As a follow-on to the previous education pieces, something interesting came up during my last listen to Barack The Education Candidate Obama’s audiobook The Audacity of Hope. About seven minutes into section 4 we get this:
Over the last three decades, Federal funding for the physical, mathematical, and engineering sciences has declined as a percentage of GDP, just at the time when other countries are substantially increasing their own R&D budgets. And, as Dr. (Robert) Langer points out, the declining support for basic research has a direct impact on the number of young people going into math, science, and engineering – which helps explain why China is graduating eight times as many engineers as the U.S. every year.
If we want an innovation economy, one that generates more Googles each year, then we have to invest in our future innovators, by doubling federal funding of basic research over the next five years. Training 100,000 more engineers and scientists over the next four years. Or providing new research grants to the most outstanding early career researchers in the country. We can afford to do what needs to be done. What’s missing is not money, but a national sense of urgency.
The entire six minutes and 59 seconds prior to this he spends discussing the defects of our school systems, and suggesting solutions. For example, at about 3:24 he says:
If we’re serious about building a 21st Century school system, it means paying teachers what they’re worth. There’s no reason why an experienced, highly qualified and effective teacher shouldn’t earn as much as a lawyer at the peak of his or her career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In May 2006, the median annual earnings of all wage-and-salaried lawyers were $102,470. The middle half of the occupation earned between $69,910 and $145,600. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of lawyers in May 2006 were:
Management of companies and enterprises $128,610 Federal Government 119,240 Legal services 108,100 Local government 78,810 State government 75,840
So is Barack Deep Pockets Obama suggesting we pay experienced, highly qualified and effective teachers $102,470 a year, or $78,810? Or more? That’s already quite a spread. But remember, what’s missing isn’t money, it’s a sense of national urgency. Republicans, you see, care only about the Benjamins and not about the quality of education their kids are getting. What’s a doubling of your property taxes if it means paying teachers what they’re worth? (Of course, school administrators will have to get raises too. Can’t have the hired help outearning the supervision!)
I want to know where more good teachers are going to come from. It certainly isn’t going to be out of the present system that churns ’em out. Walter Williams has some unkind things to say about that:
Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has proposed an $18 billion increase in federal education programs. That’s the typical knee-jerk response — more money. Let’s delve a bit, asking whether higher educational expenditures explain why secondary school students in 32 industrialized countries are better at math and science than ours. In 2004, the U.S. spent about $9,938 per secondary school student. More money might explain why Swiss and Norwegian students do better than ours because they, respectively, spent $12,176 and $11,109 per student. But what about Finland ($7,441) and South Korea ($6,761), which scored first and second in math literacy? What about the Slovak Republic ($2,744) and Hungary ($3,692), as well as other nations whose education expenditures are a fraction of ours and whose students have greater math and science literacy than ours?
American education will never be improved until we address one of the problems seen as too delicate to discuss. That problem is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have graduated with an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admissions tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. As such, they are home to the least able students and professors with the lowest academic respect. Were we serious about efforts to improve public education, one of the first things we would do is eliminate schools of education.
Still, the part of Obama’s plan that really floored me was this:
Training 100,000 more engineers and scientists over the next four years.
Where the hell does he think they’re going to come from? Is some government bureaucrat going to be dispatched to each high school in America, go through the academic records of each student, and then one day a letter will arrive in the mail: “Greetings: You are hereby directed to present yourself to (insert college or university here) to begin your education in:
- Aerospace (Aeronautical) engineering
- Agricultural engineering
- Architectural engineering
- Automotive engineering
- Biological engineering
- Biological systems engineering
- Biomedical engineering
- Biomaterials engineering
- Chemical engineering
- Civil engineering
- Communications system engineering
- Computer engineering
- Control systems engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Electronics engineering
- Engineering physics
- Environmental engineering
- Genetic engineering
- Industrial engineering
- Instrumentation engineering
- Marine engineering
- Materials engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Manufacturing engineering
- Military engineering
- Minerals process engineering
- Mining engineering
- Nuclear engineering
- Optical engineering
- Petroleum engineering
- Plastics engineering
- Polymer engineering
- Power engineering
- Process engineering
- Quality engineering
- Reliability engineering
- Safety engineering
- Sanitation engineering
- Software engineering
- Structural engineering
- Systems engineering
- Thermodynamic engineering
- Transportation engineering
- Organic Chemistry
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Physical Anthropology
- Cultural Anthropology
With the appropriate box checked?
Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, you don’t make engineers or scientists, and waving a magic wand of government funding isn’t going to produce 100,000 new ones in four or even five years if the raw material isn’t there to start with.
And as far as I can determine, it’s not. Engineers and scientists have to be able to do math. Remember this quote?
My best friend is a lawyer, bright, gifted, … PhD in law; bored with his job, he decided to study engineering. After his first quarter, he came to me and said that the two “C”s he’d achieved in Engineering Calculus 101 and Engineering Physics 101 were the first two non-A grades he’d ever gotten in college, and that he had had to study harder for them than for any other dozen classes he’d had. “I now understand”, he said, “why engineers and their like are so hard to examine, whether on the stand or in a deposition. When they say a thing is possible, they KNOW it is possible, and when they say a thing is not possible, they KNOW it is not. Most people don’t understand ‘know’ in that way; what they ‘know’ is what we can persuade them to believe. You engineers live in the same world as the rest of us, but you understand that world in a way we never will.”
I don’t think that you have to love math to be an engineer, but you are going to have to learn it. That means that you’re going to have to do the homework, correctly. Mistakes and “close enough” are the ways to build bridges that fail.
This country graduates a lot more lawyers than engineers or scientists.
And now, some bright boy at Berkley wants to dull even engineers down:
C. Judson King, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, and a professor emeritus of chemical engineering, wants to see a change in the way undergraduate engineers are educated.
He sees engineering as a discipline in renaissance, as engineers increasingly enter the public policy, business and law sectors, or at least work more closely with professionals in those fields.
“I would like to see people with an engineering education go into government,” King said. But King argues that the narrow, rigorous program required for an undergraduate engineering degree limits the amount of education engineering students get in other disciplines. King hopes to see the master’s degree, rather than the bachelor’s, become the true entry level degree for professional engineers.
In King’s view, the undergraduate engineering program — “pre-engineering,” he calls it, like pre-med or pre-law — should have a lighter engineering load so that students can get a broader liberal arts education. “The abilities of engineers to move into other areas … [is] limited by the narrowness and inward-looking nature of their education,” King says in a paper titled “Engineers Should Have a College Education,” on the Berkeley center’s Web site.
Apparently in his view engineers are still too closely connected to reality and aren’t receiving the full-on
brainwashing effect that students receiving BA degrees get. We escape the indoctrination centers with far too much of our native ability to smell bullshit intact, and this should be Nipped. In. The. BUD!
Perhaps he can try his “pre-engineering” pablum on Barack 100,000 New Engineers Obama.