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The Statesman

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Spring Semester Provost Lecture Series Kicks Off

The United States has the wrong focus on how to improve education, according to John Ewing, who thinks good teaching is critical.

“For education, you need teachers,” Ewing explained. “Teachers are the craftsmen of education.”

Ewing, the president of Math for America, was the first speaker for the spring semester’s Provost Lecture Series. He addressed a crowd of approximately 50 people, including President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., in the Simons Center auditorium on Tuesday afternoon.

After earning his PhD. in mathematics from Brown University, Ewing became the Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society and served in that position for 13 years. In 2009, he joined Math for America, a non-profit organization with the goal of improving mathematics education in U.S. public secondary schools. Their strategy is to find, train and retain competent teachers in this field.

The themes of Ewing’s lecture were the purpose of education and what is the best way to accomplish that purpose. Ewing said the answer for the second theme had been the same for the past 2,500 years: good teachers. He brought up some of the great scholars of western history from Plato to John Locke to John Dewey as evidence.

“History remembers the great teachers,” Ewing firmly stated.

However, Ewing continued, the United States has gone in a different direction in evaluating education and the learning process in general: test scores. This is because, he said, the American culture generally has a short-term view on complex problems.

“If you’re going to deal with teachers, you’d better have a long-term view,” Ewing declared.

Instead, Ewing cryptically noted, the focus has been on immediate higher test scores under the guise of student achievement. Former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” echoed this.

However, Obama concurs with some of Ewing’s sentiments, saying that teaching is the best thing for any American who is unsure about what job to apply. This was one of the things that Obama stated was part of his plan to “win the future.”

Closer to Stony Brook, Ewing and Math for America have been working in New York to seek out better teachers and better social conditions for them to teach. Instead of focusing on the bad teachers, Ewing states, the best teachers should be rewarded and  used as examples for those just beneath them.

“It does work,” Ewing said. “The good teachers do serve as models for the others.”

Though the results in Ewing’s plan won’t be immediate, that should not be of concern.

“Real achievement is measured in lifetimes, not one test score.”

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