Date:     4 Dec 13
By:         Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
              2252 Joyce St.,
              Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
              905 634 9538
For:        Producers, ,<thecurrent@cbc.ca>
Re:         Education, this morning’s program
 
Anna Maria and the Producers:
 
The education paradigm that has produced Canadian math under-achievers, defended by several apologists this morning, falls into the general heading of “progressive education”.  Promoters of this educational monstrosity have applied every imaginable principle of good teaching backward, with results we skeptics have been deploring and predicting for decades.  Examples:
 
Fiction: Rote learning must be discouraged.  Fact: every human accomplishment springs from a platform of rote learning.  We engineers have at our command thousands of facts, principles, figures, formulas, laws, procedures without our use of which the bridge would fall down and the 747 airplane would never have been designed, much less flown.
 
Fiction:  The process is just as important as the right answer.  Fact: The right answer is the only important result of number work.  Questions such as why or explain how some process works, imposed on students routinely, are ridiculously irrelevant.
 
Fiction: Students are taught to try several “strategies” for the solution of numeric problems.  Why bother?  Humankind has spend millenia developing proven, efficient (as the apologists admitted this morning) processes for solving numeric problems.  It is wasteful, counter-productive, and discouraging (to the point of students’ flowing tears) to abandon them and try some finger-diddly exercise to multiply two numbers.  6 x 7 = 42.  Memorize it and know it.  
 
The apologists airily dismiss the truism that “We stand on the shoulders of giants” and suggest that students “stand on their own shoulders”.  One stands aghast, words failing; students are to “discover” (a favorite word) how to extract a square root, when it took Descartes, a math genius, years?  To be stupidly literal, how does one stand on his own shoulders?
 
Fiction: Don’t worry if you didn’t ‘get it’.  We’ll come back to it next year.  Fact:  For success in math (or any other subject), mastery rests on mastery, segment by segment, each understood and mastered before the next is undertaken.
 
Fiction:  We don’t need exams.  The teacher knows if the student has “passed”.   Fact:  Orderly preparation for tests and exams is an essential review without which principles and procedures cannot be internalized by average students.  The teacher cannot know if the student has mastery because he cannot get into the student’s head.  Assignments and tests are essential.
 
I could go on.
 
And on.
 
And on.
 
Clearly, the folk who designed “progressive education” have never had to be responsible for a demonstrated result, such as manufacturing something useful or meeting a payroll.  They have, however, demonstrated their special result, such as producing a Grade 12 graduate who, clerking in a radio store, was unwilling even to try to count the customer’s 76 cents of exact change which she had laid on the counter for him.
 
We’d better hope that such a person is not mixing our intraveinous bag or landing our airplane.
 
How dare I speak this way?  I am a professional engineer with two highly technical, numbers-laden degrees, one a Master’s.  I have had over 60 years of technical engineering work.  Asked to chair an Education committee, I studied, line by line, with rising frustration and anger, the Ontario public school curricula.  Without reservation, I can state that no one taught exclusively by these methods could hope to come within a country mile of passing my exams and doing my work.
 
I have also encountered the implacable, entrenched resistance of the rich, powerful, influential Education establishment (“The Blob”), from the top (Ministry level) to the bottom (some practicing teachers) to reform, especially any suggestion we return to “the basics”, which has become a swear word among them.
 
In the interests of my blood pressure, I must stop.  But I can say with passion that we know the problem and much of the solution.  Increasingly, politicians and thinking educators realize that we have blown education and must find our way back to the blazed trail.  Fortunately, we can see it from here.  It’s just up that steep hill …..
 
– end –
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