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Why are Soviet math textbooks so hardcore in comparison to US textbooks? (2017) (quora.com)
734 points by webdva on April 22, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 661 comments

Disclaimer: I graduated from one of the top math high schools in Moscow in early 90s, I have MS in Math from Moscow State University, and a half finished PhD from the same place.

I think on average the difference between a high school student from Russia and US is negligible. Either country doesn’t really require much to finish school and many kids just do the tests without understanding what is going on. What separates Soviet Union (and now Russian) system is the practice of selecting kids with interest in mathematics / physics into special classes or schools for gifted kids. This government program feeds the mathematics and physics departments in the universities and allows kids who go through this program to get a very early start in mathematics. This is very similar to government sponsored sports programs with talented kids getting help with summer camps, or even all year round training schools.

> I think on average the difference between a high school student from Russia and US is negligible

I went to high school in Russia and then moved to Australia. The difference was immense. It felt like i just dropped 2 year levels. Even the accelerated programs were hopelessly behind the regular curriculum for my age group in Russia. AU/US high school students can't possibly compete against RU or CN high school students. The gap only begins closing around year 11/12, sometimes not until tertiary education.

One of the major factors is this weird anti-intellectualism culture that just doesn't exist in Russia. Doing well at your subjects in Russia put you in the cool group. Doing well at your subjects in AU got you labelled as a nerd. This permeates western culture across the board, hence domestically popular tv shows like Big Bang Theory which have 0 audience in countries that value intellect. I hear the culture of marginalising smart kids is somewhat changing lately though.

The other factor is that westerners really love to coddle and infantalise their children. A 12 year old in Russia is basically treated as a small adult with the associated respect and responsibilities. A 12 year old here is treated (and behaves) like a large baby.

Not the same, but I went from the Polish education system to a British university, and it also felt like it was a massive downgrade.

What really surprised me was the core principle at British unversities - "don't assume prior knowledge of anything". It basically meant that on a CS course, they teach you basic level maths, basic programming skills, you spend the entire 1st year of university learning what we learnt in school around age 15-16. A Polish university absolutely won't be teaching you basic algebra,statistics or core concepts of programing on a CS course - you are simply required to know these things, otherwise wtf are you doing on a CS course.

Also in general, I find the elective system of subjects in British schools to be.....poor. As in, I was(and am) surrounded by perfectly normal adults who are good in certain subjects(the ones they picked) and who have zero knowledge in others(the ones they didn't pick). I feel like my own Polish education has given me a very broad understanding of a lot of different subjects even if I wasn't personally interested in them. Like, even though I went to a school with a "maths and CS focus"(which just meant these two subjects had 2x the number of lessons each week), we still had lessons in history, physics, chemistry, biology, Polish literature.....all of it was mandatory, you couldn't just decide to skip it. At the time, I thought it was useless, but in hindsight I am very grateful for it because it has given me at least basic level of knowledge in many different subjects, whereas my British peers just can't even have a conversation about basic chemistry for instance, since they never took it as a subject.

> What really surprised me was the core principle at British unversities - "don't assume prior knowledge of anything".

The rationale is that you want to give 18 year olds the opportunity to pick a field of study that they're excited about now rather than forcing them to choose something based on what kind of education their parents thought proper for them six years ago. If a single "intro to programming" course and a slightly easier first math course can onboard smart students who otherwise would be hopelessly lost, and the only downside is that a couple of better-prepared students feel a bit bored, that's a small price to pay.

That is just an excuse. You could easily take an "intro to programming" before trying to get into the school. All it does is lower the bar of entry and you can only teach so much in the time given so it will ultimately take time away in the other end.

UC Berkeley (where I did my CS degree) follows this model after admission. There's CS61A, an introductory class for people with some math/computers background, and CS3, an introduction for people coming in with no background. Successful and interested CS3 students are then funnelled into CS61A.

Yes but minus the math; what math there was in 61A was easy. 61A didn't really expect much prerequisite either, but then it took off quickly. A lot of work but not intellectually very hard. It was then taught in Scheme which no one knew. Scheme is an elegant language which we never used again. SICP was the course text which no one ever read.

What I really remember was EE40 taking like a week to explain Ohm's Law. I thought, Ok, I think I've got this class. But then it just went exponential and then the prof just dumped a bunch of chapters on us at the end that he didn't cover and said that'll be on the final. EE40 covered about a third of 105. EE40 just had an insane amount of material and labs. FWIW, I think 16A+B covers better material than EE40 did although I have a soft spot in my heart for what was EE20.

BTW, Calculus 1A at Berkeley, if you didn't take AP Calculus in high school, was brutal. Pointlessly so, since most math in non-math courses was pretty straightforward.

But all the freshman courses at Berkeley were hard. You either got up to speed or you got out. Upper division was even harder, but you were prepared by then.

61A was easy in terms of math, but hard in terms of everything else. Every student I met who had never programmed before taking 61A found it intellectually quite challenging, both before and after the switch to Python; even without math, thinking in terms of computation and execution is not natural.

Given that second-hand experience, I found the excision of all of SICP's math from the curriculum to be quite a good choice, as adding advanced math as another prerequisite would have raised the barrier to entry even higher.

(Side note: your description of EE40 sounds like a professor who didn't schedule well, not intentional difficulty.)

(As you know) most of the lower div EECS courses inherit slide decks and the coverage is set by the department. CS70 has a wonderful set of notes which should be a book. I regularly go through the CS61C, CS152 and CS252 decks; those are great Berkeley classes. CS162 has a good set and then Kubi has his which even better. Hilfinger's CS61A notes were quite good. The deck the EE40 prof used was based on a previous semester and it was pretty good. It's just that the class is an insane amount of material and work.

There was an intent behind the work. All of the lower div classes are hard with a massive amount of content. But you can show up a Berkeley from a substandard high school on the wrong side of the tracks and blow it out of the water; a buddy of mine was like that and went to Columbia for his PhD. It's very simple. You just have to work. Immediately. Day one. I don't think Berkeley EECS rewards creativity. Indeed I think EECS punishes creativity. But EECS teaches its students to work their asses off, regardless of whether they came from Lick Wilmerding or Skyline.

Go Bears.

Don't know if the workload was all that hard compared to, say, the experience of my MIT friends, but the level of intellectual rigor and methodical thought was high.

What's wrong with a low bar to tertiary education? It lets disadvantaged kids get in and catch up. As long as the standards are high by the end everything is fine right?

In theory? Nothing at all.

In practice, some see the fact many tech employers give coding tests to people with CS degrees as a sign the standards at the end aren't as consistently high as one might hope.

This is a stupid argument. Is one to suppose that the brain teasers that were popular in interviews 15 years ago implied that universities weren’t teaching people to be clever or something?

I think a lot of interviewing style is fashion driven.

Also computer science isn’t necessarily about actually coding anyway. It’s mostly about algorithms and structure and complexity. Similarly, anyone who knows anything about university mathematics courses does not expect fresh graduates to be particularly good at arithmetic

The difference is that programming is an essential craft. Algorithms are fundamental here, but it seems like teaching „structure and complexity“ equals to teaching paradigms that where en vogue a generation ago. This kind of knowledge is distracting, pretentious and even harmful.

On the other hand, I find it hard to imagine you can make a multiple year degree out of just programming. Hence why the best courses will have a mix of both practical and theory.

It works in practice as well. That is what junior college is all about. About a third of Berkeley graduates came from JCs. Transferring in at the JC level is competitive and hard and getting out is always hard.

CS isn't programming, so I don't think it's unreasonable to make sure a candidate from a CS background has the basics down.

Nothing, if you let people who do not want to waste time (and tuition fees!) on repeating basic stuff skip ahead.

I also studied CS on polish university and I feel we had the best of both worlds:

Initial programming courses were electives, where you could choose between more basic or more advanced "intro to programming" course. Basic had python, while advanced had c and c++.

Similarly logic classes were in basic and advanced groups and it was easy to choose the group you want and switch groups during course.

In fact, I was the guy who came for CS degree after never doing great at math or CS in high school and it reaaaaaally helped me to get up to speed with the others.

If those people who do not waste time are so smart why they have to be hold by the hand and given curriculum? (tuition fees you can count as means for getting a diploma, but also if someone is soo smart, why does he need a diploma anyway?)

What I imagine really smart person would do is: go to people giving the course for additional work or talk with them to show where they are at. Skip classes, read something else while in a class. Take advantage of knowledge to not care about the course curriculum and do his own research.

But that is my idea and maybe people who think their time is wasted could be a bit more humble and learn to work with other people.

In principle, yeah. Read something else in class -- better to just skip it then. It is not uncommon for people to skip lectures and just do the exam.

>If those people who do not waste time are so smart why they have to be hold by the hand and given curriculum?

There's a culture of "rules apply to everyone" and people are not used to asking for special treatment. So if you don't make it super obvious, people will assume they can't ask for adjustments. Also, no tuition so weaker incentive to get your money's worth.

You did not get my point, if someone is truly exceptional they skip classes. If otherwise rules apply to everyone keep your head down.

People who think they are exceptional are mostly just casual. (wink wink instagram)

> go to people giving the course for additional work

Always seems to be the solution. It doesn't scale, even if you know how to make a PCB or a cupboard (for example), it doesn't take 0 time. That extra work would be extra time spent, which is nonsense if the goal is to demonstrate competency and reduce wasting time.

Does not scale in what way? Exceptional people are rare, just as I wrote if someone is really exceptional he will blow through all this with no issues and minimal time. There is loads of people who just think are exceptional just like all those people on Instagram.

Does not scale in the way that the day has limited hours, extra work might be okay for a few courses, but not for more because you simply run out of time. There's also the issue that that extra work is given the same grade in the end, but you've spent more time. And no, knowledge doesn't make things take zero time.

Plus, the extra work is still about the same course material - instead of one hello world you write two. It's not hard, it becomes depressing and demoralizing.

In my experience, it's like being sabotaged. If one has a previous interest in the subject but is forced to complete all the same courses it gets very very tedious. Akin to being forced to fill middle school worksheets - you can do it, but it takes time and is just mind-numbing.

I think US universities are forced to cover things again due to a failure in the K-12 system of schooling that precedes it, and the lack of adequate testing to weed out ill prepared individuals.

In many countries, these kids would probably not get into college in the first place due to failing preparatory tests. In the US there are many financial incentives to pull in as many kids as possible and that may cause a lowering of barriers.

An observation in the maths, many countries in Asia cover calculus at the middle school level and continue into high school, in the US I noticed many public schools categorize calculus as an advanced (sometimes elective) high school subject.

The total amount of a study program is limited, if you spend a year on repeating the basic concepts, that's a huge part of your "learning time budget" that you're not not able to devote on learning more advanced topics.

Let's say lowering the bar has the result of making two courses absolutely useless for you, because you've already mastered everything there is to know about them. And let's say your typical bachelor's degree includes 30 or more courses. The time "taken away" from you is around 5%. Time that surely you could spend by studying for the other courses a little bit more diligently, by solving all the optional homework exercises, by going the extra mile for projects.

That said, if after your undergraduate degree you are unsatisfied by the amount of stuff you've learned thus far, there's an easy solution: continue on and pursue a master's degree.

In my case it was first two semesters. Being forced to write what are basically hello worlds what you wrote six years ago was so asinine.

Some universities will let you skip intro courses by passing a test.

In my opinion, British universities focus less on technical skills/knowledge, but more on research skills. Initiative is encouraged. You come out knowing more useful things, with experience in independent work/research, and with more confidence in yourself.

A Russian university would absolutely hammer you with technical knowledge (including in many irrelevant subjects), but when it comes to actually doing an independent research project plagiarism is rampant. As a student, you are belittled at every step. You are unlikely to get involved in any independent research, initiative is discouraged, you learn a lot of things that are not useful.

However, I agree with other posters that British universities bizarrely seem to often reward/celebrate athletics more than academic achievements. Somehow, the top of the social hierarchy are the kids that are good at team sports. In a Russian university, how you do at sports is for the most part irrelevant and if you are not involved in the sport yourself, you will likely never hear about someone's sporting achievements. That makes for a healthier social environment, I think.

> British universities bizarrely seem to often reward/celebrate athletics more than academic achievements.

I'm not sure how you get that impression.

American universities do this, but (with a couple of famous exceptions, like the traditional boat race between Oxford and Cambridge) British universities don't care about sport.

The social hierarchy was just separate, and had no bearing on anything academic. I didn't care for a second what the rugby team were doing (generally drinking themselves into a stupor), and they didn't care about me. That's just a reflection on British culture in general.

At Oxford, for instance, social life mostly happens at colleges. The way things are set up, you simply do not get to spend that much time with your course-mates - you do not interact with them during lectures, and then everyone goes back to their colleges.

And social life in colleges is (sadly) dominated by drinking at the college bar, drinking in clubs, and dinners in the dining hall, where everyone seems to sit according to some unofficial hierarchy (with being in the top sports team in a popular sport seemingly correlated with being near the top of that hierarchy). Inter-college and Oxford vs Cambridge competitions in all kinds of sports (but primarily rowing) are a massive part of college life. The university rewards athletes with awards of blues and half-blues, drawings on college walls celebrating sports victories, prominent mentions in college publications etc. Academics, on the other hand, are not given nearly as much attention - you would almost never know how good someone is doing in their studies, especially since they are probably studying a completely different subject to you.

It would be common to go and support your college sports team in, say, rowing; whereas nobody really cared so much about academic competition between colleges. Those academic victories were never really mentioned or celebrated.

I went to a mid-ranked UK university and while social life is definitely drinking and partying heavy, sports played basically no role in it at all, like not even a bit. I don't remember a single sports match even being advertised let alone having a major spectator turnout.

This is an American perspective but I think this could be an Anglo phenomenon so let me take a crack at it.

When I was brought up, the image of what a successful student was, was a very well rounded one. The perfect student was a diligent worker in all courses and always an athlete. Athletics was very very tied to the image of being a proper student because basically athletics = team and team = learning to work with others to overcome challenges and work towards a goal + being physically fit.

This is the gist of it, it's a bit hard to explain without living it. Also there is a religious aspect thrown in because America.

This was the image of the perfect young adult given to me by Boy Scouts and the image my private school friends were given by their schools. At my public school though everything was a bit watered down as we got far less development attention than private school kids would get.

For non-Americans reading: private school = good, public school = bad, in terms of education in the US(usually). I know this is flipped in some places.

> when I was brought up, the image of what a successful student was, was a very well rounded one.

I think this idea is dead, or close to it. Almost all the people I knew in college were there for a simple reason: to get a piece of paper that says they can now participate in the work force. Being educated was more of a side effect.

Plenty of people complain about gen eds or other requirements for degrees that are not explicitly related to the major.

> For non-Americans reading: private school = good, public school = bad,

This really depends on the university, the professors there, and the field. My school (USC, no, the other one) is #1 for international business, etc.

Athletics is extremely emphasized, though. I understand that colleges have to discriminate somehow to give people scholarships, and that sports make an insane amount of money for colleges, but it always struck me as odd that getting a full ride for being excellent at a sport is even a thing.

That is exactly it.

To me, that seems like an odd culture for universities to encourage/perpetuate, given that most top professors at top universities are unlikely to be particularly athletic, and the word "intellectual" is often used as almost an antonym of "athlete".

I do think it's worth adding, though, that from what I've heard (and given my own experiences), the culture in Oxford/Cambridge is not at all representative of University culture generally in British Universities.

True, yet they are some of the best universities not only in Britain, but in Europe and the world. So they are highly relevant in this discussion as we are talking about the top maths/physics education in each country for top students. E.g. when Russian universities/schools are mentioned here, it is usually Moscow State University or another top university or school that is assumed.

And in many ways, e.g. when it comes to drinking and partying, I would guess the culture in other British universities is even worse. In a top Russian university you simply would not have the time, and they would not hesitate to kick you out; graduating from university can be more difficult than getting into one.

The criticism, then, should be directed at Oxbridge, and not at [almost] all other British universities which don't do this.

I went to Imperial College. "Work hard, play hard" was some kind of motto. Most people followed the first part, the second part was optional. There was more "play" at weekends, and less during the week, compared with my friends at other universities. Mostly, it meant focussing on work during the week to leave time at the weekend.

I remember two mentions of sport: when a friend turned out to be on the hockey C team, and when the student newspaper announced that we'd lost some traditional cup [1]. You can see just how little attention was given to the game by the number of spectators [2].

(It would help the UK if the drinking age for beer and wine were reduced to 16. People can then get too drunk and do silly stuff with some oversight from their parents, and be a bit more mature about it at university. See Denmark for a similar Northern European country with this.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottle_Match

[2] https://twitter.com/hashtag/bottlematch2018

On your final point about the drinking age:

The minimum purchasing/public drinking age is 18 (other than a single pint with a meal), but there's no practical restriction on parents letting their kids drink in private. My parents encouraged me once I was around 16 to join in with the adults whilst they had drinks. This led to me getting silly drunk a couple of times but with proper supervision. Same thing with going to some college house parties with 6th form friends - their parents knew that at the end of the night all the kids we're being picked up by their family.

The problem is if parents don't consider this and just ban drinking for kids up until they leave the house and aren't under their control any more. That's what causes people to go out of control at Uni since it might be literally their first experience with alcohol, or at least more than "1 glass with a meal" etc.

In MSU of early 00's most students drank a lot. I certainly did, mostly with other people from schools #2 and #57 already mentioned in this thread. But there was another company with a reputation of "real crazy drunkards". They were from another excellent high school, distinct from the Konstantinov lineage: the Kolmogorov's boarding school. Most of them left parents' house at age of 15.

My sister was at a private school in the UK and they were given drinks(a single glass of champagne) at certain events even before they turned 18, with permission from parents. Like you said, it's only illegal to buy alcohol under 18, but there's no problem with consumption itself.

