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An open letter on the U.S. math education



Nirman reminded me that I wanted to mention this

open letter on K-12 mathematics.
It is a petition signed by 911 STEM (math-loaded fields) professors in the U.S. so far; Ferdinand Porsche couldn't sign because he is not in the U.S. and he is not a STEM professor. See an article in the Wall Street Journal, Fox News (press alt/d enter on the target page to rewrite the strange firewall), Wash. Examiner, The Daily Mail (long discussion thread), Newsweek, NY Post, RT, The Epoch Times, Breitbart about a California-only similar open letter with 1200+ signatures, one at Datanami, and on Aaronson's blog.



Of course, the signatories have been my "ecosystem" for decades so I know dozens of them in person (in a fair mixture of purely personal and e-remote kind of interactions, the personal ones actually dominate), e.g.
Scott Aaronson, Mina Aganagić, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Jacob Barandes (a Harvard student from my times), Joshua Bloom (fellow fellow), Sergei Dubovsky, Ed Farhi, Willy Fischler, Katherine Freese, Wally Gilbert (Society of Fellows boss, Nobel Prize winner), Sheldon Glashow (Nobel Prize winner), David Gross (Nobel Prize winner, they are really neighbors alphabetically and I know all of them!), Thomas Hartman, Ken Intriligator, Shamit Kachru, Andreas Karch, Can Kilic, Lawrence Krauss, Ian Low, Juan Maldacena, Barry Mazur, John McGreevy, Matt Leifer (the AQZ dude with my phrase "anti-quantum zealot" on T-shirt), Hong Liu, Richard Muller, John Preskill, Jorge Pullin, Albert Schwarz, Nathan Seiberg, Stephen Shenker, Witold Skiba, Larry Summers (not shown on the list of signatories, probably not "STEM"), Mark Trodden, Jan Vondrák (Czech but I knew his late Persian wife much more), our TRF pal William Zajc, Matias Zaldarriaga, Barton Zwiebach.
I know dozens of additional names from their research but without substantial interactions (Amit [from Quora], Borcherds, Collar, Fisher, Freed, Fuchs, Hayden, Kac, Keating, Kitaev, Kuperberg [via Aaronson], Macdonald, Plesser, Tao etc.).



The letter says something like
Hi, we are math-phys-style professors in America and we don't like the ongoing transformation of K-12 mathematics education (kids, age 6-18). We are politically correct so we still spend 1/3 of this letter by clichés about equality, launchpads for everybody, and similar BS (and we simply must declare that the progressive extremists' terror is "well-intentioned" while the damages caused by the terror are surely "unintended"; our Muslim brother Osama undoubtedly wanted to build an even higher skyscraper in NYC instead of tearing two down) but we still care about the survival of quantitative skills and real maths. So we find it is wrong for the U.S. (and especially California (see Ed Source) is getting mad quickly in this respect) to suppress advanced math in K-12 schools in the name of many blacks' not feeling so dumb; to demand a completely egalitarian and one-size-fits-all eduation; and to replace traditional pillars of mathematics (calculus, algebra, logic) by fads (data science and perhaps modeling) which are often taught as a nearly completely math-free subject. But the decay of public schools may be good for private+foreign schools.
Aside from the PC gibberish, I obviously agree with the content. In September+October, I wrote tirades against the religion of complexity ("Worshiping of complexity..."; "So far artificial intelligence..."; "Why science replaced by hodgepodge...") which often replaces actual theories and meaningful quantitative analyses and genuine, fair, logical testing of hypotheses.

Data science isn't the same thing as the complexity religion but they are overlapping; and even in realms where they are distinct, the problems with them are highly analogous. In particular, it is wrong both for complexity and for data science to be presented as "hot directions" that are replacing the traditional ways to do mathematics and science (they are at most complementary!).


