Thursday, September 19, 2013

STEM Crisis: A Political Myth

If necessity is the mother of invention
Then I'd like to kill the guy who invented this
The numbers come together in some kind of third dimension
A regular algebraic bliss
Let's start with something simple, like one and one ain't three
And two plus two will never get you five
There are fractions in my subtraction and x don't equal y
But my homework is bound to multiply
Math suks math suks
I'd like to burn this textbook, I hate this stuff so much
Math suks math suks
Sometimes I think that I don't know that much
But math suks
I got so bored with my homework, I turned on the TV
The beauty contest winners were all smiling through their teeth
Then they asked the new Miss America
Hey babe can you add up all those bucks?
She looked puzzled, then just said "Math Suks"
Math suks math suks
You don't even have to spell it, all you have to do is yell it...
Math suks math suks
Sometimes I think that I don't know that much
But math suks
Geometry, trigonometry and if that don't tax your brain
There are numbers too big to be named
Numerical precision is a science with a mission
And I think it's gonna drive me insane
Parents fighting with their children and the Congress can't agree
Teachers and their students are all jousting constantly
Management and labour keep rattling old sabers
Quacking like those Peabody ducks
Math suks math suks
You don't even have to spell it, all you have to do is yell it...
Math suks math suks
Sometimes I think that I don't know that much
But math suks
If you've ever taught anything even closely resembling a STEM course then you have certainly heard a student excusing their ignorance with "Professor TOD, I just don't do math".  Students at every level say this for one reason only: it works. Society accepts it. Parents accept it: "my kid is the creative type--math isn't her forte". Hell, even teachers accept it. And that is what really suks.

Or is it?

It seems this common mythology surrounding acceptable innumeracy gives unjustified validity to the business drumbeat and chant of "we need more STEM for our high tech industry and America isn't delivering". Those in the field and especially those who've become unemployed as we continue the expansion of our H1-B visas have known for some time this simply does not ring true. And now they have the voice of Robert N. Charette a contributing editor to the IEEE Spectrum singing to their choir. In his recent article in the Spectrum Mr. Charette shows clearly how the numbers just don't add up. Especially not if you're the type of businessman who believes supply and demand are somehow related.

Mr. Charette points to the demand side showing that US business and industry is creating 277,000 STEM jobs per year. That's right--over one quarter of a million jobs per year. That's the demand. Sounds pretty good and if you're as innumerate as Mister Boofay you're probably thinking that IS a righteously large number way bigger than what our homegrown supply can meet.


The supply side figures don't support that supposition. Turns out we are producing 252,000 STEM bachelor degree holders per year. Still short of the demand by 20,000.  But wait! There's more. We pump out 80,000 Master's, 20,000 PhD's and 40,000 Associate's degree holders per year. Now we're over 120,000 over the demand. That's right. We have an almost 50% surplus PER YEAR over annual demand.

And yet industry moguls are whining about the lack of talent and while they are currently importing 50,000 H1B visa holders they demand more. Clearly this is intended to create a wage depressing oversupply and will inevitably contribute to the under and unemployed in STEM. And even if there were a short term supply issue the US is blessed with 11,400,000 STEM degree holders who currently work outside the STEM fields---that does not count the unemployed. Yet that number alone represents a forty year supply of STEM workers in an environment where we are already generating about 50% more STEM graduates than the current demand.

So...if your twoddler giggles when she plays with her toes or smiles at the ceiling fan or even prefers the taste of the blue crayons to the green then just smile and let it go. She may grow up to have the same understanding of numbers as a squirrel (zero, one, infinity: no nuts, my nut, look at all them nuts) but as it turns out that's OK.

Maybe that is what really suks.