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It's Their Problem

by Ginger Warfield, University of Washington

Yesterday a graduate student quoted to me with amused pleasure a proposal he had seen for dealing with one of the thornier issues of articulation within the educational system, that of remedial courses at the university level. The proposal was to continue teaching such courses, but to send the bill to the high schools.

This strikes me as a neat embodiment of the antithesis of a solution. I have a clear mental image of the universities sending such a bill, then walking off with a smug smile, dusting their hands. The high schools, meanwhile, forward the bill to the middle schools and in turn walk off, dusting their own hands. Eventually the bill arrives at the elementary schools who forward it to...the parents? society at large? the universities who prepared their teachers? It doesn't much matter. What matters is the diverging circle of people saying to themselves "There. Now it's their problem." As long as some members of the educational system categorize others as a "them," the odds of finding solutions are drastically diminished.

The same options exist for dealing with the challenge of articulation between industry and education. Much the simplest solution is to label each other "them" and walk apart. The alternative is to find each other (which is not as easy as it sounds), learn each other's language (definitely tricky), focus on the points where we connect (a moving target), articulate the problems (more language) and try out some solutions, not all of which can possibly work (frustrating.)

Is there any question which is the more worthwhile course of action--or the more exciting?

Ginger Warfield is in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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Last Update: 02/21/96