I was given Buck's Fizz (Champagne and orange juice) when I was 5, at the birthday party of a super-posh boy who lived in the village. His grandfather didn't even ask my mum first. Upper class people apparently have different rules.

At Imperial, when the Google London office was new, the feedback from staff for why so few students hung around at their recruitment event was the lack of alcohol. Overturning this HQ-imposed very American policy apparently took significant effort.

In a top Russian university you simply would not have the time, and they would not hesitate to kick you out; graduating from university can be more difficult than getting into one.

Are you sure? I studied math in MSU in early 00's. Most of my coursemates drank a lot. I took some silly pride in drinking a lot and still learning enough to get good grades, but a lot of us just weren't bothered by getting worse grades. You had to be exceptionally and repeatedly bad at the exams to be kicked out.

It varies by course and college. My college had a relatively small number of maths students and would give a prize to the top performers each year. We all knew who got the prize and what grade everyone got. Some of my friends were top athletes in niche sports, but none of us really cared about the boat race, varsity rugby, or anything like that. Social life was centred much more around drinking than sport. I don't think our dining hall arrangement had anything to do with sports teams, official or otherwise.

Possibly relevant quote from Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (talking about the early '60s):

"The prevailing attitude at Oxford at that time was very anti-work. You were supposed to be brilliant without effort, or to accept your limitations and get a fourth-class degree. I took this as an invitation to do very little. I’m not proud of this, I’m just describing my attitude at the time, shared by most of my fellow students."

> What really surprised me was the core principle at British unversities - "don't assume prior knowledge of anything"...

I think it is a good thing. There is a big difference between doing well on a test and understanding the subject. You may think you know basic algebra because you can find the correct value for x, but chances are that you don't really know what you are doing. So having a refresher course telling you what you are actually doing when solving an equation, and how it fits in the big picture is valuable.

The thing is: when you relearn these basic subjects, you do it with a wider field of view. For example, when I first learned derivatives, I knew it had was about rate of change, and I knew the formulas, but I didn't quite get the relationship between slopes and derivatives. It came back later, as I was more familiar with things like linear interpolation and how to manipulate curves in general.

Yeah, I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, just that I was really surprised by it. In the entirety of my Polish education it was drilled into our heads that we had to be super good at algebra for example, because "no one at university will wait for you to learn, you have to know it before you start" - and then I went to a British uni, and well, people did wait for us to catch up, which lead to me having a very relaxed 1st year, while I know from my friends that at Polish unis the 1st year is actually the worst one as that's where a lot of people get kicked out for failing exams and there is a lot of catching up to do. In a British uni it was the opposite - I have no idea what you'd need to do to get kicked out of the course in 1st year, I've never heard about that happening to anyone, while in some Polish courses the attrition rate is above 50% in the first year.

UK universities generally have a low attrition rate (at least to failing exams). If you struggle with the subject you may wind up dropping out on your own due to stress, but if you stick with it you'll probably still technically get a degree, just a third or an 'ordinary' (which is basically a fail: I don't know many employers which will count it as a degree).

Also, the way mathematics is taught at high school might not prepare you well for the way you use it at university.

Maths in high school focuses more on applying methods (taking a derivative etc.); maths at university (even on a CS course) is more about constructing mathematical models and arguments.

It can almost feel like a completely different subject.

It is interesting that you say that because I had huge variations in my test results, dropping from top of my class to the bottom in an instant, then back to the average.

At one point I met a guy who was working on ways for computers to solve math problems. He told me that early college level problems are actually easier to solve than high school problems for his algorithms. The reason is that while college problems have more steps, and are therefore harder for students, you essentially just need to string theorems together. High school level problems are simpler (less steps) but require significantly more intuition.

And that's what I think happened with my grades: I was never good at math, but I had good intuition. And the switch from using intuition to using actual rigorous mathematical thinking killed me. It was like a completely different subject, and it took me years to catch up.

I wouldn't say if was it was different when it comes to applying methods vs constructing models.

I also moved from the Polish to British system and I do agree with your first point, but not really with the second one. I really welcomed the ability to focus more (but not only) on things I was more into.

A major difference for me was the approach to grading. In Poland, you might attempt to pass an exam until you do pass it. In Britain, you take an exam and you either pass or not. You can even pass the year if you fail an entire subject. Universities specifically want a certain % of people passing so they do doctor the numbers.

The most important thing is the end result. And here, I believe, the UK universities are better: they actually give you way more practical skills, while Polish unis give you more knowledge. If you want to be a scientist you might prefer #2, but for having a good job #1 is way better.

One thing Polish education teaches is how to remember 100 random facts in 2 days and forget them immediately after the exam. This really trains short-term memory, but I don't think it's worth training it for 8+4+5=17 years so much :)

Also it teaches you that if you don't cheat the system on the subjects that doesn't matter to you - you will have worse grades than people who have the common sense to focus on a few subjects and cheat on everything else.

I guess it instills some healthy scepticism and antisystem attitude, but it can't be good for society if everybody first instinct is "is that rule for real, or bullshit like most of them?"

I noticed this when comparing American vs British degrees that the British ones seemed much much more focused on a topic.

American 4 year degrees require you getting a reasonably well rounded education.

I have a 4 year degree in comp sci but I was required to learn state history, Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Art, Communications, and probably some other things off the top of my head that I've forgotten.

My issue with the US system is that the universities in general are pretty good, but before university the education is garbage. All of these "well rounded" things I just mentioned they could have easily taught me in high school instead of wasting so much time on random things or reteaching the same things over and over.

Essentially because of the cost of US uni they wasted my money making me have to pay for my well rounded education and now upon writing this I just realized that despite the downgrade so to speak I would prefer a British degree as I think theyre shorter and if I'm to pay I just want to get what I came for which is CS skills.

I believe British kids(non-Scottish ones) have to pay some amount for Uni right? Do you pay in Poland? This could be part of the reason for the difference.

Polish universities are completely free. And yes, British universities are not free, they have recently gotten pretty expensive(£9000/year), with the exception of Scottish ones which have different rules.

"Pretty expensive" is a relative term. For comparison, one year's cost of tuition at Boston University is $53,000, plus $16,000 housing, plus $1,000 for books and supplies.

Don't forget parking. My university realized they could charge upwards of $400/semester for a spot in one of the few garages. With all the housing being built now I imagine in a few years it'll be $600+.

It pains me that my initial thought was "that's not expensive in the slightest compared to $50k/year". America sucks sometimes.

I appreciate general knowledge and wide interest Polish shools can give you, especially after I worked with people from UK, and I noticed I knew more about their history than they did, despite graduating computer science :).

But one effect the Polish education system has is rampant cheating. It was expected (if officialy discouraged) that kids good at "hard sciences" will cheat on "humanities". Kids who were good at biology and wanted to become doctors were supposed to care about math and language less, etc. But they still had to have good average grades, so they were cheating on everything that wasn't on the entrance exams for medical schools (nowadays there's final exam at school instead of entrance exams at universities, but it changes nothing - there's still a few subjects you have to be good at and everything else you just have to have good grades in).

In effect adults are saying "this you should really know if you want to be X, and everything else you should somehow have good grades in, I don't care how".

So kids cheated on the subjects they weren't considering important for their future. I had wide interests and treated most subjects seriously but still I cheated on some geography tests because they were absurd - teacher expected us to remember top 5 exporters and importers of each of like 30 different resources and foods. And to remember how many tons of X each produced...

It was literally remembering tables of hundreds of numbers for 1 test and then forgetting them immediately. And that test was the same every year (data was from like 10 years ago :) ), and we had the test and the answers from the previous year. I'm sure the teacher knew it, but making a new one was too much hassle. It was basically an exerise in cheating the system and showing kids how absurd it is and how dumb you have to be to follow the rules.

And then there were subjects that were unimportant for everybody (no entrance exams depended on them), so even teachers teaching them expected everybody to cheat. And that was like 30% of all the subjects in high school - stuff like economy, plastic art, music, philosophy, religion, ethics, defense training, politics and society knowledge, even computer science (because computer science entrance exams were all about math, and computer science in high school was mostly microsoft office tutorial and playing games while teacher pretends to teach).

This culture of the top hard sciences students cheating & not caring about the required humanities classes happens in the US too, at least at top universities/colleges that are heavily focused on match/science.

It was definitely a thing where I went to college. The humanities classes were very easy compared to the engineering/science/math classes. The school required them to try and round people out. But the humanities teachers were lazy or unskilled enough that it became exceedingly easy for people to cheat.

The canonical example is the humanities teacher who gives the exact same tests every time he/she teaches the class for 20 years. After a couple years every fraternity & sorority had a file in their study room that had every assignment & test problem that professor ever gave. So you'd have one student from the fraternity/sorority who was low on the totem pole go to class to collect the homework/requirements. Everyone else would just look at the test files to get the answers and then show up for the tests. Generally everyone would get an A, including the students who never went to class except on test days.

