I don’t think U.S. students are lazy. It’s just a different era. When Sputnik went off, October 4, 1957, people in the United States, I won’t say went crazy, but focused on developing science and engineering curricula for schools. It became a big deal. I’m there in my elementary school when a guy from NASA comes—NASA was a new thing developed shortly after that in 1958. The guy dips a cigar—back when it was politically okay to carry cigars—dips it in liquidized oxygen and lights it. It burns like a road flare. It’s the coolest think I’d ever seen.
I want to be an engineer. I want to work in space. And so we can do that kind of thing again, but it takes resources. You’ve got to decide it’s worth doing. So there are people that believe when you need to make budget cuts the first thing you do is cut education. Just increase class sizes, have fewer teachers. That’s wrong. No, instead you should invest more in schools and teachers, especially science and math education. Teaching math is not expensive, it’s a value, but we really do need to emphasize algebra. Apparently, algebra is this turning point. If you can’t do algebra, you have trouble thinking abstractly about all kinds of things.
So we need to re-emphasize that. I don’t think it’s that students are lazy and not hitting the books. In fact, in many ways students now are so technically savvy, they use so much technology all day, that perhaps they’re actually more diligent because they’re better at multi-tasking, better at doing the algebra, and the chemistry homework, and the geography all at once—maybe, maybe.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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