The people who wash out of Navy SEAL training are by no means slouches.
The seven or eight out of ten men who fail or quit SEAL Training in the Navy are not just average guys walking the streets today, their the best the Navy has.

These are guys who have worked their asses off to get to BUD/S. The best runners, the best swimmers, above average intelligence, superior eyesight and physical strength.

These are the guys who quit or fail training and not some regular clown that thinks it looks cool.

Why do they fail? Simple... They are completely unprepared to be thrown in the Arena at BUD/S. They have no idea how hard it is, they have no idea what kind of guys become SEALs, they have no idea of the commitment, and they have no idea of the life style.

In short, they think they know, but what the really know is next to nothing about being a SEAL and they quit. Fast...
As I type this, the Games of the XXX Olympiad are in progress, and it's a good bet that many a young man with dreams of the Dream Team will not put enough effort into making free throws to make the junior high junior varsity.  Football training camps are open, and more than a few linemen will be cut for not getting started on the snap-count.

Put it together: there's no question about doing whatever it takes to get the best Special Forces, where the stakes are very high, or the best athletic teams, never mind the stakes.

But getting the best quantitative thinkers?  Retired political scientist Andrew Hacker views the attrition from middle school algebra with dismay.
A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.
Let's focus on the substance of his argument, rather than the tangential possibility that many of those students, particularly in middle school, don't bother with algebra because the school culture has teachers looking the other way, particularly where promising athletes are concerned.
Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.
The misdirection is probably someplace else. Is the military depleting its pool by making Special Forces training so hard?
Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.
Perhaps so. On the other hand, Jason Fertig suggests a rebuttal, based on efforts elsewhere in the liberal arts to make the material more accessible.
Why not cut history and literature while we’re at it? How vocational are those subjects? Also, many students get away with subpar writing in non-quantitative classes; if that writing were assessed with more rigor, we would see failing numbers akin to what we see in calculus classes.
Quite possibly true.  Daniel Willingham (via Marginal Revolution) offers a more scholarly rebuttal.
The inability to cope with math is not the main reason that students drop out of high school. Yes, a low grade in math predicts dropping out, but no more so than a low grade in English. Furthermore, behavioral factors like motivation, self-regulation, social control (Casillas, Robbins, Allen & Kuo, 2012), as well as a feeling of connectedness and engagement at school (Archambault et al, 2009) are as important as GPA to dropout. So it's misleading to depict math as the chief villain in America's high dropout rate.
That's tangential to tonight's argument, although it's consistent with the Cold Spring Shops theme that inculcating middle-class habits might be the most important thing the common schools can do.
But the explicit teaching of abstractions is not enough. You also need practice in putting the abstractions into concrete situations.

Hacker overlooks the need for practice, even for the everyday math he wants students to know. One of the important side benefits of higher math is that it makes you proficient at the other math that you had learned earlier, because those topics are embedded in the new stuff.
We take it for granted that Special Forces take target practice every day, and the basketball Olympians spend an hour a day shooting free throws. It somehow becomes abusive for U. S. schools to expect similar perseverance, never mind that Professor Hacker attributes Finnish and Canadian math performance to perseverance?
Who will learn higher math in Hacker's ideal world? He's not clear on this point. He says he's against tracking, but notes that MIT and Cal Tech clearly need their students to be proficient in math. Does this mean thateveryone gets the same vocational-type math education, and some of those going on to college will get access to higher math?

If that were actually implemented, how long before private vendors offer after school courses in formal mathematics, to give kids an edge for entrance to MIT? Private courses that cost, and to which the poor will not have access.
Indeed.  But perhaps it requires parents, teachers, school administrators, and students to insist that children get the kinds of opportunities to develop their intellectual capital, and the grooming of talent, that everyone appears to take for granted when it comes to the sports program.  With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine.

No comments: