After having written about high college tuition costs recently, I encountered another mighty big problem with the US educational system. This time it concerns the quality — or rather, the lack of quality — of education in our local middle-school math class. What you read here may be the reason why so many kids turn up their noses at an engineering education. This is no joke; you can find the facts for yourself.
It seems that two of my grandchildren were having a bit of trouble in 7th grade math class. They just were not “getting it.” So, I asked them to show me their math textbook and I would help them. But, they said they were not allowed to bring the books home! The first dumb thing I have ever heard! The next obvious question is, “Then how can you do your home work?” It seems that they have to go on the Internet to a place called “Study Island.” The Internet? Yet another dumb thing! There, you will find several “test” questions on a page that resembles a Word document. It is arranged with a picture and specifications first, and multiple-choice answers below it.
This particular study lesson concerned symmetry and geometric shapes, perhaps an introduction to trigonometry. The first problem illustrated both regular and irregular shapes. The question was, “Which shapes retain their symmetry when rotated 90 degrees about their centers?” We solved that one straight away. But the next problem was a picture of a triangle with a base of 20 units, one side of 13 units, and the other side of 17 units. The height was also given as 9 units, and the student is supposed to calculate the area of the triangle. Well, in order to show them how to build a triangle with the given three sides, I used quadrille paper and a pencil compass. I laid down the 20-unit base, and from one end drew the locus of all points that were 13 units from it. I did the same with the other end of the base at 17 units. Then the intersection of the loci (which is unique) is the point where I can drop the altitude (height) line to the base. Guess what! The measured height is about 5.5 units, not the “given” 9 units in the problem! Of course, the equation for the area of a triangle is ½(bxh); one-half the product of base times height. Given 9 units for the height, the answer is 90 square units, one of the multiple-choice answers. But the real answer is 55, because it is impossible to construct the triangle with a 9-unit height. There is no way that this test or lesson could have been designed by a mathematician. Then who did it?
Next, I checked out a similar program that taught writing. Since I am a seasoned writer as well as an engineer, I figured I could judge the writing lesson, too. To my horror, I discovered multiple problems with its suggested sentence structure and grammar. It seems that they employ a robot to “correct” the writing lesson. Have you ever used the Microsoft Spelling and Grammar feature of Word? If you have, you know it can make ridiculous suggestions at times. So does this software grammar program. Needless to say, I would never hire anyone that submitted a sample article to me that was corrected by this program.
Unfortunately, I see a big push today to sell educational software and programs on Web sites that charge pretty stiff fees for their service. They claim that the students don’t have to leave the house to get a high-quality education. I challenge that statement on several fronts. Not only is the Internet education extremely faulty, what about the children’s social development? How can they learn to interact with others normally if they are in the house all day? They will become antisocial zombies—or maybe worse! Give me the paper textbook, pencil and paper, and chalk board (okay, white board) any day. This is what my grandkids use now. Grandpa makes sure they have plenty of books, supplies, and a real live tutor. How smart are your kids?