Larry has another little Plus for this fiery, amusing tweet. Of course, he obfuscates the fact that most SJWs can't even solve the linear equations, let alone the quadratic ones, and over 40% of SJWs confuse equations and equity. Summers simply had the duty to inflate the peabrains of his SJW colleagues and make them look like peaches.

Data science and the complexity religion really emphasize the "social science" and "parroting-like" human traits and activities, instead of the brilliant quantitative thinking. "A data scientist" is a classical example of a non-expert, Czech ex-president Prof Václav Klaus often says, because it's not important to have lots of data (all of us are drowning in them). What's important is to know how to pick the right, relevant data and how to derive the important conclusions or how to interpret them. In practice, the "data scientists in the media" are overwhelmingly just another subset of the far left demagogues equipped with another fake "expertise" to sound more credible.

On the contrary, it is exactly those important things involving the processing of the data and the big-picture organization of this processing (and the skills needed to achieve them) that are being suppressed by the media and by the similarly decaying schools. It is obvious that algebra, calculus, logic (the traditional foundations of mathematics) are even more important when people can get lost in gigabytes of data, and the signatories know that. Incidentally, Larry Summers is wrong in one of the tweets in the thread started above. The fact that the U.S. isn't landing on the Moon (it still should, by the way!) isn't a justification for the assertion that statistics should be replacing geometry and trigonometry. The relative importance of statistics hasn't really increased, and if the amount of work spent on statistics is higher now, most of this work is "automatized"! The required nontrivial skills that humans have to acquire still have an equally (or more) important part in disciplines like geometry. The massive uncontrolled inflow of the big data (that doesn't go through the filter of critical thinking including real expertise including the knowledge of history of the field, logic, calculus, algebra, geometry, and some physics) is an enemy, not a friend, Larry! A statistics course may teach some straightforward techniques like linear regression (those K-12 courses surely won't) but exactly because they are straightforward, their role is similar to the calculations that could have been done on calculators for half a century. It's the things that can't be done on calculators and that aren't straightforward that the students must primarily learn!



Quite generally, the signatories also criticize the disappearance of demanding mathematics of any sort in K-12 schools. This may make pupils from underachieving environments look "equal" for 12 years but the gap reappars and gets amplified later (at universities). I think that the signatories are painting a way too optimistic picture of the far left conspiracies to reform the school system. The true "reformers" want to kill true mathematics not only in K-12 schools, they want to achieve a similar destruction at universities and across the U.S. society in general. It's too little, too late, but at least now the 911 folks should become able to open their eyes and see the utter destruction that their political comrades have been working on for decades, while being de facto supported by tons of useful idiots including most of the 911 signatories.



My Mathematics, Miss Naty Hrychová. Thank God that Matthew is here (and not just the horny dumb girls).

OK, the letter is too little, too late (at least 15 years too late, I think). The list of signatories looks impressively long but as a person who knows "people of this kind", I still think that those 911 people are a very small minority, probably below 10% of the similar relevant STEM professors. With every name that I know in the list, I can produce 10 "similar" researchers or instructors that I know as well and who haven't signed (so far?)! Most life-long co-authors (and even spouses) of many signatories whom I know are not signed. Most of my co-authors are not signed. I find all these cases of absence to be dark and I don't even want to know whether they are missing because they are so cowardly or so misguided about such fundamental questions related to their field. On top of that, even this small percentage that did sign doesn't really have the internal drive to unambiguously fight against the destructive trends of the present. As a commenter pointed out, most of them are afraid of clarifying the actual main reasons for the non-representative composition of the "people in STEM" which makes their overall "teaching" self-contradictory.

In fact, it looks to me as if 911 people realize that things are going to deteriorate further and really quickly and they want to have a slightly better conscience, the ability to say "we tried to stop it". Maybe but you tried about 1000 times less than you should have, and you have done much more in your life to accelerate the destruction. So if I were a member of a committee deciding whether you go to Heaven or Hell, this letter would have a very little chance to change the "Hell" verdict. But good luck.

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