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February 17, 2005

Problems in Undergraduate Education

Say that there are three big problems with undergraduate education in America today:

In the mass, how do we teach undergraduates things that they will find useful and beautiful--and what are those useful and beautiful things that we should teach them? Call this the "William Morris" problem.

For the elite, how do we get those potentially extremely talented to fulfill their potential--how do we get the thoroughbred horses that we have painstakingly and expensively led to water to actually drink deep from the Pierian spring? Call this the "No Ross Douthats!" problem.

For those who have difficulty learning to speak the language that is mathematics like a native, how to teach them science in a world where it is a fact that the underlying bones of reality are profoundly mathematical--for that is the conclusion Eugen Wigner's "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" leads us to? Call this the "Friends of Wigner" problem.

Anyone with any answers to any of these please email me. I haven't a clue.

Right now I have the flu, and I'm trying to figure out whether we should give zero, one, or two points to someone who writes that the "Eerie Canal connects the Great Lakes with Hudson's Bay, and thus allows water transport from the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean." Everything after the comma is 100% true...

UPDATE: The consensus is full credit: the part after the comma is right, we don't mark off for spelling mistakes under exam pressure, and from the viewpoint of San Francisco failing to distinguish between two bodies of water both named after Henry Hudson is excusable.

Posted by DeLong at February 17, 2005 06:12 PM