This was partly evil, but it was also partly students prioritizing their work hours on the vastly harder courses they were taking in their fields of study, namely the courses that were important to doing well in their field.

I graduated with a 3.7, I didn't really cheat like this, but I did put lower priority on getting top marks in the humanities class. If I got a B in a humanities class in order to allow myself to spend more time on a Computer Science class so that I could get an A in the CS class instead of a B or C that was fine with me.

At the high school level in the US everything is bifurcated into a two tier system.. one tier for the serious students who want to do well and go to college. Another tier that is state sponsored baby sitting for the students who don't want to do well and whose parents don't care.

It varies by university and study.

I went to a state university in the US, my science classes were pretty rigorous, with professors saying "you have 1 week to know everything up to Chapter 6, if you didn't get this in high school, tough".

In STEM curriculums, you have to choose an interdisciplinary science track, I chose Biology and Ecology because I thought it would be easier than Chemisty. It was much more complex than anything I was ever exposed to in High School and then spent 0 time on catching anyone up.

I don't regret it.

Yes. It is odd that in the British system at age 16 you can choose to study mathematics and physics and literally nothing else. (I blame this for my poor history knowledge.)

Well in the UK the subjects you select is very closely tied to which University you can go to. Some universities require maths and will not accept people who haven't done it (sometimes even more advanced maths is required).

Some universities don't require maths and so will teach it to everyone who's applied. Some don't require it but force you to take a year of it if you haven't done it. and others require it and reject you if you haven't done it.

I'm not sure what you mean by "never took it as a subject". In the UK you study Biologly, Chemistry and Physics up to and including year 11 (16 years old). I don't believe you can opt out of those, along with English and Mathematics. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to hear that what we did learn in those years was behind a lot of Europe/USA.

Right,ok, I wasn't aware of that. I'm just basing this on the experience with my own sister, who went to a British school at the age of 15 and immediately picked only the few subjects that interested her and didn't have to do anything else. By age 18 when taking her A-levels the school actually limited her to only taking subjects where she had a high chance of getting a good grade as to not accidentally lower the average for the school. So in her final year at school she only had like 3 subjects, where I at the same point at a Polish school had like 10 subjects.

Normally, people choose around 10 GCSEs (taken in the school year they turn 16, the school year starts on 1 September). They choose 3-5 subjects for A level.

For GCSE, "minor" subjects can be abandoned -- I stopped studying art, "technology" (design/engineering) and German (since I continued with French). At A level, the majority of students focus on closely related subjects (e.g. maths and science), which I think is the weakness of this system.

Harry Potter has essentially the same system (GCSEs = OWLs, A levels = NEWTs), this isn't something J K Rowling invented.

It's unfortunate your sister couldn't study more subjects. Parents who knew the system might have been able to push the school to allow her to study more, but I can't find anything online where parents/students are grumbling about this. (Again, Harry Potter has the same situation -- Prof. Snape says he only takes the best students into his NEWT class.)

This was not my experience with university education in the uk. I studied mathematics and we had perhaps two lectures of recap of the “further maths” A-level. One reason is that not all schools could provide all of this course so it wasn’t a hard requirement; another reason was to introduce consistent notation that would be used in the rest of the degree.

Similarly in the uk mathematics curriculum there are a bunch of “applied” modules and schools choose which to teach. Some students would have only done mechanics and some only statistics, for example, so the corresponding university courses would have to start at what might be already known for some students.

Probably this depends on the university, what they look for in students, and more generally the strength of the students they do get. There are a lot of university students in the uk but obviously some will be stronger than others and the distribution varies by university.

One part of this doesn't make sense to me. Can only talk about German universities, and I started in 2003, but...

They will start with math you already know, but only in the first semester, so from October until Christmas, from then on everything is mostly new. But... to be eligible to study you kind of have to have had math on that level at school. with no exceptions.

But for anything programming related? In the late 90s/early 00s there was ZERO mandatory programming in school, and if you were really, really lucky if there was any graded course. We had some elective courses but they were not really awesome and only there because one teacher wanted to do them.

So, I'm also against rehashing stuff you should know, but if you can't know it from school, why wouldn't they start at the beginning?

That's precisely the case with British schools/universities too. I know now that programming has been added to the curriculum, so in years time these intro courses might no longer be necessary, but the opportunity for prior CS/programming education depended heavily on which school you went to and that's a massive red flag for trying to enable people from all backgrounds to be able to study.

> What really surprised me was the core principle at British unversities - "don't assume prior knowledge of anything".

My experience was that even if all of the students prior to university studied maths A-Levels, we all studied different topics. Before those two year A-Levels, we all studied different topics in GCSEs. There is so much time wasted giving everyone the same knowledge because of how our system is set up with different exam boards.

I don't know if this is the case in other countries.

You don't get to choose different maths A-levels in Russia. There is one state standard that every school and every student has to stick to. You can have accelerated or deeper "special schools" but you can't evade the state standard on maths or you won't get you high school diploma.

There is a state standard in England and Wales (and another standard in Scotland). It's called the National Curriculum, although I'm not sure if it has a different name for A-levels.

There are multiple implementations of that standard, in the form of exams that meet the standards. The government checks the exams satisfy their standards.

For example, an exam on history might by on the 20th century Britain, and a different one might use 19th century Europe.

Again, the Russian standard doesn't give you choices. Everyone has to know logarithms, derivatives and certain chapters of history.

The advanced maths selective school will hammer you with more complicated geometry problems, and some contents of the first few uni courses.

Everyone in England also has to know logarithms and derivatives. There's much less flexibility for maths.

For history, the government requires that they:

• develop and extend their knowledge and understanding of specified key events, periods and societies in local, British, and wider world history; and of the wide diversity of human experience

• engage in historical enquiry to develop as independent learners and as critical and reflective thinkers

• develop the ability to ask relevant questions about the past, to investigate issues critically and to make valid historical claims by using a range of sources in their historical context

• develop an awareness of why people, events and developments have been accorded historical significance and how and why different interpretations have been constructed about them

• organise and communicate their historical knowledge and understanding in different ways and reach substantiated conclusions

The topics should be:

• from three eras: Medieval (500-1500), Early Modern (1450-1750) and Modern (1700-present day)

• on three time scales: short (depth study), medium (period study) and long (thematic study)

• on three geographical contexts: a locality (the historic environment); British; and European and / or wider world settings

and "British history must form a minimum of 40% of the assessed content over the full course."

Beyond that, it's up to the people making the exams.

I think this is great -- everyone should learn the techniques ("to investigate issues critically" etc) but the school, teacher and student have some flexibility in their learning. At university or in life, it hardly matters whether I focussed on Roman Britain or European WWII history to achieve this.


> There are multiple implementations of that standard, in the form of exams that meet the standards. The government checks the exams satisfy their standards.

In other countries, all students get the exact same exam.

Different exam boards is not the reason -- a single exam board can (and does) offer the flexibility of topic in areas the National Curriculum allows this, and sticks to what's prescribed elsewhere.

I think if you feel time is wasted for something like history, geography etc that people have uneven knowledge of, that's because they've failed to learn the techniques or fundamentals, and can only apply what they've learned to a single topic. There's little difference to everyone having to study WWII at GCSE, then only knowing what (not why) at A-level.

Science and maths have a lot less flexibility.

There's a big difference in quality of British universities


I'm not sure why the reason for superior performance matters. Genetics are just one tiny factor. Good parenting and nutrition are often more important.

> One of the major factors is this weird anti-intellectualism culture that just doesn't exist in Russia.

It was the same thing in Romania, at least in the '90s, when I went to school/high-school. It was always strange to me seeing all those American movies of the "nerds"/geeks getting persecuted by the "cool" kids, it certainly didn't happen to kids in my school and I'm pretty sure it generally didn't happen to kids generally around the country.

I know because I was a "nerd" guy but I also played sports and actively enjoyed doing that, was never made fun of by my high-school colleagues because of me studying/getting high grades, that would have been pretty awkward to hear.

It even went further: in Romania, there was a popular movie in the 80s where the main plot is a high school student going to the math olympiad and his classmates cheering for him (with additional romantic threads of course).

Obviously all culture, and certainly mass culture in the Soviet bloc was controlled for "proper social message". I don't suppose Romania was more lax in respect to that?

A movie cheering for, or even trivializing anti-social behaviors would find it difficult to go past censorship (not to mention - to be conceived in the first place...)

It's for the same reason that you'd be hard-pressed to find a pre-1989 Central/Eastern European movie depicting any subcultures (like punks or hippies) sympathetically.

Yes, that's a good point, and it was a positive side-effect of Soviet times that intellectual pursuits were valued/supported, especially those that were "pure" enough (math, chess, etc.) to be harmless to the regime.

In the West the mass culture is also controlled in some way (for political correctness).

You're correct, but anti-intellectualism (as defined for the context of this thread) doesn't belong to its targets.

What movie is this?

