Neil's News

Academic Reversal

8 February 2004

In high school many writing assignments required one to submit an essay along with the first and second drafts. Every student I knew wrote the essay then regressed it to create plausible looking precursors. At the time I assumed that this was just a generational gap between the typewriter-using teacher and the wordprocessor-using students.

But subsequent experience indicates that this backwards process is endemic to all levels of education:

  • Write a short computer program. Then create the 'planning' flowchart.
  • Create a user interface for a simple task. Then develop the requirement metrics.
  • Use a single multiplication to get the answer. Then write out a bunch of calculus to 'show your work'.

In each case the process is considered more important that the problem. Consequently the problem tends to become trivial; too trivial to be worth applying the process. Give a student a rigged problem, and one will inevitably get a rigged solution.

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