Monday, October 24, 2011

Create Jobs: Replace Geometry with Entrepreneurship

I'm writing a series called "What's the Big Idea?" for the Washington Post.

It will offer fresh solutions for big problems. The first is a way to create jobs: Replace Geometry with Entrepreneurship.

If you'd like to comment on it, you'll get more readers if you write your comment on that Washington Post page and then copy and paste it onto this blog.


Jeffrie said...

It looks like your column brought all the geometry lovers out of the woodwork. Of all the possible sacred cows: geometry.

I'm not sure if it's geometry I'd cut, or if I'd cut math at all. The more advanced math classes (perhaps including geometry) could be chosen as electives, if you plan on attending college with a major that requires higher level math. Most of them don't, and most of us don't need higher level math after high school, whether we attend college or not.

Part of the problem of cutting math is that many colleges & universities require 3 or 4 years of high school math for admission, so many high schools require that much math as well, whether the student is college-bound or not. And judging from the comments on your site, people believe it is the ONLY way to gain analytical or logical thinking skills, or is the key to being intelligent.

I find it interesting that one WaPo commenter calls you a "Liberal left-wing academic ivory tower bozo" while another mentions your apparently obvious right-wing leanings. Whatever idea some people don't like, the idea must be that person's political opposite.

High school is full of classes most of us don't use after the last day we take the class. The whole concept of school needs a makeover, and I'd start with determining what a 21st century child really needs to know. I don't know what it is children need to know, but I'd guess that much of what's taught in school today is terribly obsolete.

Frustrated Fed said...

I "liked" your blog post. However, many posters did not. That doesn't surprise me. This is DC and entrepreneurship is a hard sell. Typical government town.

Matt said...

The educational system has just been layering on itself instead of evolving. High school used to be the 'elite'. Decades later, it was 'college'. Now it's 'graduate' school, and eventually even that will probably be diluted.

But beyond that, I think there are many who would like to start businesses. But when you look at the high cost of entry, thanks to misguided corporate regulation and taxation, as well as demand on a ROI, what can you do? How many niches can you find? I know someone who started a cupcake business here in the Garden State, but he has two advantages others don't:

1) He has a wife with lots of money and connections to help it
2) He has some celebrity pull in the form of Tori Amos, the musician.

He's done well and worked hard, but he had a cushion should everything had gone pear-shaped. Bill Gates built his empire with passion and dedication, but he came from a wealthy family that could have sent him right back to Harvard had he failed. To make even a dent in a market like this, people have to bet the farm. It looks so wise and great if it works, but you're a fool and a pauper if you fail.

Opening a stand at a trafficked area sounds great in theory, but in practice is a lot more difficult than it sounds. What can you offer that some other place nearby isn't already selling? What about customer loyalty? What about all the zoning regulation you'll need to deal with? I feel that's the rub.

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, there's regulation, yes there's competition. But in a simple business like a food or coffee cart, it's simply a matter of excellent replication of an idea, not innovation. No guarantees, but chances of success and true job security are greater than in most jobs--especially if you're not some super-high-powered person.

Anonymous said...

I do think Entrepreneurship would be a great class for high school students, although I would still keep Geometry. I could see it as an elective or part of economics.

Dave said...


Dr. Nemko's 'Souper' idea would work, especially in affluent white collar areas, where people tend to be more health-conscious. Soups tailored to sodium-restricted diets are very hard to find. I think soups featuring organic vegetables, very low sodium, chicken or beef without antibiotics, etc. would do very well in Silicon Valley, Research Triangle region of North Carolina, and similar places.

ST said...

Having a graduate degree in math and having tutored math while in college, I can say geometry is probably not the class to replace in high school. Many of my "clients" were students who did not complete enough math while in high school and needed to complete either courses of college algebra or finite math, in which you needed not only a first high school year of algebra and a year of geometry, but then a year of intermediate algebra. Looking at a current college math "flow chart", if a student now goes into anything related to business, science, engineering, elementary/general education, and of course math, they need the equivalent of both geometry & intermediate algebra to go into anything higher for their degree. The exception being the technical math courses for the trades (but, in looking at the course descriptions, they definitely have geometrical topics in them).

I pretty much read all 284 comments (at that time) on the Washington Post article. I doubt all were from the DC area, but obviously not many supported the idea. Maybe the choice of class clouded the issue, because the idea is worth looking at.

I wonder who would teach these classes in high school? Like one commenter said, the union teachers whine when they can't leave on a half day, and one business/economics class was taught by the football coach (hey, he might be an econ whiz, who knows?). I would think a class like this would be better as possibly and elective at the high school senior level where the student may show promise in the business world (or would like to explore it).

Transformations (rigid motions followed by dilations) define similarity in the same way that rigid motions define congruence

Of course, this is not said to the kids. All this means is that transformations are using certain motions (turns, flips, slides) on (say) a triangular shape, and to keep it in the same-shaped dimensions, but a different size, compared to congruence which is keeping it the same-shaped dimensions, and the same size. I would say this is the same or similar kinds of thought processes needed to enlarge or reduce a sewing or woodworking pattern, re-arrange furniture, or lay a carpet. Changing the size is a little more advanced and the concept is taught later and more formally in geometry, that's all.

With so many H1-B's taking over the departments I work in, it doesn't matter that the jobs are outsourced-proof. They'll just come over here (one commenter suggested dropping math altogether and learning the language your future boss will likely speak). And where I live (Midwest), I've seen more than one East Indian running the gas stations/convenience stores. They are the entrepreneurs of the American masses, not some spoiled text-crazed American kids who play video games into the night.

An interesting thing I learned after Steve Jobs died and I read a bunch of articles on him, and saw it in the comments, that a course in Calligraphy was a seminal event in his life (The Macintosh being the first computer with a typeface). And for every Steve Jobs, there are an army of their workers who have at least learned geometry. There are only going to be so many successful entrepreneurs in the country. The rest have to do the "dirty work" (although, I realize the smaller-scale entrepreneurship referred to).

I say we need to approach it on both fronts, getting more kids interested in math, and teaching it in possibly a more interesting way (I remember my geometry class being very dry and boring, even though I liked the teacher, and he was my cross country/track coach :) ), plus getting more kids interested in the financial and economic aspects of our country (including especially personal finance and investing).

(I wonder about the WP editors putting a picture of algebra as the photo and even in the caption they state it's algebra).


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