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- To: "'seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org'" <seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org>
- Subject: RE: Educated vs. "Trained" (long)
- From: "Scott, William N." <William.Scott(--nospam--at)veco.com>
- Date: Wed, 23 Jul 2003 15:32:59 -0800
The bottom line is that the general level of education in the US is not keeping up with the demands of the modern world economies. If the US does not produce the highest educational levels we will continue to see white collar jobs go overseas. We keep expending more money on schools and receive poor results. But we try to make each individual student equal and result in lower goals for everybody. Foreign schools concentrate the level of educational effort on the capabilities of the student. I agree with those who state that critical thinking skills are missing. We must also encourage continued education throughout our lives. -----Original Message----- From: Charley Hamilton [mailto:chamilto(--nospam--at)uci.edu] Sent: Wednesday, July 23, 2003 1:29 PM To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org Subject: Re: Educated vs. "Trained" (long) > My wife bought and read a book a few months ago, titled "Endangered Minds: > Why Kids Can't Think." The premise of the book is that our society has, in > general, been "dumbed down" so much that no one is REQUIRED to think, most > kids' activities are passive, and the implications for the future are > staggering. As an elementary school teacher, she is prepared to testify that > this is the case: Many kids DON'T think any more, because they aren't > expected to. I think this is a related problem, but largely a parallel issue rather than a direct precursor to our topic of focused engineering curricula. It is related in the sense that I have had many (younger) students ask me exactly how to do something, get the answer that it depends on the circumstances, give them a specific set of circumstances, and they then come back to complain when their blind repetition of the same process results in irrational results. I believe this is an outgrowth of teaching to tests (or similar standardized performance goals), rather than teaching critical thinking to standards established by the expertise of the instructor. Teachers are trained professionals and likely have a much better idea of appropriate performance metrics than the majority of those who establish the "unbiased, uniform, carefully neuter" standardized examinations. As an undergraduate, I moaned and complained that my professors taught me all sorts of "theory" that was outmoded, and never got to the "code" that everyone used to design. *sigh* My only excuse is that I was younger and hopefully dumber then. The "outmoded theory" is a lot more useful than simply regurgitating the code. Now, I wish I could track down every instructor I had from grammar school on and thank them for teaching me *how* to think instead of *what* to think. In this regard, I concur with Jake Watson's complaint about having ideas "shoved down [one's] throat". This is quite typical of current post-secondary educational systems, and even many secondary schools. Presenting different, or even conflicting, ideas to students helps them to learn how to compare and contrast systems of thought, etc. Requiring the students to regurgitate these ideas in order to maintain acceptable academic standing is abhorrent to me. Requiring them to *think* about things with which they disagree, formulate and present a cogent argument for *why* they disagree, and grading them on this thought process seems like the ideal. I must admit, I seldom see this ideal anymore. There is "truth" as given by the professor to the students, and there is everything else. Supporting *anything* else is often an invitation to your own immolation, albeit verbal these days. > IMO, this is the same attitude being manifest here. Why I should have to > explain to my own adult kids--much less any engineer in a forum like this > one--why "education matters" is beyond me. The question in my mind is not whether or not people see education as mattering; the vast majority of people do not, pure and simple. The question is, of those who do see it as mattering, what aspects and freedoms in that education do they value. Jake and people of similar mind seem to value the ability to focus only on that in which they are interested. Taken too far, this could create structural engineering graduates whose single-minded devotion to structural engineering has left them without an education in how to design a footing for soil bearing failure. Not taken far enough, the outcome is akin to the results of current secondary education: a passing familiarity with a wide variety of subjects, insufficient depth in any one subject area to be useful, and the uncanny ability to parrot back what the instructor has said in order to obtain the highest available marks for the work assigned. I lean towards greater flexibility in education, but preserving some required "breadth" classes. I do not think that breadth of education must necessarily come at the expense od depth. However, I do believe that the pendulum has swung too far in the breadth direction in some cases, but not far enough in others. If I may (for those who haven't given up reading yet), an example: As an undergraduate starting only 9 years ago, the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) for my education were: Physics (mechanics) - 1 semester Physics (E&M) - 1 semester Chemistry (acid/base & crystallography) - 1 semester Biology - 1 semester Calculus (single and multivariate) - 2 semesters Two semesters of science "distribution" classes, which had to come from a set of courses approved at the academic senate level. For me, these included an advanced mathematics course and a computer science course. 12 semesters of humanities/social science subjects of which three had to come from a set of five "distribution" categories, with no two from the same category. The other nine could be any combination that the student chose. The student was required to identify a "concentration" (not quite a minor, but so close you could taste it) for their humanities studies. This had to be different for humanities students than their major studies. The distribution areas were: Category 1: Literary and Textual Studies Category 2: Language, Thought, and Value Category 3: Visual and Performing Arts Category 4: Cultural and Social Studies Category 5: Historical Studies (I got this from their webpage. I long ago forgot the HASS-D titles.) Composition and technical writing requirements, which could either be satisfied by taking coursework or demonstrating proficiency. *Everyone* had to take these GIRs, regardless of major. It introduced the engineers to Thoreau and the English majors to differential equations. I won't pretend that everyone came away with a substantial desire to learn more, but a better understanding on one anothers' disciplines was gained by (almost) all. I started studying engineering as a sophomore (no AP credits), was one course shy of a minor in archaeology before they cancelled the program, and still got out in four years. I know students who are at easily as smart as I was, and they don't get to *start* engineering courses until third year and often don't graduate until their 5th year. They have a wide number of "humanities" distribution courses, but I have yet to see science distribution courses, a universal requirement for 2 semesters of calculus, or any other "reverse" science breadth requirement for humanities students. Some universities don't even require humanities students to study calculus or physics whatsoever. I have a feeling that greater emphasis on *how* to think than *what* to think, and a more equitable distribution of breadth requirements would substantially improve the educational system, and help cut down on "pork barrel" breadth requirements. Everyone would have something outside their major to study, and greater understanding might be had by all. As always, just my $0.02 USD. Although this was long enough to be two bits worth of opinion, just through sheer volume. Charley -- Charles Hamilton, PhD EIT Faculty Fellow Department of Civil and Phone: 949.824.3752 Environmental Engineering FAX: 949.824.2117 University of California, Irvine Email: chamilto(--nospam--at)uci.edu ******* ****** ******* ******** ******* ******* ******* *** * Read list FAQ at: http://www.seaint.org/list_FAQ.asp * * This email was sent to you via Structural Engineers * Association of Southern California (SEAOSC) server. 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