When Innovation Meets the Old Guard

from the don't-let-them-learn-too-much dept

You’ve probably heard of Khan Academy, the online lessons that have been praised so highly. Wired recently put up an article on how it’s a complete game changer, and how children have been able to advance at a blistering pace using their materials. So what does the public school system think of it?

So what happens when, using Khan Academy, you wind up with a kid in fifth grade who has mastered high school trigonometry and physics?but is still functioning like a regular 10-year-old when it comes to writing, history, and social studies? Khan?s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who?ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it ?to stop students from becoming this advanced.?

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. People get so caught up in “the way things are done” that they can’t possibly comprehend any other way of doing things. Therefore, when you show them a child learning faster than his or her peers, the focus is not on how fantastic it is, but on how we’ll be able to keep that child in the same class as other kids their age. Why is it necessary to group kids by age? Because it’s just what we do. When a child is bumped up a grade, why do we do it for all subjects at once, instead of each subject separately? Because it’s just what we do. The educational system was created to teach children; now it exists to perpetuate the current educational system.

It’s hard not to equate this same thinking with the current dreadful state of copyright. You can show how an artist is making more money than they ever had before by encouraging sharing rather than sending in the lawyers, and your average maximalist will say, “It’s great that they are making more money, but how do we keep control of the content?” In doing so, they put maintaining the status quo ahead of attaining the result that the system was designed to encourage. The copyright system was created to promote the progress of the arts; now it exists to perpetuate the copyright system.

Even our justice system is not immune to this kind of thinking. Laws against child pornography were created to prevent the victimization of children, now we use them to try to ruin the lives of children. We threaten vegetable growers, arrest DIY roofers, and send SWAT teams after orchid importers and raw milk sellers. Our system of law was created to promote justice; now it exists to make criminals.

Does teaching every child the exact same lesson at the same age serve our educational needs? Will arresting people who merely link to infringing videos give artists an incentive to create? Is the patent thicket around mobile phones to the benefit of consumers? Do we all sleep easier at night knowing that a 66-year-old man is locked away in federal prison because some of his orchid paperwork was missing?

If we ever want our institutions to serve us rather than serve themselves, it’s time to focus on what we had hoped to gain from them in the first place, and to question every assumption that underlies them.

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Comments on “When Innovation Meets the Old Guard”

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darryl says:

Ever been to school Mike ?

Do you understand that each age group, or ‘year’ at a school is allready broken into many seperate groups, based on the students ability in that particular subject.

And that each student within that group is also separatly graded within each specific grade, and form or year dependent on their ability at that time.

“It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. People get so caught up in “the way things are done” that they can’t possible comprehend any other way of doing things.”

I have to issue with a B for your grade for not proof reading your article, and just relying upon the spellchecker.

Spellcheckers work good as long as you have the correct word in the first place.

(something, a good school would teach you!!)

Se7ensamurai (profile) says:

Re: Ever been to school Mike ?

Wow, you mean Chris. Right? I mean, YOU went to school and everything. Well, I didn’t go to school until I was 12. But I do read bylines.

That said, there are merits to both Darryl’s and Chris’ arguments.As a parent with a boy entering the 5th grade this year, I can see how schools have changed and adapted since the 80s. Some in good ways, some in bad. No need to get into it. Darryl is right, not *everyone* is taught necessarily at the same pace.There are some kids who have a harder time reading, and they get sent out of class during certain periods to work with a special teacher. And there are kids who are insanely great at math and get to actually TUTOR older kids.

However, I will say that I think the entire educational system does need a re-think. Or at least add in some stuff like these Kahn Academy videos i keep hearing about. Some schools are doing FANTASTIC things that I would have loved when I was 10 or 12. Others though, make me want to cry. My kid’s regular school was closed last year due to funding, yet 20 miles away in the same district, another school gets all new computers and a fiber connection. Now my son’s new school is going to be over crowded and the other school gets laptops and state of the art equipment.

Anyways, I guess the lesson here is, READ.That’s all, just read. I did, and look at me!

Perry K (profile) says:

Re: Ever been to school Mike ?

1. You probably meant to say already rather than allready? (spellchecker?)

2. You probably meant either students’ ability or student’s ability. (not sure if you were referring to the plural form)

3. You started your second sentence with conjunction.

4. You probably meant “I have to issue you a B” rather than “I have to issue with a B”

5. you probably meant to say “Spellcheckers work well” rather than good.

My unschooled son would have caught these errors. No, he hasn’t been to school since grade 1.

As you can see, we all make mistakes. Stop nitpicking already.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Ever been to school Mike ?

it does not matter at all what freaking name is on the article, it is from Techdirt, and therefore the person who wrote it is either Mike, or one of Mike clones (from sector 7G), who make has ‘cleared’ to speak “mike talk” and follow the bandwagon that Mike always pushes.

Do you ever note that there is never anyone commenting or writing articles that hold a different perspective than that of the Mike ???

Or course you have not.

It is also writen is what is very close to “the mikes style” and it would not surprise me at all if mike wrote for the other person.

You can show how an artist is making more money than they ever had before by encouraging sharing

You are not saying ‘by not relying on copyright’ so that statement is pointless.

