Saturday, November 07, 2009

Poetry, John Dewey, and Connected Mathematics

Galileo said, "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." I have told this to my son a few times, but the last time I told this to my son he replied, "But Dad, I thought poetry was the language of God." Wow! I was pleased with that sentiment.

In the November 7, 2009, Wall Street Journal I saw this wonderful quote from Dusa McDuff, a mathematician at SUNY Stony Brook about the great Russian mathematician Israel Gelfand: "Gelfand amazed me by talking of mathematics as though it were poetry."

There is something special and transcendental about mathematics. Plato knew mathematics was special, including mathematics and philosophy in his plan for the ideal education for leadership.

John Dewey, the atheist whose ideas are the foundation of contemporary American educational theory, did not believe in any transcendental qualities. John Dewey saw no poetry in mathematics. John Dewey had a distinct dislike for mathematics. John Dewey's dislike for mathematics is the poison in the well that has made American mathematics education the sick child of the world.

It is no wonder that Connected Math is a boondoggle: progressive education is anti-math. My son used to love mathematics. Now that he is in the Connected Math curriculum he has come to dislike math. Having experienced Connected Math I think it is fair to describe it as politically correct (PC) math: what was correct last week is wrong this week.

The Plano ISD lags behind all of its neighbors in the percentage of Exemplary and Recognized schools, and I believe that Connected Math is contributing to the academic decline of the Plano ISD. The Allen ISD, Frisco ISD, and the Richardson ISD all have avoided Connected Math and they all show better results than the Plano ISD.

Plano parents sued the district over Connected Math. You can read some of the depositions here. The parents were right, the administrators were wrong, and it is the children who pay for the blunders of stubborn bureaucrats.

There is beauty in mathematics. I hope my son's love for math will be rekindled once he is finished with the Connected Mathematics curriculum.

Robert Canright

The WSJ quote was from "Russia's Conquering Zeros" by Masha Gessen

Recommended reading: "Method, Social Science, and Social Hope", pp. 191 - 210 in Consequences of Pragmatism by Richard Rorty, 1982.
Specifically, see this on page 204: "Dewey and Foucault make exactly the same criticism of the tradition. They agree, right down the line, about the need to abandon traditional notions of rationality, objectivity, method, and truth.... there is no overarching ahistorical structure (the Nature of Man, the laws of human behavior, the Moral Law, the Nature of Society) to be discovered."

Saturday, October 03, 2009

What is an Education for the 21st Century?

Education for the 21st century in America should be the study of wealth and power by the middle-class.

Professionals in middle-class suburbs like ours in North Dallas have a special contribution we can make to America's future: we can educate our children to grow our economy and provide the leadership to safeguard America's future.


Americans need jobs. We can best help our fellow Americans, especially those struggling to get out of poverty, by educating our children to start businesses that hire Americans. Children of professionals tend to follow in their parents footsteps. My father was an engineer, and then I became an engineer. If my father had been a lawyer, I probably would have been a lawyer. I never thought about starting a business.

I had a great education, yet I was not taught about starting a business. We prepare our children to be employees, not employers, and that should change. A one year course on business creation and management would be far better for our our society than a 4th year of high school science .

One contributing factor to our recession was the lack of businesses for investment. If there were more businesses for investors to invest in, there would not have been as much money placed in collateralized debt obligations. Our country is hurting badly because we do not have enough businesses hiring Americans, and not enough for businesses for investment. We can and should prepare our children to grow our nation's wealth.


To keep America a great nation, our children must understand what made it great.

The key ingredients that made America successful in the past have their roots far in the past. America's founding fathers were keen students of ancient Greek and Roman history. They were well versed in the progress of liberty in England, from the Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the English Bill of Rights. A keen grasp of history led our founding fathers to the U.S. Constitution and the great debate over its ratification.

Our children need to understand the same history our founding fathers understood. They need to understand the controversies surrounding the U.S. Constitution as debated in the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers. In order to keep the ship of state afloat, our children must know why it floats.

Our children should understand the rise and fall of empires so they can prevent America from falling. To be great leaders, our children should study the great leaders of history.

Education for the 21st century in America should be the study of wealth and power by the middle-class for the benefit of all Americas.

