Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Math/Science Proficiency vs STEM Careers

Derek Lowe had an interesting corrective to the calls for more Science, Technical, Engineering, and Math (STEMs). I see where he's coming from. And it is very amusing to see non-technical graduates advocating for more STEMs, such as the vast majority of the political leadership on both parties. If it was so good, why couldn't you hack it?

But one thing missing from Lowe's arguments is the failure of math education in America. [We can reasonably argue the various ways of learning science and budgetary needs, but math education is strictly budget neutral.] You can toss a simple arithmatic problem at most Americans, and they'll become frozen with panic and fear if they're without calculators. That math-phobia extends to all math domains, and is remarkably broad-based across all classes. [Talking about the non-STEM population here, which is most Americans in all socio-economic classes.]

Why is that? The evisceration of the rote-learning paradigm in the 1970s is to blame. While it was a good corrective against rote memorization, most basic education require quite a bit of memorization to get started. Especially in math, proficiency with arithmatic can only come from repetitive drills over time. Even after New Math has faded, grade school teachers remain reluctant to train arithmatics in the age of calculators. The Kahn Academy and the Singaporean method both work by going back to the basic drills. Without that foundational understanding of numbers, kids cannot master higher-level material.

We don't need to make everyone into mathematicians. But they don't have to be math-phobes, either. In the rest of the world, people may not like math, nor want to be STEM. But at least they can handle numbers without calculators, they're comfortable with numbers. That's something I'd like to see here, too.

Delilah, SEAD, and A2AD

Defense Industry Daily highlighted an engrossing IAF article on the history of the Delilah cruise/loitering missile. Delilah appears to be one of the first loitering missile, circling the sky looking for surface-to-air missiles. [The BAE ALARM is the other loitering anti-radiation missile, tho its capability and flexibility are more limited.]

The oral history reminds of the heady years of the SEAD development (1960s-1980), when millions of dollars and thousands of men went into defeating Integrated-Air-Defense Systems. It also serves as a reminder that defensive bubbles can be cracked, given time and money. And saturation attacks can be managed, using defense in depth [AEGIS and Naval Aviation]. Neither offense nor defense can reign for long.

The whole Chinese effort into Anti-Access/Area Denial is similarly an effort to erect a defensive bubble, just like the Russian submarine Bastions and US Navy's AEGIS umbrellas. [The only irony is that China is setting up a bubble by piercing USAF and US Navy's bubbles.]

And the American Air-Sea Battle is similarly another effort to crack the shore battery bubbles. In the post-Cold War era, we are seeing a resurging interest in missile Coastal Artillery among the 2nd tier powers.

The contest between the spear and the shield goes on.