MOST people make more money than they ever did before, I bet you are making more money now than you have ever in the past (or you should be), unless you are hopeless.

I know that I have always made more money than I ever had before in my working life, each year I earned more than the previous year, and each new job resulted in a higher pay level.

That is how it works in the real world, the fact you have to use that as an example about something to do with copyright is totally missing the point, or failing to make a point in the first place.

I very much doubt if someone had not of put a different name under this article, that most of you if not ALL of you would not be able to tell it apart from a pile of articles Mike had written, (without his name on them).

If you think you could please explain to us how you can tell the difference between the two ‘authors’ ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ever been to school Mike ?

“I know that I have always made more money than I ever had before in my working life, each year I earned more than the previous year, and each new job resulted in a higher pay level.

That is how it works in the real world”

Congradulations – douchebag – that’s not how ot works for everyone. In the “real world” employees make concessions all the time. How ’bout STFU & be thankful that’s not the case for you.

jaf says:

Re: Ever been to school Mike ?

The comma after “something” is incorrect. Also, the word “something” should be capitalized as it is the first word in a sentence.

I just thought you should know since your the usage police. (The “grammar police” would be concerned about the rules; the “usage police” are concerned about how these rules are followed.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ever been to school Mike ?

“Do you understand that each age group, or ‘year’ at a school is allready broken into many seperate groups, based on the students ability in that particular subject.”

Do you understand that most people take for granted what you think it insightful.

“And that each student within that group is also separatly graded within each specific grade, and form or year dependent on their ability at that time.”

Yeah, so you receive a grade A, B, C, D, or F depending on how well you do in the class. Everybody knows this. Are you proud of yourself that you know something? Guess what. Everyone else also knows this.

Prashanth (profile) says:

Mr. Masnick, usually I agree with you close to 100%, but this time, I have to say not really. I mean, sure, often the model of bumping kids up for individual subjects (which does happen frequently, despite your assertions to the contrary) does work, but sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll give you an example: in 6th grade, I was in a math class that taught essentially 8th grade math. Our class was made of 13 6th graders (including me), and 12 5th graders and 1 4th grader who came from various feeder elementary schools. After about 2 months, the 4th grader dropped out of that class and went back to take a lower level (by a year) math class offered at the elementary school. Why? The kid (1) wasn’t emotionally/psychologically prepared for learning math on his own at such an advanced level and (2) this issue was compounded by the fact that he was visibly the youngest in the class and had no one the same age/grade level as him in the class. While I do agree that in many instances the push to have kids of all the same age together is overrated, I don’t think you should brush off the teachers’ concerns lightly.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I want to bring more attention to this comment. Anyone who has kids who haven’t gone to kindergarten yet knows that kids can play with other kids that are different ages easily.

I have a daughter going into kindergarten soon and another daughter that is just barely two years old. They both play well together. Sure they have their moments, but for the most part, they not just get along, but play together. However, I’m worried that after a couple of years in school, they won’t do this as well because school is designed in such a way that kids learn to segregate.

Arguments can be made about whether or not segregation in school was intentional, but that it’s there and that kids learn it is reality. Whether it was intentional or just an unintentional consequence, kids are learning about segregation. There was some headway made in breaking up the segregation of people based on skin color, but age based segregation is still there. I’m not totally even sold on the idea of segregating people based on skill level all the time. Humans learn well from seeing and mimicking. Having kids (whether older or younger) tutor other kids would be awesome.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m not totally even sold on the idea of segregating people based on skill level all the time. Humans learn well from seeing and mimicking. Having kids (whether older or younger) tutor other kids would be awesome.

Of course you realize that unless classrooms are made up of randomly selected kids from 5 to 18, they are going to be separated in some fashion, be it age, skill level, previous education, and so on. So the question becomes how to you group kids rather than if you group them.

Now if you want to do away with classrooms altogether, and have each kid study separately, and then play or interact based on who lives in the neighborhood, you could do that, but otherwise, kids are going to be grouped in some fashion.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re very lucky.

There was a time that I went to a public school before going to a DoDDs school. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. The public school has a tendency to “dumb down” everything so that the slowest kid in the class can get everything. But the ones that have already understood the concepts are also held back. There’s little reason to experiment with new concepts in public schools. They’re only there to teach you the basics. Thankfully, the No Child Left Behind Act was many years away for me. But I’ve felt like I was left behind, in not being able to learn higher math than pre-Trigonometry for two straight years. I would have loved to learn Linear Algebra, Physics, or even college Algebra in the 8th grade. It’s quite a bit harder to pick up as you grow older. *sigh* If only I could do it again, and learn through Khan’s Academy. Oh well, I can do that now.

Moving on, There are quite a number of smart children that can’t advance at all. And that’s a failing of the school system. If you move up in the schools I went to, it was in all subjects. The teachers praised a kid for it. However, the social expectations is more or less B or C average for some. Yeah, rough schools…

I would think some other methods of teaching, such as the Montessori style, might be good to look into. It seems to have worked well for Larry Page (Google).

