November 28th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #678 'Math, science, and encouragement'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The president has spoken of the need to encourage students in math and science. In this season of giving, it might be a good time to give them an extra boost.

Dear Mr. President,

I did not mention to you that our elder daughter came home for the weekend. Or maybe I did. In any event, she is winging her way back to Georgia Tech today and bending into the books until Christmas break in a few weeks. (At least she says that’s the plan. Who knows with these college kids?) She is full of wonderful stories about her school and her experiences there. Just wait. Your girls will be off on their own adventures soon enough and you’ll hear similar tales, no doubt.

Her engineering studies have me thinking about China a lot lately. I can’t remember the precise number, but unless I am mistaken they are producing something like…oh say…a million new engineers every six months. Well, maybe it’s not that high, but you get my point. They are stamping them out like license plates.

For all the concerns we are raising about the growing power of China, this is one that I feel continues to be understated, and that’s not good. It is one thing for any nation to grab a temporary economic advantage, but when they invest that heavily in their young people - in something as valuable as engineering education - they are staking a claim to future technological dominance.

And I’m not sure just telling young people to get interested in math and science will cut it. Sure, there are a lot of kids who have a natural interest. But a great many more, I think, are easily daunted by the difficulty of such studies and enchanted by the perception that there is easier money to make in other fields.

What I think is needed is a presidential level, all-out assault on this problem. The target can’t be kids already in college, such as mine, but rather high schoolers and below. Three prongs: 1) we must identify children with a propensity for such work, 2) we must make it easy for them to pursue it, with specialized classes, competitions, and scholarships and 3) we need to show, day in and day out, that we as a nation value this work, that the people who can lead us to tech excellence are critical to the success of our entire culture.

This must go beyond the idea of merely creating more software-millionaires. We need to elevate in our schools the overall level of attention and respect we give to all academic achievement, but especially the accomplishments in the sciences. If children see that science is heroic work that will be rewarded both monetarily and culturally, that could draw the fence-sitters in. And we need them - because even as you read this, another legion of Chinese students is mastering the future.

Call if you can.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Lance

    I agree somewhat with this articel. As an Engineer I give back to my community by going to schools and talking about my area of interest. There are programs out there that bring Engineering Ciriculum to High Schools and Junior High. Project Lead the way is one. But even if you support the education, there needs to be more jobs for us. Engineering Design jobs are far and few in this country with most everything being made outside of this country. The defense industry is really the only thing keeping manufacturing alive in this country...because it's required.

    November 29, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  2. Katherine

    You are so on target with this message !!!!

    November 29, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  3. William of Iowa

    C'mon Tom, it's all about economics. Math and science apply only for reading stock tickers and science for using a computer to invest. The rest of America has been outsourced, friend, our future is dependent on the success of our children staying home and investing in those strong companies who will provide consumers with cheaply made foreign goods and terrific returns for their shares. Let our overseas brothers and sisters worry about engineering and production with all the inherent problems like pollution and energy consumption. Law and Wall Street rule Tom, not MIT or Tech.

    November 28, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  4. marie

    What I think we have to address is who is teaching these subjects. I have son so got a degree in math, and after three years as a white water rafting guide fell in love and came off the river. What profession was he qualified for? Teaching. He took one certification test and given a classroom.

    He never took a class about how to teach. He was monitored once a month his first year and given feed back on his delivery. In his second year, he is not audited at all. Already he is reciting the mantra of blaming the parents. He actually said to me the parents should be teaching themselves algebra so they could help their kids with homework. When I asked him if he had gone down to the middle school to see why the kids were coming to him unable to perform at algebra he had no answer. He did not take kindly to me telling him and his peer chose the job of teaching math, parents did not.

    November 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm |