“Putting a Face on Mathematics in Asia: Reflections on My Work of 20 Years”
Steve Rasumussen. President, Key Curriculum Press. Hawaiian shirt aficionado. Guy you want to buy a beer.
Generally awesome. Completely evenhanded, doing justice to all sorts of tricky issues facing education (NCLB, international competition, TIMSS) without once resorting to the pandering, cheap irony which plagued Friday’s keynote.
In his duties as publisher-in-chief with Key Curriculum Press he’s spent a good portion of the last twenty years in Asia. A lot of it was just as you’d expect. “You have no idea how easy our job could be,” he said, and cited:
- students who stand up when a teacher walks into the room.
- nations which devote extraordinary resources to education. (eg. 60% of Thailand’s paper went to its schools a few years back; during lean times schools are the last to cut spending)
- schools so modern with desks and floors so clean you could safely perform an appendectomy on top of them.
- teachers who must take 32 post-graduate classes before teaching math.
He adjusted my perspective in a couple of ways:
- He called us out for a “tremendous national chauvinism.” He said, “If you ever hear competition [with Asia] in the same breath as education, either implicitly or explicitly, be wary of the person saying it.” He cited Thomas Friedman.
- He explained why students in Asia outpace us in basically every benchmark except “skin whiteness.” He noted that Asian countries have huge populations with comparatively few universities. The competition for university acceptance is so fierce students take no exception to longer school days, longer school years, and three hours of math homework nightly, none of which the teacher ever grades.
- Radical pedagogy in the U.S. involves online coursework, wikis, and podcasts. Radical pedagogy there, he said, involves a student initiating a question. Charge it to respect for their teachers and fear of appearing weak alongside their classroom competitors but it’s direct instruction all day long. Go figure.
PowerPoint for the occasional quote but for the most part he just commented over an iPhoto slideshow which was a really good way to go.
- “I’ve basically got a secret life in Asia,” he said at the start, and then realized what that sounded like.
For Your Consideration