Wednesday, January 7, 2015

“I do not want my child prepared for life in the Twenty-First Century.”

In a recent blog post, NPR "math guy" Keith Devlin (also head of the Human-Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute at Stanford University) argues that the Common Core Math Standards align perfectly with 21st century workplace skills. His source on 21st century workplace skills is a 1999 survey of the top desired skills reported by Fortune 500 companies:

The most important skill in the workplace at the start of the Twenty-First Century, according to those leading companies, is teamwork, which in a single generation had leapt up from number 10. The other two skills at the top, Problem Solving and Interpersonal Skills, were not even listed back in 1970.
Here’s the comparison chart:

Of course, one should not assume that every skill a company seeks, no matter its priority, is a skill that schools should teach. Not all skills (creativity? interpersonal skills?) are readily teachable in school settings. Furthermore, the fact that big companies find certain skills important doesn’t mean that they require increased emphasis by schools: not all important skills (interpersonal? motivation? listening?) are in short supply. Other skills lower on the priority lists of companies (writing? literacy? numeracy?), may be in much shorter supply. For this reason, and because they require many years of cumulative instruction, these “lower priority” corporate skills may be top priority for schools.

But that’s not what impresses Devlin. Rather, it’s:
how closely the eight basic Mathematics Principles of the CCSS align to that Fortune 500 list of required Twenty-First Century skills:

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
6. Attend to precision.
7. Look for and make use of structure.
8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
So sure is Devlin of this connection between the skills sought by Fortune 500 companies and the goals of the CCSS that he proclaims the following:
The fact is, any parent who opposes adoption of the CCSS is, in effect, saying, “I do not want my child prepared for life in the Twenty-First Century.” They really are. Not out of lack of concern for their children, to be sure. Quite the contrary. Rather, what leads them astray is that they are not truly aware of how the huge shifts that have taken place in society over the last thirty years have impacted educational needs.
I, in turn, was so impressed by Devlin’s proclamation that I posted the following on his blog:
Suppose the CCSS consisted of just one goal:  
1. Be prepared for life in the 21st century.  
If I oppose the CCSS for consisting of that goal, am I, in effect, saying, “I do not want my child prepared for life in the Twenty-First Century”?  
This conclusion excludes other reasons for opposing the CCSS—for example, that the CCSS are much too vague to be useful to those in actual classrooms. Or that, because of this vagueness, the CCSS are easily misinterpreted, allowing the Powers that Be in education to claim that the CCSS support their particular (and often problematic) agendas.
Curiously aligned with these is Devlin’s personal agenda:
To prepare them [children] for that [the 21st century], you need a very different kind of education: one based on understanding rather then [sic] procedural mastery, and on exploration rather than instruction.
Sound familiar? Devlin goes on from here to the virtues of Inquiry Based Learning, which somehow emerge from those 21st century skills and those CCSS math goals--willy-nilly proving my point.


Anonymous said...

"To prepare them [children] for that [the 21st century], you need a very different kind of education: one based on understanding rather then [sic] procedural mastery, and on exploration rather than instruction. - See more at:"

In order to be able to explore, I had to receive a lot of instruction. Sometimes the exploration punctuated the instruction, but without the instruction there would have been no worthwhile exploration.

Anonymous said...

I think you've raised a number of good points about the alignment between skills and teaching, that the need for a skill doesn't mean that it's best taught in schools, that skills that are less valued might be even less prevalent, making them comparatively valuable, that skills that appear lower on the list might take longer to teach and build.

But, I think the role of writing in communication is going to change going into the next 100 years. It is a difficult to teach skill that takes a long time to learn well and that is undervalued. It's not a future I relish, but one I see coming. As the skill becomes rarer, the push towards non-written communication will become even stronger than it is now. I've seen it already in the prevalence of video how to manuals (it's much easier to produce a video on how to use software, on teaching a math procedure, on teaching origami than to write those things). I'm seeing a trend towards documentaries replacing texts in other fields as well, and video clips explaining science concepts. Those videos may not work as well for everyone (I hate them), but there's a new crop of students who have learned to receive information through video, and in time, I think the value of coherent expository writing is going to be significantly reduced.


Anonymous said...

"top desired skills reported by Fortune 500 companies"

In other words, prepare everyone to be mindless corporate drones.

Sounds a lot like the 20th century to me.


SteveH said...

The list of things companies are looking for is wrong. That's what HR/Personnel might claim to better justify their position in the loop, but the people in the departments want content knowledge and skills. Woe to the STEM worker who doesn't keep up with the latest technology. My wife was told by a manager at her Fortune 500 company that people over 40 don't work as hard.

I can't begin to list all of the things wrong with Devlin's blog post. Perhaps the biggest one is his unwillingness to let opposing debate get past his moderation. If this was just any sort of person blogging about education, that would be one thing, but I can't believe that a professor at Stanford cannot or will not follow Feynman's cardinal rule of not fooling oneself.

