Sunday, July 27, 2014

Engineers: What a Bunch of Bastards

I have a Bachelors of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering. Did you feel your heart skip a beat? I get that a lot. Because it has become common knowledge that engineers are pretty damn smart, and we're really experts on everything. Just the other day, I was on Facebook, and I saw the following advertisement. And I thought, "finally, here's a shirt that tells everyone how smart I am. I don't need to begin every conversation with 'I have a Bachelors of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering'".



Of course I'm being facetious, but there are a few engineers out there who feel the need to flash their credentials when they want to justify their viewpoint. Undoubtedly, if you are reading this post, you have probably seen this Common Core worksheet criticism shared on Facebook.

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Note: This person has a degree in "Electronics" Engineering. To be clear, that's not the same as Electrical Engineering. My degree means I'm much smarter and not nearly as pretentious.

I also recently encountered this critique for a problem on Illustrative Mathematics.

""I believe this problem is way off base. The purpose of the problem is to make use of finding areas of simple polygons. What do 6th graders know about buying paint? I guarantee that not one 6th grader will get this problem right. I got it wrong and I was an engineer and a math major in college. A friend got it wrong and he's a retired math professor from U of Arizona. If I were a parent and my kid brought this problem home, having had it marked wrong I'd be furious and would be writing this letter to the school instead of to you. It's things like this that make kids hate and fear math, as well as not learning it well." -peejay

Seriously, peejay? What do 6th graders know about buying paint?!? Are you kidding me? They know what paint is. They know how to buy things. I don't think it's that foreign of a concept to them! And a math professor from the University of Arizona also got this wrong? I don't think that the University of Arizona wants you publicizing that a retired math professor couldn't solve a sixth grade math problem.

I'm sure that the majority of educated people who attempt these problems (non-engineers included) will have no difficulties in understanding or solving either. And thankfully for us, none of this silent majority felt the urge to tell the internet that they could successfully solve a sixth grade math problem. But here we are, giving credibility to people who claim to be engineers. We assume that these people are great at math, and therefore can make valid claims about math education.

Here's where I come in. I was an engineer. And when I decided to become a teacher, I felt a lot like the people I described above. I was always great at math and thought that my profession gave me insights into math and teaching that many others didn't have. And then I taught my first year and I was terrible.  I knew how to do math, but I didn't understand it. And I certainly couldn't communicate it to others. It took me a while to realize that how I was taught was wrong. And I needed to change my viewpoint to make sure that I don't do the same injustice to my students.

We need to give credibility to the people who are actually in the classroom. These are the voices that deserve this credibility. So please don't assume that someone claiming to be an engineer on the internet is justified in criticizing mathematics education. Credentials do not win arguments.