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re:

You see, that is a very real problem, anyone can teach the technical stuff that is not a problem the problem is how do you create a good environment so the learning can happen, to much attention is given to “we need better materials, we need better teachers” but no one is talking about “we need better environments” and that is a psychological thing, the 4th grader was excluded from the environment for some reason and that is a failure on the part of society and the teachers who were not prepared to deal with it, we don’t know how to stimulate people to learn and frankly people get so scared that they start to evangelize the “stupid is cool” aspect of things.

No one wants to be humiliated so when they are confronted with something that they don’t feel up to, they usually run the other way screaming “stupidity is great” so they can hide behind that and not be forced to deal with those issues, maybe that is why people loved Jackass because it made them feel good about themselves, it showed people that there are more dumb people and they were smarter than those guys, but this is just conjecture, what I do know is that no amount of money will change the environment for learning and that is a real shame, to change that we need to change culture itself and that is hard.

Maybe if the 4th grader has had an psychological profile made and was put in a class where he found himself with other students with the same interests and psychological profile as his he wouldn’t have dropped out, maybe if in the first day if the teachers have addressed the age issues first he would have stayed, or maybe he would have had gone anyways for some other issues, but others like him would have not, statistically that one sample is not enough to answer those questions.

Prashanth (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sorry, that’s my mistake. I posted the comment kinda late, and then I saw it was written by Mr. Carab, not Mr. Masnick, AFTER I posted. It’s just that I see posts by Mr. Masnick so often that sometimes I get complacent and assume he writes everything on this site (although Messers. Cushing and Geigner’s posts are easily recognizable without me needing to see the author names), so I apologize for that mix-up. Anyway, the rest of my comment still stands, considering that while the articles written by different authors have slightly different styles and takes on things, they mostly represent a uniform viewpoint, as far as I’ve seen. Maybe from now on if I want to address the author, I should use the generic “$TechDirtAuthor”.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

No universal agreement on educationl methods

There is no “right” system of education. There are a variety of different methods being used in different schools and in different countries. And not everyone agrees on what kids should be learning. So I don’t think it is possible to create one system that satisfies everyone. It’s probably better to have lots of different kinds of schools and let parents, kids, and communities pick the ones they like best for their particular needs and expectations.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: No universal agreement on educationl methods

+Suzanne Lainson … okay that “+” doesn’t work here on techdirt. Big Ole Grin! To much time on G+.

There is no “right” system of education.

You are totally wrong. We live in a world of the Khan Academy, of computers, and we have the ability to take this LCD (lowest common denominator) education system and change it. We now have the ability to remove grade levels from schools, and allow individual students to excel at what they are good at. To allow them to stay with kids of their own age. We have the ability to have students of the same age at different levels of education. Pushing a 10 year old into a High school class with 17 year old kids will lead to abuse. This doesn’t need to happen any more.

We have the ability to allow everyone to reach their full potential. Welcome to the future … teachers union members need no apply.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: No universal agreement on educationl methods

It isn’t about teachers unions. It’s more about parents ad what they want, given the choice.

Some parents want parochial schools. Some want Montessori. Some want Waldorf. Some want back-to-basics. Some want experiential schools. Some want arts-focused schools. Some want science-and-tech-focused schools.

You could have the most advanced systems in the world, but some parents will want a classics-bases system that looks pretty much like education has looked for hundreds of years.

I’ve been a follower of educational trends since the old Whole Earth Catalog days — as far back as 1968. I’ve read about Summerhill, about the New Schools movement, open class rooms, etc. There’s always something new. Sometimes the ideas work. Sometimes they don’t. So I think you’re going to have to offer lots of choice and let people pick what kinds of schools their kids go to.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re: No universal agreement on educationl methods

Right, but shouldn’t this be about what’s best for the kids? One thing I noticed growing up was that a one size fits all solution, even at a local level, is never going to work. The way some kids learn is simply different than others. Students who are more “in tune” with how the subject is taught are the ones who excel. Some manage to eventually get it, in spite of how it’s taught, yet some just don’t get it at all. Those who don’t “get it” are sometimes given extra tutoring, or even get sent to a “special” ed class. What’s really “special” about it is how the subject is taught.

If a school has more than one teacher per grade, or subject, then why are the students just randomly assigned to teachers who all teach the same curriculum with the same method? (Not that all teachers are the same, but in general they’re not given much latitude to stray from the school board or county guidelines, and are graded on adherence to those guidelines.) Why not find out which of several methods works best for a student, and then have a different teacher for each method? The kids will then all learn the same things, but in a way that is best tailored to the way they learn.

You could say it’s all about funding, but I went to a rural school that was, as I latter learned, one of the most underfunded districts in the county. Yet, my high school did have different classes that used different methods for different students. They also had different curriculms, either college or technical preparatory, where they weren’t being taught all the same things. Many of the “tech prep” teachers probably could have used their methods to successfully teach the “college prep” curriculum. However, the “college prep” methods, as I latter learned, were pattered after those used in colleges. I still argue that one can’t really learn “too much” though. I find that much more of the world makes more sense to me, simply because of my broader knowledge of it.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: No universal agreement on educational methods

Back when I was a kid, schools started tracking, putting kids in different classes based on ability. But then there was a backlash, with people saying that it kept some kids permanently behind. So then the schools went to mixed classes again, with people saying that the smart kids benefited by being able to help the slower kids. Then there was a backlash against that, because the smarter kids were bored. So then there were talented and gifted classes, but some parents said those kids didn’t need the extra attention and funding and that the special needs kids were the ones who needed the attention and the funding. And so on.