Devlin reminds me of "idea" people who fall in love with an idea and then will not let reality get in the way, especially when there is money involved.

Besides, his arguments are old and trite. Our schools have not taught anything resembling "traditional" math in 20 years, and CCSS does not do STEM by definition.

SteveH said...

And... PARCC's highest level in math ("distinguished") only means that one is likely to be able to pass a course in college algebra. This guarantees that one will NEVER get into Stanford. CCSS' goal is only non-remediation in college.

Devlin ignores reality. Instead of just presenting his ideas (which may be interesting at some level), he plays up to the K-8 pedagogical meme. Does he really believe this will fix math in K-6 and overcome a lack of curriculum and rigor caused by CCSS, or is this an attempt to cater his ideas to a willing market because they will buy it?

Katharine Beals said...

"Perhaps the biggest one is his unwillingness to let opposing debate get past his moderation."

Exactly. I've never had a comment under moderation for this long on any other site. And none of our unpublished comments violate their commenting policy:

The "Commenting Policy" page notes that "This blog is moderated by MAA Staff." What is the Mathematical Association of America afraid of?

SteveH said...

I just downloaded and tried Wuzzit Trouble. Like many educational dreams, it's based on the idea that learning can be fun. That's a nice goal, but the tradeoff is usually a lot of wasted time - and annoyance for those willing and able to directly learn things.

Wuzzit Trouble (as far as I got) is an app that teaches kids about moving up and down the number line, but it uses a circular clock-like dial that goes from zero to 60 and there are no negative numbers. The idea is to move a pointer up and down the dial by using one, two, or more numbers they give you. So, if you are given move numbers of 4 and 8, and you need to go from 0 to twenty, you have to apply two 8s and one 4. You use the numbers they give you to go up and down the clock dial to get the keys to free the Wuzzits. I don't see a way to jump ahead. Like all games, it seems like you have to finish one level before you get to the next. One speed fits all.

This is classic non-traditional math-think. There is no clear "rote" algorithm. If you are at 8 and need to get to 6, but you only have +/- move numbers of 7 and 5, you need to go up 5 and down 7. However good this sort of problem is, you are stuck with the strict sequence of the game. Like student-driven discovery in class, one cannot do this for all needed learning. It is neither necessary or sufficient ... and it gets boring fast. Back to Candy Crush. Game learning always competes with the fun of real games. Guess which will win? When I have to learn something, I do not want to waste time.

One can always slow down an educational process to achieve better results, but what is the reality of a full inclusion classroom in K-6? What is the reality and pace of a proper course in algebra?

BTW, when one has to divide 23 into 1386 using a traditional algorithm, how is that different than the Wuzzit problem? How many 23 liter buckets of Kool Aid does it take before you overflow the 138 liter vat that the Wuzzits are making for their Wuzzit party? The traditional division algorithm requires a lot of number sense and mental math, but I won't expect to see a long division Wuzzit version soon.

momof4 said...

The edworld is unaware of, or unwilling to face the fact (most likely), that not all kids find the so-called "fun" stuff to be fun. What weak, unprepared and/or unmotivated kids find "fun" is likely to be a waste of time, unappealing or downright torturous to kids on the opposite end of the spectrum. I've found this to be particularly true of games and artsy projects; kids like mine (and the one I was) would much prefer to write a proper report.

Hainish said...

Katharine, I just want to share the latest dribble about how schools favor students with "good" personalities (which, I'm sure they do, but I tend to see that as a bug rather than a feature):

SteveH said...

"But when you have a child who’s reserved, introverted, and sometimes antisocial — but smart — it’s obviously going to be harder to get them out of that shell, and proactively engaging in their education. Kids with higher scores on the five fundamental personality factors, specifically openness and conscientiousness, are more likely to engage in their education, whether it’s through talking with teachers, helping other kids out, or just plain working hard all the time."

They are mixing things up here. You can't lump quiet and antisocial together. Reserved does not mean not conscientious. For student-driven, in-class fuzzy group work, teachers will give better marks to the more social students because that fits their beliefs. It doesn't mean however that the reserved, individual learner will do more poorly on the tests. It may be the opposite. Not engaged in stupid group learning in class does not mean disengaged for individual learning.

I always hated group work. One teacher called me aloof, but none of my friends ever thought that. "Let's go around the circle and tell everyone a little bit about yourself." I could scream.

I'm so glad my son is an extrovert. I saw how this helped him over and over, and it had to do with perception, not reality.

Katharine Beals said...

Hainish's link and SteveH's comments on it are oddly well timed for an issue that's come up with my daughter. She is currently applying to some music camps for which we need to submit videos of her playing. The videos we have made are, I believe, well within the range of those I've seen on Youtube of other kids who've attended the program in question. However, those kids also do a *lot* more with dramatic body language while playing than my daughter does. In light of studies like this one:
I'm wondering if this put her at a disadvantage for admission.