Based on my experience (Poland) bullying typically targets social ineptitude and sycophantism towards teachers, which tends to be somewhat correlated with good performance at school. But I've never really seen anyone being persecuted for good grades as such.

I wouldn't assume that's the case in American schools, though - not based on movies, at least. Could be just a convenient stereotype peddled by "college comedies", not a genre I'd take as valid social commentary

> But I've never really seen anyone being persecuted for good grades as such.

As someone who went through the US public education system in a lower-class neighborhood in the 2000s, I can't speak for wealthier neighborhoods [1], but people are definitely persecuted solely for their grades.

[1] One of the most interesting things about American culture is the dichotomy we have due to the large population and inequality (meaning there's ~no group overlap prior to college) - educational experiences had been so vastly different for many I met in college, and we were shocked at hearing the other side's experiences.

I don't know if it's a class thing so much as an aspiration thing. In my diverse community, which could be broadly characterized as "middle -class/upper middle class black, lower-middle class/middle class white," it was the people who put on airs who had the biggest problems with me getting higher marks than them. There was also a transition; when I was younger, I got the most guff from the ghetto-fabulous black kids and got along relatively well with the white kids. Starting in middle school and intensifying in high school, the black kids seemed to chill and the hostility and ostracization from the white kids grew. I attribute this to the changing social dynamics: while the black kids who weren't getting the best-of-the-best scores had already been tracked into standard classes and could read the writing on the wall in terms of how academia was going to treat them going forward, the mediocre, insecure, and would-be upwardly-mobile white kids were becoming aware of the precariousness of their situation. They'd been boosted beyond their natural ability by savvy parents and a system set up to do so. An aloof black kid waltzing into class and getting by with little effort was threatening. God forbid he learn to study.

There is also this often link-to essay by Paul Graham, called "revenge of the nerds" [1], that was also one of the reasons why I wrote about the situation in US high-schools (of which I have no direct experience).

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/icad.html

Frankly I find it difficult to figure out how the essay relates to the subject. Care to expand on it a bit?

In Romania in high school (Sf. Sava) being good at math and physics made you automatically very popular, everyone wanted to sit near you whenever you had written exams :) In any case, smart people were appreciated, there were no "nerds".

A Sava person in the wild :) My significant other went to Lazar and I wasn't aware of the rivalry between the two high-schools until I met her, I personally grew up in a small-to-medium town where these school rivalries were pretty much absent.

It's also sociologically interesting because Sava/Lazar/Vianu people (or, generally speaking, people who went to good Bucharest high-schools, it's probably the same for other big-ish Romanian cities like Cluj or Timisoara) are more "aware" of the high-school they went to and they generally tend to keep friends with their high-school colleagues for way longer (my so's boss went to Sava and he's still active friends with his former Sava colleagues 25+ years after finishing high-school). Like I said, we don't have that thing in small-ish cities.

I say it's interesting because I kind of noticed the same thing in this thread with people who went to prestigious schools in Moscow (#57, #2), they tend to remember fondly said schools and some of them kept closely in touch with their former colleagues.

I keep in touch with former colleagues from high school, nobody from college, if that tells anything. The problem is that all these people live abroad, I am the only one living in Romania.

There was no rivalry between Sava and Lazar 30 years ago, except for the Cismigiu park. They were in the top 5 schools in Bucharest, but there was no direct competition, they were all considered good places to study and kids used to choose based on the location and other preferences. Lazar had easier access to Cismigiu and lower admission grades, Sava was in a strange neighborhood but a nice, larger building, MF1 (Vianu) was smaller and harder to reach from some places, etc. They all had good teachers back then, no longer these days.

> Like I said, we don't have that thing in small-ish cities.

It's definitely a thing even in smaller cities with good highschools. Reunions for 10,20,30,40 years are very common and attended by all, including teachers still alive, etc.

We all have reunions, but I was saying that apart from them we don't keep that well in touch and we don't seem to show that 'esprit de corps' showed for example by OP (who mentioned his high-school) and by other people who went to prestigious high-schools from bigger cities.

Oh in small towns there is definitely some of that too, as in former classmates doing favors to each other, doing business together, as a miniature cartel running towns -- what I noticed to change in the past ~20years is that a good part of the elite left the country, so these local groups fell apart.

To add more color, the top few high schools in Bucharest at the time were all highly competitive, with low % admission rates. So the student body was naturally skewed towards more academically inclined students. In a sense, if you made it in you were more or less a "nerd" compared to the general population.

I was the nerd in my class and I was bullied at primary school in Poland in 90s, but that's because I had lots of pretty obvious sicknesses (asthma, skin allergies, half the time I was going to school with my arms bandaged, I wasn't participating in sports, etc.).

Being good at everything was actually cooler than being bad, especially if you were pretending you're naturally smart and didn't have to work to achieve that. I never understood how come kids in American TV are bullied for being smarter than the others, usually being smart is an advantage. On the other hand if you worked hard for grades or (even worse) were a favorite of some teacher and sucked up to her - you were a "kujon" and that was very uncool.

So everybody pretended they are brilliant and never study for even 10 minutes just know everything :)

It's not that way anymore. That's even "propagated" to movies (see the scene in 21 Jump Street where they go back to high school and unsuccessfully try to persecute smart kids).

But as an American someone in their mid-40s...can anecdotally say it was definitely true in the 80s-90s.

It's a senseless/strange phenomenon that definitely existed but seems to have naturally died off. Guessing it's related to the increasing amount of tech-billionaires during this time. In general in American society, people with money are considered "cool".

Idk. I graduated in the past decade. My school had a pretty expansive program of advanced classes and not advanced classes, which resulted in basically isolating the smart kids from the not so smart kids. Because of this, it was fine to be nerdy and smart. Yet in senior year there was an unexpected sort of social war when the not so smart kids wanted to control things like prom, and were unhappy when the rest of the school, who were never seen in their social circles, also had a voice. Got quite nasty. My area was relatively wealthy, and people probably had generally good lives. I think it would have been very unpleasant if it were a poor area with no separation of classes and more frequent trouble at home situations.

At the end of the day, if kids are struggling, they're going to feel frustrated. And they're going to take it out on the physically weakest kids and the ones who are most making them look bad by being good at school if they're not separated, protected, or somehow made mutually engaged (all of which are expensive things to implement). I don't think it has anything to do with anti intellectualism personally.

Would you mind linking to the 21 Jump Street scene? I'm very curious. As an American nerd in my late 30s, I definitely recall being relentlessly teased as a kid. I don't have kids of my own now and so I don't really know how and if things have changed, but if true this would be a very positive development!

Not sure I can link it but I can definitely describe it. To be clear I'm referring to the 2012 film not the original show. The scene though is sortof referencing the original series because if memory serves it was sortof how they would have done "high school undercover" in the 80s.

Basically the adult cops undercover as high school students try to make a first day impression and they sortof trash academics and try to intimidate kids interested in studying etc. So they try to be stereotypical 80s/90s popular kids. It spectacularly backfires and they have to change their approach. It's actually a surprisingly insightful scene in the context of this discussion.

All out kids are relentless teased by the popular ones. You have observer bias to what you were teased about, but if you look you will see many out groups teased about different things. You will often find kids in the in group not teased despite having the same characteristics.

I also went to high-school in Romania in '90s.

But I think you are wrong on "nerd" thing. Which doesn't mean technical excellence or excellence on a particular subject. "Nerd" means being weird while somehow interested in some technical matters.

There were a lot of "cool" kids doing great at math, physics or programming.

According to Mirriam-Webster, a nerd is "an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person".

Yeah, didn't know how to best translate "tocilar" into English, I guess it's a combination between geek and nerd? Couldn't tell.

> an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person

I was definitely unstylish, that's for sure, and I was no Adonis, that was also certain, but the good thing is that back in the day that didn't matter, how you looked and dressed as a kid didn't matter. I only had 2 pairs of jeans for my 4 years of high-school because that was all my parents could afford to buy me back then, but to be honest I wasn't aware of that back then. I'm afraid nowadays things are completely opposite.

> It was always strange to me seeing all those American movies of the "nerds"/geeks getting persecuted by the "cool" kids, it certainly didn't happen to kids in my school and I'm pretty sure it generally didn't happen to kids generally around the country.

In the United State there is an extreme anti-intellectual bias among conservative middle and lower class whites.

Intellectualism and being a "nerd" is appreciated in black Democratic strongholds?

There was this movie called Black Panther, you may or may not have heard of it....

"In the United State there is an extreme anti-intellectual bias among conservative middle and lower class whites."

On the contrary, progressives in the US outright reject factual information and statistics and instead focus on political correctness and feelings.

There are many anti-intellectuals on both sides.

"hence domestically popular tv shows like Big Bang Theory which have 0 audience in countries that value intellect"

It's shown in 180 countries worldwide and very popular internationally (Including Russia):


While I don't necessarily love the show, I've known many PHD students from China, Taiwan, and Korea that absolutely love the show. Hardly from countries that "don't value intellect".