Now that schools are cutting funding, expect to see more kids per class. There have been many experiments over the years hoping to replace teachers with more online education, but not everyone has felt it has been effective. I think if you can show that you can save money and get better results by using more computerized education, it will be embraced. But for as many different approaches that have been tried over the years, I don’t think it has been established that if you set up a particular program, you will get dramatically better results.

That’s why I think we might be better off having a mix of school types so kids and parents can pick and choose what they think is best. Of course, if no one wants to fund education, that choice will be less sustainable.

Pitabred (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 No universal agreement on educational methods

First off, there is no God. Second off, the average family is making more than they did in the 1950’s, but the average individual earner is making much less (adjusted for inflation). It’s MUCH harder to make it on a single salary any more, especially with kids. Homeschooling is great, but it’s not affordable to many. Not if you want to have money for retirement eventually, too.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Re:4 No universal agreement on educational methods

Well it is not affordable to those who don’t have an internet connection and a computer that I will agree with.

If you have just those 2 things kids can learn from the immense library that the internet is.

Second how dare you say God doesn’t exit, the Pastafarian God will punish you for sure.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Re:4 No universal agreement on educational methods

Some examples of what is being done. Not a complete list of everything people is doing around the world, just a sample.

Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus Phillips Thompson
The First Steps in Algebra by G. A. Wentworth

A History of Mathematics by Florian Cajori

The beauty of it, is that just one person in a neighborhood needs to have access to that for others to be able to enjoy low cost education, of course this is a problem in and on itself because of negative social interactions between the players that may occur(i.e. people fight and may have prejudices against their neighbors), so one probably is not enough, but in an age where everybody can afford a cellphone even if you live in a house made of corrugated paper this probably is not going to be the real problem.

If Africa can do it, the U.S. probably can do it too.
Cape Town Declaration

And of course you got the excellent Khan Academy

Which helped me remember some chemistry that I have long forgotten so that one I can recommend from experience LoL

Everything one needs is actually already there, one just need to take the time and start actually making use of it.

People when they want to learn something they go after it, I remember walking 6 miles just to get to a public library and I didn’t had the money to xerox anything, I hat to either memorize it or write it down.

If people want to educate their children, they too should have the will to walk those miles to make it happen, more importantly they should do it in front of their children so they get a sense of how difficult it is to go after those things for them, remember a great act is nothing if nobody knows about it, those sacrifices will mean nothing if your children didn’t saw them and are not able to draw wisdom from it.

I remember a story about a guy who asked a bicycle to his dad, his dad was well known in the town and was not a poor guy, and what he did was to buy a big bag of oranges get his son and go to the middle of the city square and start offering those oranges for sale, according to the son he felt ashamed because his father was well known so he took the oranges from his father hands and started selling it himself and he bought himself a bicycle with that money, that was I think the greatest gift any father could give a son, the knowledge to do things for yourself.
The son today is owner of one big car rental business that is international.

As some say as important as the goal is the, the journey is also equally important, and hardship instead of something to be feared should be something to be celebrated, because it offers people the chance to be great, it enriches everybody.

It doesn’t matter if your education is not as good as others, but how you tried to achieve it, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the best books, what does matter is the connections you make along the way and how do you use the knowledge you acquired.

Most big business (wo)men are self made and they all have some sob story about how they got there and the difficulties they had to overcome.

Rarely you will see great people who didn’t have to overcome something, they all did and we all can be great, maybe not rich, but we all can be educated and have those same great stories to tell others when we get old ๐Ÿ™‚

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Re:5 No universal agreement on educational methods

For the quality of education, what I wanted to say is that it doesn’t matter if you end up learning less than others as long as you learned how to procure knowledge and have that “can do” attitude there is no bad school in the world that can hold others down.

And thinking about it maybe is not schools the real problem maybe is the parents that are the real problem since they are the ones unable to transmit that sense of responsibility to their own sons and daughters, they failed their sons and daughters by not being able to show them how important that school crap is and why knowledge is important and it is not just about higher pay is about finding solutions to your own problems applying knowledge that you need to procure elsewhere, how do you teach your children to know how to solve problems?

Once they have that ability, not many would choose to skip school.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 No universal agreement on educational methods


My comment wasn’t about unions, it was about the ability to teach children differently, based on their talents and weaknesses. We have the technology and it allows for this. Each child can have the best education for them. I always make fun of the US educational system because it has become 12 years of babysitting. Where you can not make the stupid children feel bad. Education is supposed to be about raking children over the coals and making them think. The current system is broken and needs to be redone.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 No universal agreement on educational methods

My comment wasn’t about unions, it was about the ability to teach children differently, based on their talents and weaknesses. We have the technology and it allows for this.

