Monday, January 31, 2011

Odds and Evens Week of 1-31-11

  • Tom Friedman writing in the Opinion Pages of 1-30-11 NYT about Singapore politics, economy and education:
If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive. "We're like someone living in a hut without any insulation," explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. "We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don't have to be so responsive." And we have not been.
Singapore probably has the freest market in the world; it doesn't believe in import tariffs, minimum wages or unemployment insurance. But it believes regulators need to make sure markets work properly - because they can't on their own - and it subsidizes homeownership and education to give everyone a foundation to become self-reliant. Singapore copied the German model that strives to put everyone who graduates from high school on a track for higher education, but only about 40 percent go to universities. Others are tracked to polytechnics or vocational institutes, so the vast majority graduate with the skills to get a job, whether it be as a plumber or a scientist.

It is a sophisticated mix of radical free-market and nanny state that requires sophisticated policy makers to implement, which is why politics here is not treated as sports or entertainment. Top bureaucrats and cabinet ministers have their pay linked to top private sector wages, so most make well over $1 million a year, and their bonuses are tied to the country's annual G.D.P. growth rate. It means the government can attract high-quality professionals and corruption is low.
America never would or should copy Singapore's less-than-free politics. But Singapore has something to teach us about "attitude" - about taking governing seriously and thinking strategically. We used to do that and must again because our little brick house with central heating is not going to be resistant to the storms much longer. 

MathNotations' Reaction:

    • ..."teach us about 'attitude'..."  I'll second that.  As I have often mentioned regarding Singapore'a attitude toward education:  In Singapore and other rapidly developing nations, education is seen as an investment.  In the USA, it is seen as an expense.  Talk about attitude...

    • We can no longer afford to excuse the educational performance of our students in math and science in international comparisons with the hackneyed and questionable argument:

We have to educate all the kids, their population is uniform with little diversity. 


Here's my incredibly simplistic and naive approach to "e-quality" education:

STOP the experimental research! Take each underperforming student and extend the school day using retired or current teachers, pay them and make sure that child does not leave until he/she can do their homework on their own and demonstrate understanding. Supplement and enhance individual instruction with the best learning software out there (*adaptive* software is the most exciting for me). 
Any volunteers? 

    • Singapore appears to be attracting the best and brightest into politics - our most recent congressional election attracted some stellar individuals and then some others...

    • For me it's all about our nation's values. If we don't deem the education and welfare of our youngest citizens to be our highest priority, then where exactly is our future?

Bravo, Tom, for a compelling piece. Much food for thought...

  • Have you been keeping up with the many Twitter Math Problems and Challenges for the past 6 months?  I generally don't post answers so you need to tweet a response, send me a Direct message or retweet it for others to see. Follow me at @dmarain.

  • Remember my tribute problem to Martin Gardner? Jan writes, "Has seriously no-one suggested the 120-25 variant? :)" Ah, simplicity! Or is it Occam's Razor (when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better).

  • I recently asked a version of the following on Twitter:

    What special qualities separated your best math teacher from everyone else?

    On Twitter, I wanted a response consisting of just ONE quality. Here, I'm looking for the top 3-5. Ok, so I open the floor once again to this oft-repeated query. To focus on math teaching, I would ask you to reference only those unique skills/talents which are inherent to mathematics. I may not get any response to this, but I do believe this list will be of some use for someone.  It would be particularly useful to hear from students and parents as well as from professional educators

  • This little challenge for your Algebra I students is a bit long for Twitter. Let me know the outcome if you use it in class:

    Start value = googol (1 followed by 100 zeros)
    Multiply Start value by 5.
    Add 5 to the result.
    Square the result.
    Divide result by 1 more than googol.
    Divide result by 5.
    Divide result by 5 again.
    Subtract googol from result.
    Final result = _______?

    This is not meant to be a challenge for your mathletes!

"All Truth passes through Three Stages: First, it is Ridiculed... Second, it is Violently Opposed... Third, it is Accepted as being Self-Evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer (1778-1860)

 "You've got to be taught To hate and fear, You've got to be taught From year to year, It's got to be drummed In your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught." --from South Pacific