Anyone interested in education needs to watch this talk by Ken Robinson. Education will almost certainly change in fundamental ways in the next few decades–our current educational system is based on some faulty assumptions, as Ken Robinson points out.
On a related note, I recommend you check out this recent op-ed piece by G.V. Ramanathan, published last weekend. Here’s an excerpt:
How much math do we really need?
Twenty-seven years have passed since the publication of the report “A Nation at Risk,” which warned of dire consequences if we did not reform our educational system. This report, not unlike the Sputnik scare of the 1950s, offered tremendous opportunities to universities and colleges to create and sell mathematics education programs.
Unfortunately, the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body.
There are three steps to this kind of aggressive marketing. The first is to convince people that white teeth, a full head of hair and a sculpted physique are essential to a good life. The second is to embarrass those who do not possess them. The third is to make people think that, since a good life is their right, they must buy these products.
So it is with math education. A lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential to everybody’s daily life. There are even calculus textbooks showing how to calculate — I am not making this up and in fact I taught from such a book — the rate at which the fluid level in a martini glass will go down, assuming, of course, that one sips differentiably. Elementary math books have to be stuffed with such contrived applications; otherwise they won’t be published.