TITLE: Optimizing Education AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 06, 2008 4:40 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Brian Marick lamented recently that his daughter's homework probably wasn't affecting her future in the same way that some of his school experiences affected his. I've had that feeling, too, but sometimes wonder whether (1) my memory is good enough to draw such conclusions and (2) my daughters will remember key experiences from their school days anyway. After teaching for all these years I am sometimes surprised by what former students remember from their time in my courses, and how those memories affect them. Brian's mention of New Math elicited some interesting comments. Kevin Lawrence hit on a point that has been on my mind in two contexts lately:
A big decision point in education is whether you are optimizing for people who will go on to be very good at a subject or for people who find it difficult.
In the context of university CS curricula, I often field complaints from colleagues here and everywhere about how the use of (graphics | games | anything post-1980 | non-scientific applications) in CS courses is dumbing down of our curriculum. These folks claim that we are spending too much time catering to folks who won't succeed in the discipline, or at least excel, and that at the same time we drive away the folks who would be good at CS but dislike the "softness" of the new approach. In the context of reaching out to pre-university students, to show folks cool and glitzy things that they might do in computer science, I sometimes hear the same sort of thing. Be careful, folks say, not to popularize the science too much. We might mislead students into thinking that CS is not serious, or that it is easy. I fully agree that we don't want to mislead middle schoolers or CS majors about the content or rigor of our discipline, or to give the impression that we cannot do serious and important work. But physics students and math geeks are not the only folks who can or should use computing. They are most definitely not the only folks who can make vital contributions to the discipline. (We can even learn from people who quote "King Lear".) By not reaching out to students with different views and interests, we do computer science a disservice. Once they are attracted to the discipline and excited to learn, we can teach them all about rigor and science and math. Some of those folks won't succeed in CS, but then again neither do some of the folks who come in with the more traditional "geeky" interests. If this topic interests you, follow the trail from Brian's blog to two blog entries by Kevin Lawrence, one old and one new. Both are worth a read. (I always knew there was a really good reason to enable comments on my blog -- Alan Kay might drop by!) -----