"This permeates western culture across the board,"

I can't speak for Australia, but I went to high school in the US during the 90s. The 'cool' kids weren't necessarily anti-intellectual, they were just more social and were well versed in the ability to make friends. Most were in the top 10 in terms of grades at our school and I didn't go to a specialized or private school.

The 'nerds' and unpopular kids weren't necessarily smart either. Many had Aspergers or were on the autism spectrum, which means they most likely won't do well in social situations and most likely won't ever be popular.

Others were just anti-social or were just never taught how to make friends or be a friend.

Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory is supposed to depict someone like this.

It's easy to say we aren't popular because we are smarter than everyone else, but the actual reasons are much more nuanced.

"The other factor is that westerners really love to coddle and infantalise their children. A 12 year old in Russia is basically treated as a small adult with the associated respect and responsibilities. A 12 year old here is treated (and behaves) like a large baby."

I suppose this is just the result of living in a stable and safe country. 12 year olds aren't adults and shouldn't take on adult responsibilities. It's sad to me that there are children out there that can't actually be kids for awhile, which is something you can never get back as an adult.

Simplifying what the other person said, what is social status a function of? You say having friends and being popular is all about being able to make friends, which is only partially true. Social status is also a function of being good at what your peers consider important.

Anecdotally, and based on depictions in movies and TV, status for American kids is directly related to how well they do at sports. Doing well in your subjects and "trying" in class can either lead to ostracisation at worst or at best doesn't make a difference to your social status.

Whereas in other places, such as where I grew up, kids who tried hard and did well in their subjects had the highest social status. They were the "coolest", in the eyes of their peers. Rewards in status meant that such effort was positively reinforced.

You know how Hermione Granger is thought to be a know-it-all and insufferable? I could never understand that. Where I grew up she'd have been the most popular kid. Most other kids would have wished they could be more like her.

> It's shown in 180 countries worldwide and very popular internationally (Including Russia)

If you pick 10 random people in Russia and ask them about this show, all 10 will either not have heard of it or react with disdain. I have no idea where you get the notion that it's popular in Russia.

> It's easy to say we aren't popular because we are smarter than everyone else

I was popular in Russia. Then I had difficulty fitting in at the Australian school until I learned to act like an idiot and not reveal my 'nerdy' (a word that doesn't even have an equivalent in Russian) hobbies and interests outside of select circles. The same hobbies and interests that were perfectly average in Russia - electronics, astronomy, chess, that kind of thing. After that I fit in again. It's pretty hard to interpret this as some sort of social issues like you claim. I think you lack perspective on this. This is also the same culture that teaches teenage girls to act dumb in order to appear more attractive, which is pretty well studied at this point and will hopefully die now that it's in the public eye.

> It's sad to me that there are children out there that can't actually be kids for awhile

As one of the kids who would match your label, I think it's sad that children here are artificially held back from their natural maturation in order for the parents to selfishly extend the baby phase for their own enjoyment. Nor does this coddling have anything to do with stability. Plenty of stable countries across Europe where kids are allowed to grow at their natural pace, including several first-hand accounts in the comments section here. This is also why you'll find significantly lower age limits for things like consumption of alcohol, drugs, sexual activity in those same countries.

Coming back to the OP topic, soviet textbooks are 'hardcore' because the pupils are 2-4 years more mentally mature than their western counterparts due to cultural and education system differences. It's as simple as that.

> 'nerdy' (a word that doesn't even have an equivalent in Russian)

I wonder how many languages actually do have an equivalent. Maybe English is the only one?

When I translate something to Slovak, I also struggle with the word 'nerd'. We do not have a word for this concept. A close one is "bifľoš", which means a person who puts a lot of effort into memorizing school material, but it is implied that the person does not truly understand it. Another one is "kockáč", which means a math-oriented person. But we do not have a word that means: a weird person, because they actually study and understand something.

To me it seems that America is like "no child left behind", while Russia and Eastern Europe are like "if a child gets behind, wolves will eat them, who cares, at least it motivates others to run faster". :D

> If you pick 10 random people in Russia and ask them about this show, all 10 will either not have heard of it or react with disdain. I have no idea where you get the notion that it's popular in Russia.

And that's why it has 8.6 on Kinopoisk? I don't like it either, but imaginary statistic is not a statistic and your social circle is not the whole country.

> I learned to act like an idiot and not reveal my 'nerdy' (a word that doesn't even have an equivalent in Russian)

Of course it does have an equivalent, it's "задрот" if you're being mean or "ботан" you're old enough to actually have used that.

> 2 year olds aren't adults and shouldn't take on adult responsibilities.

While this is true, I think we often don't give kids enough credit either. Around that age they can be quite capable.

I think we've gone too far the other way and just don't push kids whatsoever, so now most 18 year olds are completely clueless as they head into college. This is compounded by USA's growing anti-intellectualism where we're proud to be bad at math, argue about having to study literature, and so on.

> It's shown in 180 countries worldwide and very popular internationally (Including Russia):

I can make this same argument about a Korean tv show called Running Man, which is indeed popular abroad... to niche audiences, like me. :-) I probably wouldn't argue with a Russian person about what shows are popular in their country, though.

>> "hence domestically popular tv shows like Big Bang Theory which have 0 audience in countries that value intellect"

> It's shown in 180 countries worldwide and very popular internationally (Including Russia):

You are confusing popularity with agreement with the anti-intellectual undertones.

I have not-so-fond memories of being bullied for being clever while growing up in the UK. I was placed in all the accelerated programmes and bumped up a year in some cases, which resulted in the odd situation where you were bullied for being a nerd, but also relied upon by the same bullies when they needed help with their tests.

I landed on my feet as a programmer, thankfully, but not until the depression set in and my performance in sixth form and university utterly plummetted. Impossible expectations, zero family support (never good enough and never doing the right thing _for them_).

Hearing stories about the different priorities in Russia and Latvia, from my various friends who came frmo there, made me feel quite envious, although I only heard the good parts of it (like learning multiple languages from a young age).

It's definitely not just the education system that's to blame (although the repeated hammering it takes from successive governments is an issue), there's definitely a wider cultural issue where it's almost cooler to be ignorant.

Oh not this again.

The USSR coasted its first half of existence milking Tsarist legacy of science and engineering, then the other half copying the intellectual fruits of supposedly dumb Western jocks.

Modern Russia isn't even half of that.

Precious little to show for all the cheek puffing and talent grooming.

> milking Tsarist legacy

I call it "preserving tradition."

Pre-1943 USSR was very much into violently rejecting anything Tsarist. Ioffe, Kapitsa and others survived only as pragmatic accessories to weapons and industrialization programmes.

Post-Stalin they had an opportunity to develop their schools of science but it's only so much a few, even dedicated, individuals can do. By 1990 these efforts largely fizzed out.

> Doing well at your subjects in AU got you labelled as a nerd.

As a Chinese student who studied in Australia for a few years I think you just misunderstand the culture.

Most of the popular kids got good grades and were not labelled as nerds. And the nerd kids didn’t really get good grades either.

I think Australians are very practical focused (maybe this is what you mean by anti-intellectual?).

For example the friends I know who wanted to do medicine and law - and are now successful doctors and lawyers - stopped focusing on maths at the end of grade 10.

This would put them way behind in math than an equivalent Chinese student who also wanted to be a doctor or lawyer but as far as I can tell it hasn’t had any negative impact on their careers.

Not being profound at statistics should be a strict no-go for anyone practicing medicine.

Many great discoveries come from linking different disciplines. I hope there is more to live than just a career. I am very grateful for the broad spectrum I've been given.

I need my doctor to have a basic understanding of statistics. I don't need them to have a profound knowledge of anything except their professional specialty.

Chances are they took a basic Epidemiology class -- or a class that had it as a component -- and covered "Stat for medical workers." And that should be enough.

I disagree. Accurate reasoning under uncertainty is highly non-trivial (as current events with covid-19 are making clear) and is I suspect one of the most important skills a clinician could have for making rational diagnoses and treatment decisions.

Whether currently available statistics training is even adequate to the task of teaching this skill is a separate question, the answer to which is unclear to me.

> Not being profound at statistics should be a strict no-go for anyone practicing medicine.

I think you will find that your bar would exclude the overwhelming majority of doctors.

My family is from Serbia (my parents were both mathematics teachers in Serbia) and I was raised here in Australia. It's definitely true that the curriculum is many years behind even relatively poor and corrupt countries (like Serbia). As a toy example, my parents taught me how to solve simultaneous equations in year 4 (when they'd have taught it in Serbia) while everyone else had to wait until year 9 to learn it in school.

I had friends who came to Australia after starting their education in Singapore, and they were continually shocked how far behind we were. It's honestly gob-smacking how little is being done about this, we're doing a massive disservice to our young people which they will have to overcome for the rest of their lives.

> we're doing a massive disservice to our young people which they will have to overcome for the rest of their lives.

Is this actually the case? Much of the most useful science & software comes from people educated in the Americas and Western Europe. I think that non-western schooling methodologies under-value problem solving and overvalue "raw" knowledge.

