Monday, September 15, 2014

If A Train Leaves Chicago Going…….


I have developed this theory.  We often times see the symptoms of problems and try and treat the symptom instead of addressing the root problem. This is a common practice in today’s society, especially government.  Government loves to treat symptoms, they rarely address causes.  

So the symptom that I have been observing for the past decade or so is the lack of competency and problem solving skills in may of the people under 40 that I come in contact with.  I mean, it has really become noticeable.  I have come into contact with adults that are supposedly well educated that seem to have a hard time solving the simplest of problems and in many cases don’t even see that a problem exists.  

Now before I get to far into this, I have to state that a lot of this is due to my expectation of what others can do and solve.  Not everyone can be a critical thinker, have a super high IQ or be an Einstein.  But even taking this into account, I have been horrified at the lack of problem solving skills in many of my peers and coworkers.  

So that is the symptom, what is the cause?

This brings me to my theory.  I recall there being a fundamental shift in the way students were taught when I was in high school.  Up until the 9th or 10th grade (say circa 1972), we had to provide answers to questions and problems.  Then suddenly, in my sophomore year something changed. When we took a test, there was this thing called ‘multiple choice’ answers.  Instead of solving the problem and coming up with the answer: 1.2278.  We got this;

  1. 1.2299
  2. 1.2278
  3. 1.3333
  4. 2.1081

The first time I saw this I thought Wooo Whoo!, even if I didn't study for this test, I have a 1 in 4 chance of getting it right...SWEET!  Since I knew the answer couldn’t be ‘d’, I had a 1 in 3 chance, even MORE SWEET!!!

Many of the students that followed in our footsteps may never have realized the joy and frustration of the dreaded “Word Problem”.  For those that don’t know what this is, it is a mathematical problem in the form of a question.  Questions such as;

“It is 2,500 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles and a train leaves Chicago doing 50mph and another train leave Los Angeles at the same time doing 70mph, how many hours will pass before the two trains meet.”  

No joke folks, we actually had to figure this out and there was NO multiple choice answer.   You had to come up with the number and write it down.

I recall HATING these types of problem, because I could never figure them out.  First you had to translate them into a mathematical formula and then solve the formula.  I recall staying up late with my parents trying to solve these for my homework.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that problems such as these were teaching me to think critically.  I had to solve something.  The thought of throwing a dart at a board and hoping to hit the right answer was not an option.

Why the change to multiple choice?  I assume it had something to do with class size and the ability of teachers to be able to grade more and more student homework and tests.  I used to hand in word problem homework and get an essay back from the teacher (written in red ink) about how I had failed to solve the problem correctly.  I don't believe that is the norm anymore in public school.

So the end result was probably a more manageable job for the teacher and a less well educated, problem solving student body.

How do you fix this problem?  Well, you can’t.  The economy and population size won’t let us hire hundreds more teachers and get class sizes back down to manageable levels.  If you want your child to be a critical thinker today, the parents have to pay for a private school or tutors (or home school the little tikes).  Alas, I am not optimistic about our societies future if my theory is correct.

Ow, and if you want to test yourself, post the answer to the word problem referenced above in comments. It took me about 3 minutes to figure it out. (I don’t expect a lot of responses)