Robert Canright

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Education for the 21st Century

When I first ran for the local school board in 2006 my slogan was to, "prepare our children for future beyond our imagination." By March 2008 the investment bank Bear Stearns had collapsed. By April 2008 there was food rationing at Costco. I could not imagine that happening in America so quickly, but these were the kind of events I was worried about.

What is an education for the 21st century? It is an education to steer through difficult times.

Our technological education has been fine. We can design computer chips and networks. We can put men on the moon if we wish, so our children do not need more math and science.

The education for our leaders must be deficient because most of our problems are created by Washington. (The banking collapse was caused by lax regulation from Washington and by passing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.) I saw a Congressman on C-Span say he had to do as he was told by Hank Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury, because he did not understand economics and therefore had to trust Paulson. Obviously, our leaders should have studied economics.

Perhaps if our leaders had studied the lessons of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides we would not stuck in the Middle East.

Did America's founding fathers have computers? No, they had books instead of computers and they still set the standard for wise leadership. Our founding fathers studied history and economics. Alexander Hamilton wrote a report on manufacturing! We can restore America's leadership to greatness by injecting more history and economics into their education.

Good leadership is vital if we are to defeat the dangers facing America, so an eduction for the 21st century should focus on history, economics, and finance.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

College Ready Texas and Eighth Grade Algebra

Texans need to think for themselves. America's national leadership has steered the ship of state into the rocks on many levels. The economic meltdown of 2008 is prime example. The College Ready movement is another nationwide blunder.

In the Saturday June 20, 2009 Wall Street Journal, Peter McPherson and David Shulenburger published an OpEd piece, "Yes, We Can Expand Access to Higher Ed". They say America needs more college graduates. "Our nation's economic future depends on it," they say. Balderdash, I say.

America's economic future depends on improving the competence of American business leaders and reducing the corruption in our political leaders. America does not have enough jobs now for the college graduates we already have. Increasing the pool of college graduates is a salary busting move by big business. Peter McPherson was chairman of Dow Jones & Company.

Texas leaders are mindlessly following the direction of our national leadership. Governor Perry in 2007 established a Commission for a College Ready Texas. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has saluted the College Ready Texas flag. Texas should not be taking orders like this. Our leaders here in Texas are jumping through hoops for people on the national level. Our leaders need to think for themselves and do what is best for Texas. Big business is planning another round of salary busting and an oversupply of college graduates is a part of their scheme.

The Plano ISD has aligned itself behind the College Ready movement. Plano is a community that already prepares its children to be college ready and we do not need to waste time kowtowing to the higher powers.

Where the Plano ISD is really making a mistake is in joining the push to move parts of 9th grade Algebra 1 down to 8th grade. That's a mistake first made by California. We should not copy other people's mistakes.

America's national leadership is disastrous. Texas leadership must show backbone and quit following the herd of lemmings over the cliff.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Whitehead: Morality is the Root of Education

Back in 2007 I pointed out that the Chinese scholar Chu Hsi said morality is the root of education. Now I have found Alfred North Whitehead echoing this message in his work, The Aims of Education.

As found on page 14, from Whitehead:

"The essence of education is that it be religious."

"Pray, what is religious education?"

"A religious education is an education which inculcates duty and reverence. Duty arises from our potential control over the course of events. Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue, ignorance has the guilt of vice. And the foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity."

Today, we would call "moral" this attitude of responsibility that Whitehead calls "religious." The type of attitude Whitehead calls religious could easily be embraced by an atheist because it is not related to any church nor belief in any god.

Even a secular education should be grounded in moral instruction. Studying Dante we can see immoral leadership is the root of the world's ills. Since our safety and prosperity depend upon moral leaders, training our leaders in morality requires we teach them in their youth.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Teaching Editing by Editing Moby Dick

Education cannot be aimless, it must have a goal. I have put forth a vision for a better future for the children of Texas: the Texas Ascendant Campaign.

Writing is vital for education and for the future of Texas, as I touch upon in these blog posts:
TBAR and the Texas Journalism Project, Thursday, November 27, 2008
The Texas Publishing Project, Sunday, December 14, 2008
Publishing Business Novels, Thursday, February 12, 2009

Publishing needs editors, and one great way to teach editing and combine it with a literature study for a one-semester course would be to edit Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is a fabulous book with many powerful sentences, but entire chapters should be cut.