Most of the useful science comes from people imigrating to rich countries from poor countries :)

They have the basics, motivation, and opportunities.

Those that stay in poor countries don't have opportunities nor motivation. Those that come from rich countries don't have the basics nor motivation.

It's a generalization, of course.

Preach, Brother :-)

>It's a generalization, of course

But there is a lot of truth to this.

One other thing that i have noticed, is that in "rich" countries, knowledge of trivial and basic stuff are celebrated in the name of "positive reinforcement". This gives students the false idea that they have "mastered" something while they have just started learning. IMO, this is extremely harmful to the student's psychology.

Can agree with similar comparison - when studying at the end of 90s on high school, one student from our central/eastern european class spent 1 year in US. After he came back, he'd tell us how in math they were several years behind for same age group (ie we were running derivations and integrals and they were more on end-of-secondary school level). He was average back home, stellar math student there.

Of course, case point 1, comparing 'gymnasium' (more theoretical study-focused high school instead of say practical crafts, good preparation for university) with some US public high school.

Schools back home have gone 'softer' on students since we studied (don't all complain at some point about that?), so maybe now its more comparable.

The thing is, hardcore math skills apparently don't have that high impact on overall functioning economy. More open society, freedom to pursue ones dreams, freedom to try your own business idea (and fail hard if stars don't align) make overall a better functioning economy.

My (slightly more recent) US high school experience had nearly all students cover the calculus you described by the end of high school, and about 1/5 of the students got fast-tracked to the point that they studied linear algebra and multivariable calc by the end of high school.

I talked to a couple of friends about this, and about 1/2 had similar course offerings.

Your last paragraph makes a valid point. The question then is whether when the schools became “softer”, they replaced the math and sciences curiculums with something else (politics, economy, governance) or whether the kids themselves started doing something more meaningful. If not, it sounds like a wasted opportunity

Anecdotally, a I know some people that grew up in Europe and then went to America/American schools and they did way better there because it was way easier. I also remember something on 60 minutes a long time ago where they had some some Dutch students take some advanced American test and the lowest score in a test not their native language the lowest score was like 92 I think...

> I went to high school in Russia and then moved to Australia. The difference was immense. It felt like i just dropped 2 year levels.

I know nothing about your history, but usually moving to a new country means you are now an immigrant and by definition have less privilege than before, even if you can't immediately notice it.

Another hypothesis is that you left an elitist good school in russia and joined a not-so elite school in Australia. You could have done the same in Russia just by moving to a slightly cheaper neighborhood. Confirming the parent poster you were replying to.

Absolutely. There are plenty places in Russia where you totally going to be bullied for academic performance. Also the plagiarism/cheat culture is rampant throughout the country, from elementary and up to postgrad.

> AU/US high school students can't possibly compete against RU or CN high school students.

Can anyone comment on how this translates into results in adulthood, in the current age?

Do we see more discoveries in fundamental science, more inventions, better medical care, or better-run businesses?

As I don't speak Russian or Chinese, I don't really have a fair view and it would be easy for me to mistakenly under-estimate what the graduates of these schools get up to.

> fundamental science, more inventions, better medical care, or better-run businesses?

University education fixes these problems. People who only finish high-school rarely do science later in life.

There's also something else. The best and brightest from these countries are rarely (if ever) retained in their homelands and end up migrating to one of the western nations.

Ultimately, regardless of how the high school education level might be, these countries win out.

Pretty much my experience as well moving from Russia to the US. Team sports and social deviance seem to dominate the popularity hierarchies of American schools (as of 2003). In Russia being the top student is respected instead.

Don't underestimate the importance of team sport. The good thing in the US is that team sport is huge for women too.

US has American Football, jocks, and cheerleaders. This is something notably absent elsewhere. When you watch a hollywood high school move, this strange obsession jumps at you. In Poland the word "nerd" is difficult to translate. It has no direct equivalent.

Don't mix up movies and reality. They are often based in reality, but movies exist for entertainment and that often means exaggeration of the truth for effect.

But there is an insidious mental effect on students growing up in such an environment unable to discriminate between the two. They learn not to value "knowledge" and "learning".

Well, in this case movies happen to be pretty close.

While there is no direct equivalent, kujon seem to be pretty similar. (For non-Polish people, kujon is a derogative term for someone having good grades, coming with a stereotype that such person spends all their time learning, not doing any fun stuff)

kujon is probably the closest, but it means a person who gets good grades because he works on them very hard, especially by rote memorization and repeating. His method to learn anything is brute force. You never call someone who asks great questions a 'kujon'.

Nerd is different in that it's more about interests. If you're interested in any kind of science, biology, history, literature you're a nerd. Anime nerd is also a valid combination but it wouldn't work for 'kujon' because there's no repetition.

In Russia it used to be pretty common to see chess players in a park or train. Books readers were also more common in public spaces than in Poland. Russia has many problems for sure, but it has certain respect for intellectuals, composers etc.

Where in Russia?

Level of school while it is supposed to be same is night and day. The special Math/Physics school is one thing, but under that there are “good” schools in the city, ok, shitty then you have countryside etc

Same thing applies to other countries. Depending on where you went to school in same city you experience can be vastly different. Some school in let’s say Toronto have A- Math in high school average, other 20mins by bicycle can be C-. In Moscow you can have an awesome school, take metro for 30 mins and only thing you are learning is how to not get shit beaten out of you during a class break.

I went to a very good city school in Kyiv till grade 8, then specialized Math/Physics school from then on(I was bottom of the barrel at the new school in Math ouch). I used to come to my old school sometimes to hangout, level was absolutely different as in nobody there could solve a single problem in my home work. University exam at KGU in physics I took 1 hours instead of 3. But this is a trick. Once you get in second round of weeding out starts, I remember the breakdown people had after first couple tests. People who had 5 on all subjects their whole life, but they went to normal school. I think more then half of them did not make it through first semester.

I then left to Canada and went to middle of the road University there for Comp Sci. Honestly I liked it far more. It was more fun and flexible in terms of what you could take and learn, I could do a minor in Economics half way through because I liked it. I could work as research assistant in later and actually get my name on a paper and then go to a conference in Vegas :)

Big Bang Theory is one of my most hated shows of all time.

The mathematical competence of Australian students relative to international peers has been declining for 16 years.

Australia is terrible at maths given its levels of wealth. By one measure students in Kazakhstan perform better.

This would be a national scandal if not for the anti-intellectualism that pervades the nation.

This is one of the reasons I think Australia (my home country) is in big trouble economically in the long-term.

That's because the laws of Math don't apply there - https://www.newscientist.com/article/2140747-laws-of-mathema...

FYI: Big Bang Theory is banned in China

Nope. First search result on Baidu leads to this:


tv.sohu is one of the largest streaming sites in China.

That's a surprise. Apparently, it got unbanned

China is progressing.

One thing I noticed in the US is that there seems to be many wasted years in mathematics education. Between learning long division (maybe 4th grade ?) and algebra which I didn't get until the first year in high school (9th grade) I don't think I really learned or was taught anything of significance.

EDIT: My recollection is poor, long division and the associated concepts like fractions and decimals may have been later and spread out over more years, but I'm sure there were at least 2 to 3 wasted years in my mathematics education.

You are confusing American media with American culture. In American movies of the past the smart "nerds" were bullied. In reality, at least in my experience as someone who was bullied a decent bit, this is actually conflating two separate, but overlapping, groups. This isn't surprising since most foreigners understanding of our culture comes from our media.

In my experience (left high school in the early 2000s), the kids who were bullied were the kids regarded as "weird", smart kids were mostly left alone or blended into popular groups. The "weird" kids were mostly kids with obvious issue. Social maladjustment, visible poverty, autism spectrum disorders, or just being unkempt. There is some overlap here with smart kids, largely due to autism.

The reason this narrative exists is that a lot of the children with issues told themselves they were bullied because they were smarter than everyone else, even though that wasn't the reality. I don't know if this was them internalizing the hollywood stereotype, or hollywood playing to an existing narrative. It's perhaps more tragic that kids who were already at a disadvantage were the ones who were bullied, but it makes more sense and is the actual reality as I experienced it.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t the same thing as anti-nerdism. People respect originality and innovation, but who really is going to respect those who shut themselves away to cram their heads with facts, to please their teachers and get good grades, when they could be out having fun and mixing with their peers. And for what? A higher salary band? Four star hotels during summer vacation rather than three star?

The image of a Mad Scientist and the notion of the egghead are still all too dear to American soul.

There were other kinds of "anti" things in the USSR, like antisemitism. I think the whole of the Eastern block had a tendency to be better at mathematics since you only need your own mind and maybe a textbook and a mentor. South Africa was heading towards a very strong mathematics school and then this same kind of phenomenon whereby you discount mathematics starting happening.

Edit: I mean that in the Eastern block you were better off in mathematics than in things like physics and chemistry. This holds for countries with historically diverging cultures from the Russians too (like Poland and Hungary).

