We Don't Need No Education

June 1, 2001
A popular TV talk show hostess says calculators make learning math pointless. Tell an engineer.

"We Don't Need No Education!"*

"Study math in school? Why bother? All the answers are in my pocket calculator anyway."

Typical teenager griping about being forced to learn a subject with no practical application? Nope. Turns out, it isn’t only kids who say the darnedest things. Those of you who watch daytime TV probably know who said something similar to this. The rest of you will have to guess. Suffice it to say that the sentiment is probably shared by millions of teenagers who have suffered far too long already with geometry and algebra and — the royal worst! — The Calculus!

In fact, why do our over-burdened teenagers need to learn how to spell? I mean, don't they have Spell Check? And Cliff Notes? And, I mean what's not on the Internet already? Know what I'm saying?

Why bother sending kids to school in the first place? Today's teenagers are educated by television, and they know, like they really know already what it's all about. Know what I mean? Why, I remember when I knew it all, too. Understand what I'm saying? The modern American teenager is an advanced being who chooses his own education.

This is the natural progression of the whole progressive education movement. Forcing students to do anything is the ultimate uncool approach to learning. Medieval even! Cruel. Unfun. Should be illegal. Especially when we consider, as the lady said, the fact that the answers are in the calculator — or on the computer or TV screen.

True, the “answers” to all kinds of academic problems are in our electronic information handling devices. And I'll be the first to admit that the young are superbly adept at the wonderful world of the modern keyboard and the computers we now find so indispensable. And, wow, the Internet is fantastic! But is that what we're talking about when we call some one "educated?” Is that what we mean by the virtue of education? I think not.

How did these devices get here in the first place? Thank an engineer.

Education, properly practiced, leads to the formation of problem-solving skills and some appreciation for what we call history. How you educate is an old and important discussion. Education is how we take our young into the adult world of problem-solving. And then, when they reach adulthood, they realize they’re not done. Education continues through family and business relationships. It can be fun, but it shouldn't be devious. It can be tough, but it shouldn't be torture. It can be cool, but it shouldn't be a cop-out. Mathematics, in other words, is a practical matter, Pink Floyd* notwithstanding.

Telling teenagers that they no longer need to understand basic math is a pathetic thing to do. The opinion is especially galling coming from someone who has solved problems so well that her annual income dwarfs what all but a handful of these prospective adults will make in a lifetime.

The American teenager is already assaulted by ads and movies suggesting that life offers instant gratification and should be effortless. When Ros ... when an influential TV personality adds to that noise, it makes me wonder how we’re going to keep the development of tomorrow’s manufacturers and engineers from hitting the proverbial brick wall!* What’s * mean? Look it up.

George Weimer

contributing editor

[email protected]

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