But, do you realize that some of the educational systems favored by some parents discourage the use of technology? The very concept of using computers in classrooms or at homes goes against some educational philosophies. That’s what I’ve been trying to point out. Not everyone agrees on what schools are supposed to do.

fb39ca4 says:

Re: Re: No universal agreement on educationl methods

Putting a young child with high schoolers does not lead to abuse, the high schoolers end up either adoring the child for their cuteness factor, or leaving them alone, but not excluding them purposefully. In cases like these, the teacher usually ends up paying extra attention to that child so abuse would be unlikely to go unnoticed anyways.

NotMyRealName (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: No universal agreement on educationl methods

I call bs here. When you get pushed a grade or two for a single subject, you become socially ostracized (you think you’re better than me/us huh?) among your own peers, and those in your “advanced class” which is really just the normal class you would have taken later anyway.

Let’s put it in terms most can understand. How do you feel when your boss is younger than you?

Nicedoggy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 No universal agreement on educationl methods

You see that is a cultural problem.
Can it be changed, if not can it be dealt with in a satisfactory way?

Can the older people(boys and girls) be taught to take care and be mindful of the little ones?

Can and adolescent with his/hers hormones raging be ever capable of empathy towards the little angelical ones that look more like little cows than the wolfs they become when chemical changes start to occur?

Anonymous Coward says:

Being ahead

Before I started school, I used Hooked on Phonics all the time. My mother would read to me, & even tho I didn’t yet know how to read, I knew all of my letters. One day, the Parents as Teachers lady came over. She had a keychain that spelled out her name, so I pointed to each letter and said it.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. Instead of being happy that I was so smart, the lady proceeded to lecture my mother about how I was going to be ahead of the children when I start school and become a social outcast for being so smart!

That was around 18 years ago! However, exactly what happened to me is now happening to those kids, and goodness knows they’ll be better off for learning so much and loving to learn so much! It’s a bit sick that people would want to hold them back.

fb39ca4 says:

Schools need to give students more opportunity to interact outside their age level

Throughout elementary school and often middle school, students mostly have chances to interact with others in the same grade, with the sole exception being recess and lunch, but that is only with the grades closest to themselves. From personal experience, even then, not much interaction occurs between grades. The students end up putting walls between themselves, making it much harder for one to take classes outside of their grade level. After moving to another state, I was fortunate to attend a Montessori school with in a middle school, where the class was composed of different grades. Despite the age difference, we were all equals in there due to having to work together. There were no “popular kids” or outcasts in there, and we had a very strong sense of community, compared to the age segregated rest of the school. This past school year, (8th grade) I finished high school math, and nobody makes a big deal about it as there are many of us learning stuff at a different pace from the conventional grade system, though I am sure that it wouldn’t have been the case in some other schools. I am grateful I had the chance to go there, I got a richer middle school education for it. Next month I am starting (conventional) high school, where fortunately there is a lot more flexibility in what I want for my education and I am also glad for that.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Some books you might find useful.

If I may presume to offer advice, here are some books which you might find useful, if you do not already know them. I don’t know exactly how far along you are, of course.

Richard Courant’s _Differential and Integral Calculus_ (first published 1934-36) is very highly regarded among mathematicians. If you can get a copy at a reasonable price, you might find it useful. Come to that, in the case of a seventy-year old book, photocopying for personal use is moral and justified. If you haven’t already taken calculus, or if you have, it will protect you against the “watering-down” in modern calculus courses.

The following books constitute a Second Year Calculus course.

William Boyce and Richard C. DiPrima, _Elementary Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems_, various editions from 1965 onward.

Jerrold E. Marsden and Anthony J. Tromba, Vector Calculus, various editions from 1976

Richard Bronson, Matrix Methods, 1970

Francis Scheid, Theory and Problems of Numerical Analysis (Schaum’s Outline Series), 1968

These books can be obtained for five or ten dollars on Amazon, as new editions are put out every couple of years, with the problems renumbered, etc., to keep cribbing within reasonable bounds. For your own use, the older editions are perfectly good. Most of the mathematics dates from before 1900.

Also, look at Edna E. Kramer’s _The Nature and Growth of Modern Mathematics_ (2 volumes). Many years ago, when I was at about your stage of progress (and several years older than you), I found it immensely exciting as out-of-class reading.

Brendan (profile) says:


When I have kind of my own, I hope to instill in them a desire to set and reach for personal goals to excel in area they enjoy.

Why should any child be encouraged to slow his pace to “keep back” wih the other children. The proposition is ridiculous on its face. I would want my own child to learn as much as he can stand to learn, regardless of the ability of his peers. Tha goes both ways of course — can’t be good at everything. Understandably, some subject may elude a given child, but those lapses should not prevent him or her from advances through the rest of their education in every other subject.

Anonymous Coward says:

There actually is a real issue with students getting too far ahead. It can lead to them being social outcasts, unable to deal with the other students in their school. It can make them bored and unhappy at school, which can lead to missing many classes or even dropping out, because they are so far ahead that the institution becomes boring.

School isn’t just about academic advancement, it’s about building social skills and operating within a social group. Those are lessons that cannot be taught by the khan academy or anything else like that.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Interesting, but even now, some people still miss that point.

