Yes, that's a real problem in academia, Jon. I teach part time in the journalism dept. here in New Mexico, and I see the same problem. Most of the instructors have not been in the real world for decades. Bless their hearts, they're dedicated to teaching, but their real-world experience is decades old. The problem is complicated by academic departments that are averse to bringing in practitioners to teach.
It isn't just a matter of forcing people into the engineering mold. There will always be people that lack the interest for that, and that is good. We need artists and performers to help make our lives pleasant. But even they can benefit from the right STEM education. I think there are three different benefits to STEM education. First, math and science (especially math) promotes disciplined thinking and sound reasoning. Those are skills that anyone can learn and everyone benefits from. When I say they can learn them, I don't mean that they will be easy for them. People who work by free association and "gut feel" will find it a terrible drag, but that is far from saying they can't do it, it is just a matter of buckling down and proceeding step by step. They benefit by becoming less vulnerable to arguments based on feelings instead of facts, or arguments with logical errors. That is good for anybody. It doesn't mean that they have to give up their favorite mode of thinking, just that for the important stuff they have to take a little time off to sort things through. Being able to do that is a big plus for anyone.
Second, having at least a good overview of how the world really works is a huge benefit to anyone in leadership as well as technical positions. If congress had a clearer picture of science, they wouldn't waste their time on so many hair-brained schemes or delay action on important environmental issues. If more of the people in Hollywood had a good idea of what science was really like they might not try to sell us on dreams that will actually hurt us.
Finally, some people will take to this stuff like a fish takes to water. If there is good support for them, they will be the engineers and inventors that will make the latter half of this century better than the beginning.
Hi, Rob. If we need more "coders" or programmers, I lay the blame at the foot of computer-science departments. Kids might get a great academic education, but we need programming craftsmen and craftswomen. Although not a CS major, I took a CS course in grad school to learn more about good programming practices and techniques. The teacher used the Pascal language for examples. Did any real projects use Pascal? Probably not. Some people might argue that if you can program in one language, you can program in all. Not so, in my experience.
I also took a computer-architecture from the EE department. I expected gates, registers, flip flops, etc. No such luck. The teacher used an APL derivative, AHPL, or a hardpware programming language. All we did was write this unreadable pseudo code to do computer operations. The students complained so loudly that the course never got taught that way again. So things have improved, but many academics have little sense for what goes on in the real world and what industries want in science and engineering grads.
Yes, this is apparently a huge problem -- big enough that the major Valley companies (and probably a zillion small companies) are getting into trouble for raiding each others' employees. There are lawsuits right and left over the abusing of laws meant to discourage corporate raiding.
The "talent" question is a big one. A few years ago I watched a young but experienced coder write a simple two variable decision by trial and error. For crying out loud: there are only four possibilities the finished piece of code was only nine lines long including closing braces. There was absolutely no reason for it to be done by trial and error.
If this represents the common level of talent available today, there is no wondering why industry is looking elsewhere.
Good points, Jon. However, there is one deficit that plagues technology, computer coders. When asked what his biggest challenge was with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg recently said, "Talent!" All of Silicon Valley is competing for talent. They're pressuring the government to open the doors to more Asian imigrants, since we're not growing enough of our own.
No Child Left Behind was a good idea, but for a number of reasons, it died when applied. For one thing, those who applied it did not get teacher buy-in. With teachers hating it, it really didn't stand a chance. And once applied, teachers simply taught to the test in order to save their schools. At lot of good that did.
Did I actually see you advocate giving kids a "certification" without the associated acheivement? Let's remember what acheiving a certain grade should mean. It shouldn't mean you've sat at school for that number of years. It should mean that you've acquired a certain level of skill and knowledge. To pass a kid who hasn't acheived that isn't doing the kid any favors, it is just lowering the value of the diploma.
No child left behind got a lot of things wrong, and as such has assisted in messing up our education. Among the problems, it measures the acquisition of facts, but not the ability to reason clearly or think creatively. Data is easy to come by, what kids need to learn today is not a lot of facts, rather they need to learn how to distinguish good information from bad and how to use the information effectively.
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