An advanced class could study the book, discuss and vote first on what chapters to cut entirely, next discuss what chapters should be thinned by deleting slow sections or slow paragraphs. So many sentences are masterpieces, it seems dangerous to even consider rewriting sentences, but it could be a topic for discussion.

When the editing of Moby Dick is completed, it would not cost much money to publish it electronically. It could be distributed on as Moby Dick, the Plano Edition. The book could contain a description of the project and perhaps could contain an essay or two from project members. There are not that many abridged versions. That it was abridged by high school students would make it distinctive. Obviously, our kids would do great job and the Plano Edition of Moby Dick would increase the stature of our high schools on the national level.

Art students could submit illustrations for the book. Art students could use computer graphics and create an animated version of the Plano Edition of this work. Theater students could record Moby Dick, the Plano Edition, and the audio version could also be sold.

Done well, an "Editing Moby Dick" project would bring more distinction to our schools. It could raise revenue for the district and give our children an introduction to the business side of publishing. Moby Dick is a classic in American literature. Spending serious time and effort with Moby Dick could be a great joy and a good learning experience. Perhaps a graduate of such an editing project might start a highly successful publishing company in Plano that would sell on the national and international markets.

Notice how a project like this could use technology without being only about technology. This is one way we can prepare our children for the future with skills that can be learned in a highly rewarding manner and that could lead to a career in publishing.

Robert Canright

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Fox, the Hedgehog, and the Arresting Sentence

While reading "The Coast of Utopia" by Jedediah Purdy [1], I stopped at this sentence describing a book:

"It is a fox dreaming of hedgehogs."

This sentence made me stop and think. It rang a bell, but I could not place the connection. I googled and found a nice blog entry: Hedgehog or Fox: Which Are You? by Norm Pattis that brought forth a connection to Isaiah Berlin, who wrote a famous essay on Tolstoy entitled, "The Hedgehog and the Fox."

The reference is to a quote from the poet Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

I wanted to say the sentence, "It is a fox dreaming of hedgehogs," is a great sentence, but I cannot. There are great sentences in The Aeneid and in Moby Dick, and the sentence by Purdy cannot compare, but it was a very nice, arresting sentence. It was a nice twist on a famous sentence from Archilochus and had the bonus connection to the essay by Isaiah Berlin.

All these connections are examples of cultural literacy. Culture not only transmits civilization, it is effective in improving communication through the short-hand of allusions. Culture is not only enjoyable, it is empowering.

Robert Canright

[1] A review of the book, Beyond the Revolution, A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism by William H. Goetzmann, appearing in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday February 22, 2009.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Math Modeling, Education, and Experience

"Risk Mismanagement" by Joe Nocera was published in the Sunday January 4, 2009 New York Times Magazine. It is a well written article describing how Wall Street firms misused mathematical modeling. I am a strong believer in education, and education is required to perform the mathematical modeling at the core of what the "quants" did on Wall Street, so it might seem odd to hear me caution management about relying on mathematical modeling.

Having worked professionally in mathematical modeling of systems that are much better behaved than the stock market, I can say that companies can easily make mistakes with mathematical modeling. The biggest mistake companies make is to think computers can replace people in making decisions, which is central to the New York Times Magazine article.

It is important to educate people to make difficult decisions on complex issues based on deep understanding of underlying principles. People need to be educated to understand the world around them. Too often education is aimed at preparing a minimally educated person to drive a computer program that is intended to think for the minimally educated person, which is recipe for disaster.

I've seen this first hand in industry: highly educated engineers being laid off and replaced with minimally competent engineers and a computer program that is supposed to compensate for the ignorance of the cheaper engineer. This does not work.

We must remember to educate people to high standards, and avoid the mistake of producing the lowest quality employee that might possibly accomplish a minimal quality job. You can see the contempt for human qualities in the words of Walter Lippmann: "... men are not good, but good for something; ... men cannot be educated, but educated for something." [1]

To lower costs, corporations have been driving quality into the ground, and now they have driven the entire economy into the ground.

Minimal education is no education.

Robert Canright

[1] "The Phantom Public" by Walter Lippmann, 1927, ISBN 1-56000-677-3, page 140