Some people only look into certain careers and forget those social skills. Some build the skills, forgetting careers. We don’t know where people end up. I don’t think that should be a fault of the school helping a child advance. This would probably be more about parents helping a child adjust to the advancement by finding other outlets for their creativity. Perhaps any type of creative arts (ballet, violin) or sports to learn how to socialize with peers. Not everything has to be all about academics.

grumpy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Smart kids are social outcasts because the entire system is geared towards age groups, not scholarly or mental development groups. If teachers aren’t able to handle kids sticking out from the group, regardless of reason, then they shouldn’t be teachers. Really, teachers are living off of their accomplishments in the previous centuries. All the rest of us are required to improve our work methods and learn new ways, why aren’t teachers?

Yes, I have a few axes to grind with dim teachers unable to deal with a smart kid…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do you know anything about children? Any kid that’s bright enough to skip ahead will be singled out as “different” and picked on.

School isn’t just about academic advancement, it’s about building social skills and operating within a social group.

You sound like the school administrators when I was in school. School was a special sort of hell for me, precisely because of the attitude of people like you. I’m gifted, and my parents asked for me to be moved ahead so that I could be more challenged at school, but were told no because I would miss out on ‘socializing’. So instead of being picked on but finding schoolwork interesting, I got picked on picked on and never learned anything.

I quit school as soon as I turned 16.

If a kid is brighter than his/her classmates, they’ll be social outcasts no matter what. At least if they’re moved ahead they might learn something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sometimes you just don’t fit in a school.

I was a quick study. Didn’t take books home for study. I was bored to tears with waiting for others to catch up with what had been presented. It resulted in a lot of daydreaming as there was nothing else to do until everyone was ready to move on.

The grades I got reflected that boredom. Something more challenging would have helped a whole lot.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re:

I know that you mean, the boredom was often painful. The lower grades at my school were quite rigid and had absolutely no place for advancement. Almost no one ever skipped ahead either, and only a few got held back. It didn’t matter if your were being held down or drug along, you were held to the standard for that grade, no mater what. I agree with the article, it got to the point that conformity to educational standards became more important than eduction itself.

I did manage do fairly well in most of my years of school. Some classes still bored me though–I even slept though my senor calc class. The teacher didn’t say much, as I still had the highest grade. A minor slump in the 9th grade, as I latter learned, prevented me from being valedictorian. Second best wasn’t bad, but I still had to give a speech though. I’m certainly not bitter about it, the girl that was at the top of the class deserved the honor anyway.

NotMyRealName says:

Re: Re: Re:

I remember one time when I was pulled aside by a math teacher after class, for not showing my work on a test – she had thought I had cheated. I had to retake the test (she literally cut and pasted the problems into a different order and photocopied it lol) in an empty room. After acing it again, we had a discussion that went something like “why don’t you show your work? – I do on the problems that need it, like this one – but thats the only one – … – you need to show your work so you understand the process for harder problems – (eyes light up) can you just give me the harder problems? – I don’t have any” we worked out later that as long as I wasn’t obvious about it, I could do whatever I wanted during class. I was able to get a similar arrangement in a bunch of classes through most of my middle/high school years. Seems like a cool story but I firmly believe that my lack of challenge in school is why I have a hard time getting and staying motivated now, because most things seem easy I tend to take the easiest way out. The system was broken, and I have no doubts it still is.

grumpy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh noes!

And the Roman empire, several Chinese empires, gubmint ‘cracies (techno or bureau), large and small companies, charities, you name it… It’s human nature to put ones own interests before others so vigilance and frequent overhauls are required to maintain efficiency/efficacy/effectivity in any given group. The occasional breakdown is to be expected. Our innovation system (education, invention/patents etc.) is right about where it can pull us all down. I just hope that the interregnum is not going to be 30000 years… ๐Ÿ™‚

Nicedoggy says:

One thing I like to say is this:

Every and each of us is responsible for creating the environment where children will grow up.

One part of school is to learn social skills, but I’m not sure separating kids by age or even knowledge will teach them anything, it doesn’t teach how to respect those who are behind you, it doesn’t teach how to respect those that are ahead of you and teachers don’t have a clue on how to proceed, they don’t know how to create the stimulus necessary to maintain cohesion and society the environment outside the schools plays a big part on that.

Maybe society should be more predatory about people who don’t go to school bullying them, that is right bullying them into compliance, given the stinking eye and not being so forgiving which is the parents task, with the cavet that one cannot verbally abuse others and no physical contact, but sarcasm is fair game, ignoring people who don’t do things is ok, just like it happens in Asian countries, there is no complicated methods there, if you don’t do the right thing people ignore and ostracize you, if you do the right thing people come and go out of their way to congratulate and help you. The right thing being something the majority inside that group agreed upon, but there is no verbal abuse and no physical contact they just ignore you and give you the stinking eye.

Maybe we should not have segregation of students by age they all should interact with each other inside a classroom so those behind learn to help and respect those that are behind independently of age or knowledge and those behind learn to value their counterparts that are ahead of them not thinking they are dumb but that they just didn’t had enough time to learn everything, I don’t really know.

