February 21, 2012
Not Because They Are Easy, But Because They Are Hard

After who knows how many decades, people are starting to realize STEM degrees are a biatch because that's the way the faculty wants it. I was outraged in a way only a teenager can be when I found this out in college, but the problem is deeper. In my opinion, it goes all the way to primary school.

I am a software engineer, by what I see around me a damned good one, but I have no formal training. As a kid I learned very rapidly that math was very hard and nobody, but nobody, knew how to teach it to me. The public school system had no time for an obviously bright and well-off white kid when it was inundated with obviously troubled and poor black and white ones (this was the rural South.) What other options existed were incredibly limited in the time when and the place where I grew up.

Because of this, by the time I reached college, I was not equipped in any way to learn the genuinely difficult concepts required to get a STEM degree. I know, because I tried and failed at them, too.

I think the article plainly shows that STEM colleges, being the very definition of the ivory tower, simply don't understand that kids aren't being taught to learn hard things from the earliest of ages. Witness their obvious surprise that students fail at STEM degrees in droves.

It also explains why such colleges still, to this day, set up courses with either an implicit or sometimes explicit goal not of teaching, but of weeding. "There's nothing wrong with the course, there's nothing wrong with the material, so there's something wrong with the students. We must get rid of the ones with no future." Yes, that's very helpful.

Changing that attitude will help, if it can be done. But much more important is to do something about primary education in America. STEM degrees will always be difficult because the subject matter is difficult. But if a child grows up learning difficult things they will have the tools at hand to do the job. The existing public structure, which quite openly is more about supporting teachers and especially administrators than it is about teaching students, is not, has not, and will not ever be up to the task.

I have my own ideas about what will work. I've taken as many steps to implement them in my own life as I can. You'll have different ones, no less valid in your situation. We can both be certain that very few of them are being tried, much less considered, by the local school district. Some can't be tried, too many simply won't be tried.

We need to change that.

Posted by scott at February 21, 2012 10:59 AM

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