It is my habit to bring my Google Nexus Tablet to the breakfast table to read the day’s news.   Sometimes, I plug in my headphones to listen to some morning music (Dave Grusin, maybe, or Keiko Matsui) and watch a few news videos.   The world has changed and perhaps there’s no better way to see it than to look at a few of Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the breakfast table.

Take, for example, Behind the Newspaper, in which the neglected wife stares longingly into space while her husband’s attention is buried in the morning paper.  These days?  He’s got a tablet in front of him, a smartphone in his hands and Bose noise cancelling headphones.  Don’t worry.  Muri and I are very different morning people, so she’s never the spurned wife.  At breakfast, anyway.  Or consider Breakfast Table Political Argument.  Today’s version: dueling iPads with junior completely distracted from his parents argument by his Mom’s iPhone (he’s texting little Suzie down the street about their play date later).

Yes, I digress.  And sometimes regress.  This morning I found an article on the the Wall Street Journal website with the intriguing title, Math, Science Popular Until Students Realize They’re Hard.  A study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research at two liberal arts colleges found that, college students are fleeing from math, physics, chemistry and the like after dipping into some classes.  According to the article, Todd R. Stinebrickner, one of the researchers, said, Students knew science was hard to begin with, but for a lot of them it turned out to be much worse than what they expected.   What they didn’t expect is that even if they work hard, they still won’t do well.  Now I just love this: The researchers said that if more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared to study science.

Let me take you back fifty years to my orientation at Stevens Institute of Technology.  Several hundred Freshman are packed into the auditorium and the Dean of Engineering is addressing us.   Look at the student on your left, he said.  Now look at the student on your right.  After a pregnant pause, he added, Both of them will be gone by the end of the semester.    I struggled for my grades as a Freshman (OK, that was partly because I pledged a fraternity and didn’t study enough, but that’s another post).  Maybe Todd Stinebrickner is right, part of the problem is lack of preparation.  But science and math are innately Hard, even if you are prepared.  Shortly before graduation, my roommate, Jon, who was a straight-A marketing major said to me, I always thought you were crazy taking engineering.  By that time I was courting my wife-to-be and had slipped to a solid-C student.  But now you have half a dozen job offers and I have none, Jon continued.  The point isn’t that engineering is better than marketing, just that some things that are Hard are worth working for.   Perhaps that’s what our policies at younger ages need to emphasize.

One more curmudgeonly rant and I’ll close.  This week, on The Art of Being Conflicted, Cheryl wrote about a study that found that babies don’t like to see other babies to cry.  Hello?  Hasn’t anyone else noticed how often when one baby cries in Target another joins in?  We don’t need a study to figure out that babies don’t like to see other babies cry.  Or one to tell us that science is Hard and some students don’t want to work.  I have a suggestion.  To all National Agencies with grant money to spend studying social issues: Send me the money and I’ll tell you what you want to know.  In a blog post.  The next day.  It’s not Hard.

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4 Comments on “Hard”

  1. I wonder if you’re familiar with a program created at U Texas-Austin in 1997 and now in use by 37 other colleges and universities. It’s called UTeach, and its purpose is to get science and math majors to teach 7-12th graders these subjects. The idea is that if experts teach younger kids the topics, they’ll be more prepared to study them and then make careers in them later. The theory is that expert teachers will do a better job teaching the subjects than education majors who barely know the topics themselves. Here’s some info, if you’re interested. http://www.uteach-institute.org/

    PS – I’ve always hated the money “we” waste on studies that tell us things we already know. Sometimes it’s valuable confirmation, but then maybe it shouldn’t be publicized so nobody thinks high minds are studying low-impact stuff.

  2. cherperz Says:

    The program that thesinglecell is talking about sounds like a worth while project. I don’t have a clue as to how to get kids into the math and science programs. My daughter went into medicine and my son-in-law became an engineer but then went back and got his MBA in business. He works for a tech firm in a financial capacity. When they were in college, their friends couldn’t understand why they would pick 5 year programs over 4 year programs. (for their undergraduate degrees).

    • oldereyes Says:

      I really think part of the problem is not that kids aren’t prepared for science and math but that too many expect “easy.” At least here in CA our schools have emphasized self-esteem over hard work..

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