What I do know is that they key is in the environment not the material, not the teachers, the key to a better education system is in the whole ecosystem not only part of it.

I do remember something I saw in a movie(Evolution) once.


Deke and Danny Donald (Ethan Suplee and Michael Ray Bower), recall that “selenium sulfide” is the active ingredient in Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoo, prompting Ira to award them both A grades in his class.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_(film)

That parody just illustrates something that everybody must have seen a dozen times in their lifes, when people have an interest in something they learn everything they can about it, so maybe we should be segregating people by how their psychological profiles puts them in terms of interests so teachers can work with that group and learn how to deal with people that have those particular interests, not by age.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Here's a scenario

Let’s say that the bright kids want to be going as fast as they can. While at the same time, the parents of the special needs kids want their kids to be mainstreamed and not put into special classes. Who’s to say which approach is better and which kids’ needs should take priority?

At a Montessori charter school I’m familiar with, the word was going around that this coming year one of the new incoming kids is severely autistic and disruptive. The school is small and noise travels from room to room. The parents are apprehensive. By law they can’t keep the kid out, but on the other hand, accommodating the child is going to affect the other kids.

I don’t think coming up with workable educational solutions is always an issue of old methods versus new methods. It’s also trying to find a way to accommodate a variety of different needs within a community.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Here's a scenario

And I’ll toss this out. Let’s say it is a college, either a private institution like Harvard, or a public one like UCLA. Should the slots go those with the highest test scores? Or should the slots be put up for bid and sold to the highest bidder, no matter the academic qualifications? Should students be selected to intentionally add diversity, with some scoring better than others, but the lower scoring students coming from a different geographic location or demographic group?

There are just so many factors that enter into educational systems that I think we have to look at it as a complex societal issue.

AJ (profile) says:

Timetabling clashes?

At my (non-US) high school creating the timetable for the whole school was a highly complicated process. Teachers and students all moved between different class-rooms for different subjects at different times each day, so I may have had Maths at 9.15 on Monday mornings, but on Tuesdays it was at 3.30, and the other year-groups (and even the other classes in my year-group) took Maths at completely different times. As a 3rd-year it wouldn’t have been possible for me to take 5th-year physics because the 3rd-year physics lesson times didn’t all match up with the 5th-year times.

I’m not sure how you get round that kind of problem ? Hermione Granger managed it using the time-turner that let her go backwards in time, but they’re rather hard to find IRL.

Anonymous Coward says:

Noooooo nononono Mike. This isn’t about children outpacing teachers, it’s about letting people get too smart.

We can’t have an entire nation trained by Khan academy. When this happens, who are we going to repress as being the “have-nots”? If EVERYONE was given an equal share of fair education and useful tools for life. We will lose the racket on stupid, easily mislead people who are naturally afraid of facts and reality.


Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Khan Academy

Pegging again. Today, everyone seems to be into advocacy (read: self-centered argument) rather than logic.
Many years ago, I was taught in my early days of college that there was a “Yale” experiment. All mention is now gone from the literature, so perhaps it was simply a fiction work (I am not much on conspiracy theories).
A group of gifted students were given a “Khan Academy” style education. The result (in the general population) was a bunch of misfits – high suicide rates, high substance abuse, nothing of any value to society.
So, jumping from education to something completely different might be a disaster – carefully blending it into the system might be a very good thing.
The main thing is to prevent extremists from “out with the old, in with the new” type silliness.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Khan Academy

We’ve had a number of recent for-profit experiments where people are convinced they can run a school better than what is currently in place. So some cities have brought in these for-profit companies to fix their worst schools and the results haven’t been much better than what was there before.

As I said earlier, I have been following education trends since 1968. I’m always interested in reading what is currently being advocated. And I have shopped around for schools for my kids and for other family members. I’ve sat in on classes, read the parent reviews, looked at the test scores, etc. If there was one approach that clearly bettered everything else, I can guarantee you that every school would adopt it. But there hasn’t been that one approach. In fact, that’s why there are always new ideas, because whatever everyone tried before didn’t quite work as well as planned and now they want to try something else.

marcusTX (profile) says:

sounds easy

Everyone thinks they know how to fix schools because they were students themselves. It’s just like a restaurant or any other business. No true profession is ever as easy as it looks to the layman.

First of all, you have ignored simple logistics. How does a junior high kid get from junior high to high school math class and back to junior high in one passing period?

How does the school district afford to pay bus drivers for this extra duty? Our budgets in Texas were frozen since the 2005 Perry school tax cuts and cut below that for this year.

Our mandate is to educate EVERY child and do it extremely cheaply.

As a technology teacher, I have 45 minutes per day with up to 32 students per class ranging in age from freshman to seniors, from Special Ed to Talented & Gifted.

When classes are full, we are paid $1.30 (before deductions) per child per day to not only teach the subject matter but often to teach them life skills their parents should have imparted years ago.

My special ed kids have IEP’s up to 30 pages long telling me exactly how to teach them differently than the other 31 kids and I am legally liable if I fail to meet those specifications.

