is a happy medium. Also, we should start earlier in our teaching of complex mathematical concepts. When children aren't learning algebra until the 9th or 10th grade (It does happen) it becomes impossible to get them to calculus before college. If algebra started in the 3rd grade, that still leaves 2 years for children to learn order of operations. This means that by grade 4 the children would have the necessary prequisites for learning logical sequences and proofs. While I don't think that this will solve everything, it would be a great place to start. Will the kids ever thank us for this? Probably not. It would mean taking a harder look at what it takes to stay competitive in a scholastic environment, and some people (not sure why, but parents often complain about how tough the kids already have it) are just not comfortable with making kids learn more early on. I know the parents have many responsiblities, but the one that should be most on their minds would be attaining the best education possible for their children. To be honest, I'm probably not the one to be telling you this. I'd like to hear more from parents and from people who have stories about how their creativity was stifled in an acedemic situation. Perhaps that would give those of us without children a greater understanding of what really seems to be required in this particular crisis.

Thank you for your time, and uh... Party on dudes!


Godji (957148) | about 6 years ago | (#25334343)

I'd like to file a bug report on the US educational system.

Status: Resolved
Resolution: WORKSFORME

Seriously, the only way to be good at math is to love math. If you love math, then it does not matter what others may think or whether you get any media coverage.

Some things that might be good on an edu TODO list (5, Informative)

jd (1658) | about 6 years ago | (#25334401)

  • Differential test scores. Rating/paying schools by an absolute score just means schools get students who know the end result. Rating/paying schools by how much they've improved, relative to how much you'd expect them to improve given where they were at the start of the year, would tell you how much you've actually taught them versus expectation. Expect the results to be very different.
  • Teach maths and science as interesting subjects. People can be enthused with these, but not if they're taught as if they're dead.
  • Stream the kids by subject. I'd suggest 5 or even 7 streams, to prevent over-broad grouping. Also, don't just use absolute rate of learning. If a kid works better with the support of a peer-group, and the peer-group is in a different stream than the one the kid would otherwise be in, put the kid in the other stream or see if there's a workable compromise. Age should not be a factor - if we go by typical UK figures (and the UK has a lousy system too), there should be a Ruth Lawrence-like figure in the US each year, minimum. You can probably assume a properly-tuned system could achieve 3-4 such people a year in a country of the size of the US, and multiply up the graduates from Masters or PhD programs by a comparable factor.
  • Improve student/teacher ratios. This doesn't necessarily mean over-small classes. A couple of assistant teachers improves the ratio without dividing up the class unnecessarily.
  • DO NOT teach to the exam, teach the subject. Teaching to the exam just tells you how good students are at tests, and any student who is any good doesn't give a damn about what the exam needs you to know, they want to know what the subject requires you to know. The exam is merely a device to let you progress further or get a better job. The crap students want you to teach to the exam, because it means they don't need to understand anything, they just need to be able to recite the day after they pull an all-night crammer.
  • Teach the subjects accurately and honestly. If a book is wrong or out-of-date on a topic, don't use that book for that topic. Kids can access the Internet and if they begin to suspect they're being fed bullshit on one thing, they'll regard everything you say as probably bullshit.
  • DO NOT insist that something is beyond question unless there are sound reasons for contending that it is, and (most importantly) you're willing to present those reasons to any student that asks. Arrogance and ignorance are the hallmarks of a poor lecturer. If you don't know, don't insist.
  • Students should WANT to spend as much time out of class doing their own research as they spend in class on that subject, above and beyond the time they spend on assignments. This places two additional requirements:
    • You need to tell them HOW to do research (including how to spot bogus claims and frauds) and suggest places to look
    • They need to be given a better reason than "because I say so" to do so - such as finding something that might be otherwise utterly trivial that is fascinating to them

This does not guarantee you'll actually get significantly better results, it merely guarantees that the more obvious bugs are fixed and that exceptional minds are not destroyed by tedium and an abusive environment. There are likely many other bugs that will prevent maximal gains.

I know... (1)

LuckyJ (56389) | about 6 years ago | (#25334411)

Do it for the LOLZ

The problem is sex (1)

popsicle67 (929681) | about 6 years ago | (#25334421)

If math got you sex math would be everywhere.

Re:The problem is sex (1)

cjb658 (1235986) | about 6 years ago | (#25334455)

Bah, that's what I was going to say.

Plus, there would be more smart kids.

say it ain't so (1)

hurfy (735314) | about 6 years ago | (#25334425)


Our losing football team gets letterman jackets because they passed and our winning math team gets a $ .50 blue ribbon to hang on our wall :(

Don't think we even got a trophy for the school for the team event.

I don't see that it has progressed any since then. Well the school does have a wonderful new gym and weightroom....

I got more satisfaction from being in a mediocre drum corps than a math team that won at the state level.

preaching to the choir (1)

azakem (924479) | about 6 years ago | (#25334435)

You know, if you come on slashdot complaining that America honors its athletes too highly while ignoring achievement in areas of actual value, do you really think anyone is going to disagree with you? This is nerdopolis, we've all had this thought before. We just can't seem to get anyone else to listen to our concerns, because no one listens to the nerds until the shit stinks so bad a clothespin over your nose won't do the trick anymore.
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