Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yet another front in the war against math... entrepreneurs

Or, rather, people with PhDs in "the evaluation of innovation."

Here's some wisdom from one such Innovation Doctor, Marty Nemko (Ph.D, Berkeley), as broadcast this past weekend in the Washington Post:

People on both sides of the aisle agree that the best way to create new, permanent jobs is to create more (and ethical) entrepreneurs. Here’s one way to create them: Replace one high school course with a course in entrepreneurship.
Which course? You guessed it: high school geometry. After all, the Common Core Standards (the ultimate authority on what geometry really is), has included the following abstrusity in its discussion of high school geometry:
“Transformations (rigid motions followed by dilations) define similarity in the same way that rigid motions define congruence.”
Nemko notes that:
The most commonly offered defense of requiring a year of geometry in high school is that it teaches thinking skills. No less than Plato believed that so strongly that he had “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter” engraved over the entrance to the The Academy.
It takes an Innovation Doctor like Nemko to explode this millennia-old rationale with the following rehetorical bombshell:
I have yet to be presented with evidence that teaching thinking skills in an abstract context such as geometry yields better real-world thinking skills than if taught in a real-world context, such as in a course in entrepreneurship, personal finance, or conflict resolution.
Ah, yes, real world math. Where have we heard that before? But is entrepreneurship the only real-world application that matters for our ailing economy? What about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)? At the risk of evincing similar hubris, I humbly offer the following response to Nemko:
I have yet to be presented with evidence that teaching thinking skills in a real-world context, such as in a course in entrepreneurship, personal finance, or conflict resolution, yields a better foundation for STEM development than if taught in an academic context, such as in a course in geometry.
So there.

We're left with one question. Which of kind of "thinking skills"--thinking skills for entrepreneurship, or thinking skills for STEM r&D-- is better taught in the classroom, and which is better learned out in the real world?

6 comments:

Amy P said...

Wait a second--doesn't geometry have a lot of obvious, real world applications?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Amy P, it does. It helps you intuit/estimate all kinds of issues in home maintenance and repair, in finding your way to a new location on the road, in sewing, in decorative art, etc. Plus direct application to the trades (carpentry, roofing, sheet metal, machining) and surveying, not to mention drafting, architecture, civil engineering, I could go on.

xantippe said...

Maybe the article itself answers this question, but how is a public school teacher with good job security, nice benefits, summers off and a pension supposed to be an expert on entrepreneurship?

I don't have anything against public school teachers, it's just that they're a totally different critter than entrepreneurs. The same goes for college business professors, too.

My husband suggests doing the course with lots of guest speakers, but it seems to me that it would be better to do it as an after school lecture series, rather than as an actual high school course..

Amy P said...

Xantippe is Amy P. Sorry for the confusion.

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that he chose Geometry to eliminate when it has so many practical applications. Couldn't you use knowledge of geometry, history, a foreign language or a bunch of other things as the basis of a successful business?

I'm a small business owner. I never took a course in entrepreneurship but I figured out how to create a business plan pretty easily. Millions of entrepreneurs figured out how to fill unmet needs without ever taking a high school course in how to do it. High schools usually offer business and finance classes that pretty much cover the financial stuff. They offer writing classes which cover how to write. And colleges offer Marketing courses.

All you need to learn to become an entrepreneur is already being offered at the high school or college level. An entrepreneurship course is completely unnecessary.

ChemProf said...

I think part of this push is a (poor) response to college for all. High schools no longer offer business or finance courses, because those aren't college prep, so now there is a push to move those courses into the college prep curriculum.