Sunday, November 25, 2007

Campaign Trail

I'm listening to Russ Mitchell and Michelle Miller tell us about Black Friday on CBS News, catching up on some segments I've missed. No "one particular toy" this year. What about eMachines? Speculative small e-tailers, highly enterprising, merchandising over the web -- not a new pattern right?

So I've been running this campaign since the late 1990s, calling it the Great Math Makeover. I like the allusions to cosmetics, makeover TV shows, which leads to angry shouting about superficialness (standard to sling that at changes in math teaching, of any variety). Then I counter "this is not just skin deep," and so on. Fun. Catchy marketing.

So the big line in the sand these days is our group theory in high school plank. We're definitely up against the pre-calculus team and their TI palms. Our goal is to make RSA (aka PGP) transparently easy to comprehend, which requires Euclid's Algorithm, Euler's Theorem (the one that encompasses Fermat's Little (not Last)), an understanding of totients, primes versus composites. A fertile bed exists already: so-called "clock arithmetic" and books like In Code.

But our 21st century curriculum isn't content with just calculators. We insist on teaching programming in some general purpose scripting language like Perl. We're imparting sysop skills not just "factor this polynomial" skills. That makes sense in the Silicon Forest. We've already trounced our opponents in this neck of the woods. But other "belts" in the USA (e.g. rust) might not share our economic system exactly, just like not every country is a rain forest (many in Latin America are -- check out those Andes).

"Sysop" doesn't mean "basement existence" nor does it necessarily mean "male" -- this thing where "math is for guys (as in exclusively)" isn't surviving our migration to cyberspace-based curricula.