You are talking about mixing middle schoolers with seniors and we already have problems with senior/freshman bullying, sexting and age-difference sexual pressures.

I love Khan Academy, but you need to remember it is just online lecture/drill which is not new or innovative. Only the fact it is available 24/7 for kids with the Net at home is amazing. For the poor kids without the Net, they are out of luck again.

The grass is always greener but just try to do more with less like we teachers do every year lately.

Nicedoggy says:

Re: sounds easy

I think you forget you are in a partnership with your crazy ass students and their dreaded parents.

If those people don’t want to learn they will not, school is not the end of academic life, is just a little part of it, the other part takes place when the students are not at the school, where by their own freewill they try to learn something.

Is not the teachers job to force others to learn is the teachers job to show them why they should learn, otherwise you just need to fallow the book and never care.

If you can’t get your partner to do their part of the job you certainly will not be able to do it for the both of you, no matter how hard you try or how hard you think you try it is just not relevant from a practical point of view, the students will just fail like they are failing today.

Kids don’t see the need for that crap and it is all crap, the most important thing in life they are not learning is to get interested in things.

That is where you failed, that is why the Khan Academy is a success, because people are not forced to go there, the people who go there already have that “DRIVE” for knowledge, they are partners and they are doing their part and that is why Khan Academy is succeeding or giving that impression.

Logistics are not important at all, if parents really needed they would have find ways to drive their children to school, they would have bought a bus, and probably in some places with a lot of mechanics they would have build one.

The question you should be asking is why Americans don’t want to go to schools in America.

What are the factors that are killing the interest of the students in the public school system?

The real problem is cultural, not in the system, in reality any system would do, poor Asian countries don’t have the best facilities or all the best materials, what they do have is willing partners that want to learn, why that happens there and not in America?

One industrialized country that has first class education is Norway another is Finland I believe, what do they do there, what are the cultural differences that make things work?

Shitty schools are not an excuse for the lack of interest of others, schools can’t stop one from learning anything if he/she really wanted too, so where is the problem?

Random Troll (user link) says:

Kahn school

Well… here’s the “Pro” side…
and , here’s the “Con” side

(Copy-Paste. You’ll have to figure out what I’ve done wrong for yourself.)

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Kahn school

I can guarantee you that if the Kahn system turns out better educated students for little or no cost, it will catch on. Home school kids will use it. Schools that want to greatly increase the staff/student ratios will use it.

The reason these systems haven’t done better in the past is that the results haven’t lived up to expectations. Maybe this time will be different. There are enough people wanting to eliminate teachers that it will get its trial. This whole discussion about the “old guard” is essentially unnecessary because if the results are there, you’ll have millions of parents and thousands of school districts clamoring for it.

Do you think that parents who want to give their kids an extra edge wouldn’t use it if they think it will work? Imagine how many kids are going to be put in front of a computer in evenings or on weekends by parents wanting them to improve their test scores so they can get into better colleges. So, folks, chill out. If it works, it will be embraced.

better smarten up says:

1978 in canada ( we are far ahead of you it seems)

In grade 3 it was found i had a higher then normal reading ability and instead of doing as this article says they encouraged it buy giving us a whole class period a day to just wander into the library and read what ever we wished.

It might explain a lot of the ability i have to pick up languages in computers as well cause by 12 i had a vic 20 and was making my own games graphics and databases and such….by 19 i was coding things for my high school and i’ve worked on many things most never get a chance too.

Atkray (profile) says:

Kahn and Overachievers

When I was in high school my best friend was a math wiz. He programmed his HP 65 calculator to play paper football. He started attending math classes at Cal his sophomore year of high school. His Junior year he was pulled aside by the grad students in the class he was taking and told he was screwing up the curve and to start missing at least 1/2 the questions before something unfortunate happened to him.

Fortunately he survived this and went on to a successful career as an actuary.

Fast forward to two months ago… my daughter calls up in tears on a Sunday night that she is going to fail her college math final the next day. I point her at Kahn and tell her to call back if she needs more help.

She calls back 3 days later, she got 80% on the final and was the only one that passed it, everyone else failed the test.

The system was and still is broken but I’ll say this, when I read down to “I’ll just let that sink in for a moment” I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

The old guard can’t die soon enough.

Nicedoggy says:

About the price of things, people could start using trash, no I’m not joking, the paradigm today is to think of trash as something dirty and not view it as raw material.

Building a bamboo microscope
Science on a shoestring



Broken glass today is more high quality than anything they had in 1600’s, people can make lens out of that using wood to polish the lenses once they have grinded it to the rough shape and students could actually learn how to troubleshoot the process to see what the problems are and why some lenses are better than others.




Can’t teachers use paper airplanes to explain aerodynamics and make children learn?

Where there is a need coupled with the will to do something, people can be very creative.

mojoraven says:

No universal agreement on educationl methods

While I don’t think age should be a reason to hold someone back academically, my being younger than all of my peers made me a social outcast all through school.

I was teased and in some cases beaten up and the school officials never did anything about it. In fact, one teacher told me that the boy who hit me just did it because he liked me. I think you may be giving people too much credit. You are probably decent, but many others aren’t.

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