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Keith Devlin on “An Apollo Program for Math”

Keith Devlin is a senior researcher at Stanford University, author, and "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. In February, Devlin blogged about an idea of his to reverse the poor Math performance of high school students in one generation:

The US ranks much worse than most of our economic competitors in the mathematics performance of high school students.

We now have the knowledge to turn that around. We could raise the level of mathematics performance across the board, within a single school generation, so that we are number one in the world. All it would take is a one-time, national investment of $100 million over a five-year period. That’s what it would cost to build and put in place a system that could achieve that change, with the existing school system and the existing teachers. Once built, that system would be self-sustaining.

What is "the system that could achieve that change?"

The method is simulation. That’s the way we train pilots to fly aircraft, the way we train astronauts to fly the shuttle and to work in the Space Station, the way we train surgeons, and the way the US Army trains soldiers before they go anywhere near the battlefield.

And that’s the way we should train young people to think mathematically.

The technology to do that has been provided to us by the leisure and entertainment industries. Basically, it’s videogame technology and Web 2.0 infrastructure.

It's an interesting idea. I do wonder, though, whether the open source software world would embrace it and build it for a whole lot less money.

What do you think? Leave your comments here or join the discussion at the MathFuture Google group.

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  1. The entire world would benefit from such a system, it certainly wouldn’t leapfrog the US to #1 in mathematics in one generation. – Mathematicians should think globally and provide answers to the problems of tomorrow. – Thinking in terms of national states doesn’t bring us any further. Or perhaps you are merely worried the US defense industry will lose its competitiveness without the best mathematicians around.

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