The Modern Demonic Parody of Education

The Surface of the Problem

I’m angry. Well, actually, I’ve calmed down. But I was angry. I’ll probably get angry again as I write.

Why? Because I was, once again, reminded of the depravity of modern mathematics education and by extension all education.

My sister had a friend over and while we were eating dinner my sister mentioned they were going to do homework, she music and her friend math. Her friend groaned that she hated math. I was, of course, scandalised and asked why.

To begin with, her math teacher last year thought math wasn’t important and decided to just give them a pile of worksheets. This year, well, one question she was working on was turning \frac{81}{12} into a `mixed number’ (a number of the form a+\frac{b}{c} that must be written in the notational monstrosity a\frac{b}{c}). Well, that’s fairly easy once we know what hoops we need to jump through: it factors to \frac{3^4}{3*4} which is equal to \frac{27}{4} which can be turned \frac{6*4+3}{4} which is 6+\frac{3}{4} (6\frac{3}{4}, *shuders*). Simple right?

Well, she didn’t factoring was, or that you were allowed to cancel things multiplied on the top or bottom. She just removed twelfths from the top until she couldn’t. So, besides doing stupid, meaningless exercises she was doing them with a huge handicap. No wonder she thought math is boring.(Side note: when she asked a teacher for help, she was laughed at.)

This sort of `teaching’ is not unique to mathematics. My sister’s classes for the two previous years learned nothing (or so one might infer from the fact that she could miss a quarter or so of the year and not need to to any catch up. And not have any homework, whatsoever.) in all subjects. This sort of teaching ruins subjects for the student. It isn’t just wasted time, it is damaging.

These miserable excuses of teachers disgust me. They receive one of the most important roles in society: educating children. They are put in a position of power over children and they use it to damage them. They teach them not to be curious, not to explore, not to care about learning, not to care about that subject…. It makes me angry.

I showed her fractals, 3d plots, topology (cup turning into doughnut), knots, transcendental numbers, and natural numbers/arithmetic from sets. We probably talked for about half an hour. At several points she made comments like, “That’s so cool!”

That’s the response every student should have every day in every class.

I refuse to believe that isn’t possible. If it can’t be done for a subject, that subject isn’t worth teaching.

Examples of Education Done Right

The obvious question is `how do we do this?’ I’d like to look at the some of the best educational experiences I’ve had.

  • In grade 9,  I had an amazing science class. Part of it was that it was taught well and was my first real introduction to science, but part of it was something else. I had a spare at the same time as the teacher, Mr. Maharaj, and he would come by every 15 minutes and answer any question (except “what is a photon?”) that I had, both during the spare and lunch. So I’d get the basics in class and then read wikipedia articles, intermittently asking questions. I learned a ton.
  • Unpatched Tuesdays. Surrounded by a bunch of really knowledgeable people working on really cool projects. Enough said.
  • workshops. If someone decides to teach a workshop at hacklab, its fairly safe to that they’re really interested in the subject. In particular, getting taught art (block press printing (1, 2, 3) and knife sharpening) by someone who keeps a jar of human teeth, made a robot to tear up essays, and otherwise embodies the insane(ly awesome) artist is very different than learning it at school.
  • University lectures can be very good. But it helps if you’re there of your own choosing and are being exposed to fascinating ideas for the first time.

Common themes:

  • Optional.
  • Knowledgeable teachers.

Interpret that how you will. I’ll write more later.


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One Response to “The Modern Demonic Parody of Education”

  1. jra8vf Says:

    I had the same experience with my niece a few years ago. We spent an hour making 3d plots until she admitted that math is cool :). I get very sad when thinking about how many perfectly good minds we are tossing aside in the current system. I’ve seen research that indicates the most predictive factor for math ability of a student is the ability of their parents (the school is not making much of an impact). I’m sure if we were creating generations of illiterate students there would be an outcry, if only we could generate the same outcry for innumeracy.

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