[Edu-sig] Brainstorming about GNU Math

Chuck Allison chuck at freshsources.com
Wed Mar 22 18:48:37 CET 2006

Hello kirby,

Let's not overlook the efforts being made by the ACM and the Shodor
Group (with NSF money). In this month's CACM there is an article on
Computational Thinking, describing how it's everybody's business - the
liberal arts education of this century, if you will. And the Shodor
Group is trying to evangelize cross-disciplinary Computational Science
everywhere (I'm attending their intro workshop in May). There is a
matching grass-roots awakening throughout higher education as well. I
think it's happening, albeit slowly (but that's typical of successful
shifts). And the Math Crisis has everyone everywhere in Chicken Little
mode. Something's happening.

PS - I took those SMSG courses. They were good, IMO. They qualified
me for a summer at Philips Academy to learn Calculus and Statistics
after my junior of high school in 1968. If not for that I doubt I'd
have 3 degrees in math right now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006, 6:10:19 PM, you wrote:

ku> Of course "gnu math" is a pun on "new math", more formally known as
ku> SMSG, and designed to ride a tsunami of cold war paranoia, when the
ku> USA first started "falling behind" in science and technology, as
ku> evidenced by Sputnik.  "New math" was supposed to turn out a new crop
ku> of eggheads, prepared to keep the USA in the game, and you can't say
ku> the effort failed entirely.  We got NASA and Apollo, and later The
ku> Mouse in Orlando, all products of these post WWII curriculum reforms. 
ku> However, there was never a huge buy-in among rank and file teachers,
ku> who felt left out of the loop.  Plus SMSG had its own problems...

ku> Rolling the scenario forward several decades, we've had the GNU/Linux
ku> revolution and the advent of more generous licensing agreements,
ku> complete with a new business ethic that deals kids in at the outset,
ku> as wannabee space cadets, as junior engineers.  They quickly start
ku> learning, and in a few short years are out of the gate as players,
ku> spinning their own networks and lighting up the boards with new high
ku> scores, news of old records broken and so forth.  The next generation
ku> starts ahead of the previous one, if all goes according to plan. 
ku> That's called a learning curve.  That's called future shock
ku> (especially if folks can't handle it, and go flying into buildings or
ku> whatever terrifying thing -- The Power of Nightmares is worth seeing
ku> on this ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0430484/ )).

ku> With GNU/Linux and falling hardware prices comes greater access to
ku> sophisticated computing environments, such as only a cast of high
ku> priests had known before.  The age of Turing Machines for Everyone had
ku> arrived.  We'd be needing programs like CP4E to spread the love. 
ku> Guido came up with a great language.  The die was cast.

ku> Rolling forward some more, we have a big literature on file, but it's
ku> not that well organized.  Hypertext glues it together, more than book
ku> covers, although the shelf space devoted to Python and related topics
ku> is respectable.  In the meantime, OO has become well-established, so
ku> even if Python isn't your final destination, it's within the right
ku> track system.  Switching to Java or C# is pretty easy, especially
ku> given Jython and IronPython use these for guts.

ku> As a Silicon Forest exec, my question is why non-OO problem solving,
ku> as taught on the math track, has all this political clout, whereas
ku> would be computer geeks have to drop out of school or sneak knowledge
ku> when not in class.

ku> Sure, there's some leakage, some osmosis, but for the most part it
ku> seems there's a dike, a barrier, designed to keep computer programming
ku> from "polluting" some purist tradition.  And it's not just programming
ku> that's kept at bay, but computer graphics and animation.  The
ku> pre-college mainstream remains strangely bereft of serious-minded
ku> spatial geometry, even in districts that could afford the low-cost
ku> diskless workstations or hand-me-down Pentiums.  No A & B modules.  No
ku> hexapents.  What's the story here?

ku> Well, I don't think here is the right place to recap my analysis, but
ku> in gist:  overspecialization has bitten us in the rear.  This isn't a
ku> new conclusion.  Bucky Fuller came to the same result.  Lack of
ku> cross-disciplinary communication has hampered our ability to evolve
ku> the curriculum at a sufficient rate.  We've fallen way behind.  Again.
ku>  But this time, there's no "new math" to the rescue.  There's "gnu
ku> math" instead.

ku> Kirby
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ku> Edu-sig at python.org
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Best regards,

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