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Trigonometri eller statistik

I början av detta år gjorde Edge en rundfråga bland kända amerikanska vetenskapsmän:Vad skulle du rekommendera presidenten att satsa på, om du vore hans särskilde vetenskaplige rådgivare?

Bland de knappt hundra som svarat gillade jag Roger Schanks svar mest
(inte alls bara för hans eleganta elakhet mot George W, så monoman är jag inte):
"Dear President Bush:

One thing a science advisor should do is attempt to define science. The last definition we had was in 1892 when Charles Eliot, the President of Harvard, led a committee that decided upon the high school curriculum that is still in place today. They defined science as biology, chemistry, and physics (in that order.) These just happened to be the science departments at Harvard in 1892. They defined mathematics as algebra, geometry and trigonometry (— same reason.) But a few things have happened since 1892. (---)

So, as your science advisor I would propose three things:

1) Begin to help change our education policy to create students who prepare for the real world they will inhabit by learning how to wire their houses instead of quoting Ohm's law, or how and when to refinance their house rather than learning Euclidean Geometry.

I would create more curricula in science and other subjects that emphasized everyday reasoning issues like the use of stem cells or waste cleanup or snow removal or alternative energy sources. Why can't science be about real issues in real people's lives? I'll bet you didn't take a single science course at Yale. Who could blame you? I was a member of the Yale faculty for many years. The science professors are preparing future scientists not future Presidents. The nation suffers as a result."
Lingvisten Steven Pinker är inne på samma tanke:
"The goal of education should be to provide students with the cognitive tools that are most important for grasping the modern world and that are most unlike the cognitive tools they are born with.

Observers from our best science writers to Jay Leno are frequently appalled by the innumeracy, factual ignorance, and scientific illiteracy of typical Americans. This has implications in countless areas of the public and private spheres – for example, when people fall victim to scam artists and irrational exuberance in their investments, when they squander their money and health on medical and nutritional flim-flam, and when they misunderstand the advantages and disadvantages of a market economy in their political decisions.

The obvious cure for these fallacies is enhanced education in relatively new fields such as economics, biology, and probability and statistics. Unfortunately, most high-school and college curricula have barely changed since medieval times, and are barely changeable, because no one wants to be the philistine who seems to be saying that it is unimportant to learn a foreign language, or English literature, or trigonometry, or the classics.

But no matter how valuable a subject may be, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and a decision to teach one subject is also a decision not to teach another one. The question is not whether trigonometry is important, but whether it is more important than statistics; not whether an educated person should know the classics, but whether it is more important for an educated person to know the classics than to know elementary economics. In a world whose complexities are constantly challenging our intuitions, these tradeoffs cannot responsibly be avoided."
Pinker och Schank skriver om USA. Men jag tycker definitivt att den svenska skolan borde fundera enligt de här linjerna också (se notisen Att räkna på sin räkning.

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26 sep 2003


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