"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?

It is a classic question. Mutations or changes happen inside life's template, DNA. These mutations have an effect on a line of species when these occur at the first cell of a new baby, the zygote. The egg therefore came first.

There are other instances where puzzles similar to the above show up. There is one in basic education. Which came first, poverty in society or poor education? It is a case where two things are intimately linked to each other. These two are strongly correlated. The questions are: Which one is the cause? Which one is the effect? Which one is X? Which one is Y? These are the same questions asked when one is trying to determine which among two variables is independent. Perhaps, people could easily dismiss the question about the chicken and the egg. Who cares, right? But with regard to poverty and education, the question must be taken seriously.

To illustrate why it is important to pinpoint the causality in poverty and education, one can examine the following statement, "If we fix basic education, we fix the long-term problems of the country.And if we fix the country’s problems, we will build a truly strong society we can proudly call the Philippines." This statement comes the current administration in the Philippines. The statement puts education first. The country's economic woes are blamed on education. This way of thinking puts the pressure on education. It is wrong. Poor performance in schools is not the cause of poverty, but an effect of poverty in society.

Poverty is different from simply not having one's wants met. Poverty is not having one's needs met. These two are different. Not being spoiled helps in learning important lessons in life, like self-control. Not receiving nutrition not because of choice but necessity is not the same.

Alan Singer of the Huffington Post describes the five steps of the Algebra project in Massachusetts in his article, "Math in the People's Republic of Massachusetts (and in the Country of California)":
1. Students participate in a physical experience, like a trip, where they see examples of what they are studying (e.g., arches, geometric shapes, suspension bridges). 2. Following the trip, students draw pictorial representations or construct models of what they have observed. 3. Next, they discuss and write about the event in their everyday dialect or intuitive language. Moses calls this stage "People Talk." 4. Their oral and written reports are then translated into the standard dialect or structured language as part of "Feature Talk." 5. In the last step, students develop symbolic or Algebraic representations that describe what they have learned. They present these representations in class and explore how they can be used to describe other phenomena.
What is learned in schools comes from real life. The school is a reflection and life's experiences are important. With this in mind, one can fully appreciate Alan Singer's last sentence in the article:
"...the best way to improve math performance is to address poverty in the United States."
or in the Philippines, or in any country that deals with poverty.

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