[Edu-sig] How do we tell truths that might hurt

Arthur ajsiegel at optonline.net
Thu Apr 22 09:17:09 EDT 2004

> I disagree. It's not a matter of "rigour", it's a matter of practicality
> and
> interest.

I am willing to be a bit impractical and bit coercive.

When did education become all about catering to interests?  Who runs the

> The technical/scientific computations are the *LEAST* useful for my life.
> Until I found out that it was reasonably easy in Python to do stuph *I*
> needed done, I had no use for programming. That's after learning pascal
> and
> basic 20+ years ago. The last programming I did before coming to Python
> was
> on my Commodore 64, and then I gave it up because it had no use to me -
> because programming was all about math - unless you're really advanced.

Where do we disagree?

"Programming is all about math - unless you're really advanced."  Isn't that
what I just said? Or, more accurately, quoted Dijkstra as saying. I'm
suggesting we fight that less hard. Go with it, exploit it.  You get people
introduced to programming, I get people doing math, in more involving ways.
We have different goals, but I don't see why we can't team-up, nonetheless. 

I have much, much less sympathy with the argument - "they don't care about
math".  When did not caring about math become an option in our educational
system? Math, more than programming, is the fundamental skill.  The argument
is as to which is the means and which is the ends.  There we disagree,
> There are very few times in my life that I need to do scientific or
> technical
> computation. And the emphasis on that in programming made it hard to see
> past
> it to the things that I *did* want to do, or that it might be possible for
> me
> to do those things.
> I'm not disagreeing out of a dislike for math - geometry and calculus and
> algebra are fun. (I'm even one of those crazy people who enjoys doing my
> own
> taxes!) But irrelevant, in most cases, to my life, outside of bookkeeping
> (which is another area I use Python - have *you* ever tried to calculate
> Italian taxes? Writing a program was easier than figuring out which
> invoice
> got which taxes each month...) FWIW - in a year and a half of Python,
> that's
> the single use I've had that I would consider at all mathematical...

I know a bit about the subject of bookkeeping and taxes.

I promise you the world will continue to get it books done, just fine, with
or without Python.  And without programming becoming a common skill.

> > In other realms, the path to be able to do something actually useful is
> > much longer.
> The path isn't that long and is far likelier to keep their interest.
> Teaching folks that almost any repetitive task involving text, dates, or
> numbers can be automated by writing a simple program is more likely to get
> them excited about programming than teaching them that you can add 2+ 2 or
> solve quadratic equations...

The problem is that solving quadratic equations is what you think of when
you think of mathematics.  I did too, when I had no interest in the subject.

For me to try to be more articulate than that would take more words that you
will have patience for, and more energy than I can now muster.  

But, yes. Nobody should get excited about solving quadratic equations.  We

Or at least I have total sympathy for anybody who can't. 

> IME, most people, outside of schoolteachers and mathematicians, really
> don't
> *care* about math enough for it to be an incentive to learn to program.
> - things that they can apply to their lives, to make what they already do
> easier, *That* is an incentive for them to learn programming.

At least one person - me - doesn't care much about programming, beyond its
usefulness it getting people outside of schoolteachers and mathematicians to
care about math.


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