Edit 2: I think perhaps it is also worth mentioning that you have "hardcore" on the one side and then pure artistic poetry on the other side. I've heard that French mathematics is a pleasure to read as it is both hardcore mathematics and well written prose. Some of the limitations on the Russian texts was also imposed by other restrictions: For example, the articles often had to be shorter than the authors would have wanted.

The antisemitism comment was a reply to this:

> this weird anti-intellectualism culture that just doesn't exist in Russia

Anti-intellectualism does exist in Russia. Read for example Edward Frenkel's autobiographical works.

In my family some – during their high school years – managed to move from Eastern Germany (GDR) to Western Germany (FRG): They unanimously state the same thing as you did.

My speculation: This hasn't anything to do with the "eastern-ness" of a countries culture – but rather the ROI for education / medicine, which looks quite different under a communist economy, under which so many other endeavours scale so much worse.

>but rather the ROI for education / medicine, which looks quite different under a communist economy, under which so many other endeavours scale so much worse.

Great point! I might add that this is also true of many "third world" countries even without Communism.

In Australia, a few of the top private schools as well as government schools in demographic areas with a high Chinese student population do have an intellectual culture.

A few of my family members are teachers (in both private and government schools) and from what I hear there is not yet much of a shift away from the anti-intellectual culture.

> Doing well at your subjects in Russia put you in the cool group. Doing well at your subjects in AU got you labelled as a nerd.

Seems a bit exaggerated to me. At my high school (in the US) the cool kids were just the more socially outgoing kids. Some of them had great grades and others not so much. It was the same in the 'nerds' group.

From my experience academic achievement didn't really have any bearing at all on the social group you fell into.

But I guess experiences will vary....there are pretty huge differences in public school quality across the US and even within one local school district.

The Russians have it wrong. Their model of government and socializing obviously failed the process of economic selection. Kids are not coddled here and they grow up just fine. I would pit American Scientists against Russian Scientists any day of the week. The same with your Average American Adult vs Average Russian Adult.

There is a big difference between high schools in different ares in both Russia and US. I don't think you will argue that a person from a country school in the middle of nowhere in Russia with one teacher for all subjects will be able to do better in a top-level school in NYC.

On the anti-intellectualism and bullying of nerds, how do we fix this? (I'm American.) I'm not a parent myself, but my brothers and sister are. Should I suggest to them that they home-school their kids to shield them from this toxic culture?

I think it's changing quickly. Not sure if you remember the movie 22 Jump Street? The old guys show up at a high school to be "undercover" high school students and it turns out that the "cool" kids are who used to be the nerds. They are vegan, don't make fun of gay kids, stand up to bullies...and wear backpacks with two straps (lol).

I think that image of high school has some truth to it, as I graduated high school a couple years before the movie came out and it was already beginning to change. Kids playing pokemon at lunch were the same kids on the varsity sports teams. It was okay to like video games, and to be upset about getting a C on a test. The image of bullies as "cool kids" was changing to "kids whose parents probably never told them they love them" - and everybody knew it. The cool kids are nice now. Not totally sure if the shift has continued in the last 7 years, but it is definitely happening.

By going back to the roots of your "Sputnik Moment"(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhJnt3xW2Fc), rediscovering those lessons and actively pushing it everywhere again.

That doesn't solve the problem at all.

I always had the impression that Russians are more serious. Also Americans have developed tons of expressions for every nuance of greasing the wheels for business and relationships. Russians are more straightforward.

So it is with the kids. I don’t think there was a lot of “participation trophies” and idea that “you’re a winner just for trying”. It was realistic. Women in Russia are told to look beautiful by their mothers, for example, and they are expected wear makeup and heels just going out to the store or to work. Imagine a US mother saying that.

STEM in Russia and China’s schools is wayyy more advanced than USA.

Not just in Moscow but every city center in every former Soviet republic. It’s one of the things the Communists really instilled early on after taking over backwaters (at the time) like Uzbekistan (along with equal rights for women, 95% literacy and electricity). Compare that to pre-revolutionary Cuba or Hawaii, for instance, that USA took over.

I think right around Sputnik time and the cold war, the US had a major STEM crisis and started trying to teach math more. But really, most of our brightest students are just imported - and they’re happy to come.

Gonna drop this one in there, from Dr Kaku, on a panel discussing this exact question:


Does Russia have celebrity culture a la Kardashians or stuff like that? (I assume they have some, how does it compare?)

Yes we have, but it's smaller and not as popular. Also more frowned upon from what I gather.

Yes, they hate them with a passion

> Doing well at your subjects in AU got you labelled as a nerd.

As an Australian nerd who got higher than average grades, it's not accurate in the slightest to generalize your experiences to my entire country and I haven't seen the anti-intellectualism you claim is there.

When I was in high school I was very much a nerd. Good grades, tried to win the approval of teachers, head in a book, never played sports, interested in chess and video games.

I definitely did not fit in. Making friends was difficult, I was teased and all the things I gather you had issues with.

However I also had a close friend who despite sharing my interests and grades, was also much more outgoing, participated in sports and was generally well-liked. He had no troubles at all fitting in.

To strengthen the counter-example even more, in grade 9, all of the highest academic achievers got put in the same class. These people did not have issues.

So intelligence clearly wasn't the problem. What I think the problem was is that I was quiet, shunned sports, kept to myself and occasionally saw my brains as making me better than other people. That's what led to the ostracizm that might be misinterpreted as anti-intellectualism.

Also, all traces of this were well and truly gone by years 11 and 12. At this point everyone is doing what they can to get into their chosen university so they can't criticize you for doing the same.

> A 12 year old in Russia is basically treated as a small adult with the associated respect and responsibilities. A 12 year old here is treated (and behaves) like a large baby.

I'm married to a Russian and my mother in law is a high school English teacher in Russia. I think you're very much overgeneralizing in these cases too.

Perhaps in some cities and families 12 year-olds are expected to behave the way you claim but it's definitely not universal. There are plenty of 12 year-olds who are allowed to be children in Russia.

> > Even the accelerated programs were hopelessly behind the regular curriculum for my age group in Russia.

Which curriculum? They vary by state. I believe the curriculum for maths and sciences in Victoria (my state) was very similar to the International Baccalaureate (I compared topics with students in that program).

If you want to point at an area in which Russia is significantly different, I'd point at the arts. In Russia children are expected to study and learn poetry and read literature from a very early age all the way through high school. It's not at all frowned upon. Boys choosing to learn "feminine" things like ballroom dancing also seems to be well accepted from what I've seen.

Haha, check out the post-apoc movie "The Road".

Papa! Papa!

Papa! Papa!

Papa! Papa!


Papa! Papa!

I'm from slovenia, a small, former yugoslav country. We don't have special schools for math here, and elementary schools (7-15yo in my time) were the same for all, and you went to the closest school to your home... but our highschool ("gymnasiums" - 15-19) used the grades from elementary school + standardized testing scores to rank students, and somehow best students went to certain schools, 'the middle' got accepted o others, and shitty students went to shitty schools and other, non-general schools.

The biggest difference wasn't separating kids into math classes and language classes, but genrally separating them by "good" and "bad". Having a random mix of students, where some can barely read, and others read two books per week (or some can barely multiply, while others code math problems for fun), is a very hard job for the professor, because in the end, they have to lower their standards, expectations, and the quantity of material until most students scrape by. Having a group of students that are good at "school stuff", means the teachers are having very little problems with the basics and can continue faster and prepare students better for university and life. If we had separation for stem-talented students, and language-talented and *-talented, it would be even better.

So basically... group better students together, and you can do a lot more with them, if you don't have to pull the 'bad' students behind. I am aware that this is bad for 'bad' students, and that it should be fixable somehow (they should have options to move to better schools), but good students thrive without idiots in class.

This is one school of education. The other is the Finnish model, with no separation. I am yet to see some comprehensive multinational study that would suggest which is better. (Better for the students, or society as a whole?) It’s probably impossible to do objectively. I also feel there is probably quite a difference between these two systems in the effects on the, say, top 0.2%, 2%, and 20% of the students.

Seems to me that the Finnish model is better for an average student (guessing by their PISA test results) and worse for a talented student (guessing by their math olympiad results).

Anecdotally, a Finnish friend told me that if you excel at one subject, you are encouraged by teachers to stop doing it, and instead spend more time learning the other subjects.

Finland is an outlier in that regard, not sure if that model can be applicable anywhere else because it's so culturally specific.

I spent 6 years in one of those highly selective schools, and I have mixed feelings about this.

One problem is that Small-fish-in-big-pond-effect, a good chunk of us realized there that we weren't special anymore, there wasn't the honor and praise for being top- and consequently that drive was lost.

Plus, once some schools become well established and start to attract highly talented kids- kind of kids who can do well by themselves without much external help, the school itself, I mean teachers and administrators, doesn't have to be very good. Their success starts to depend more on their ability to attract talent, and less on actually nurturing and developing them. Past success bring more success- a sort of virtuous cycle.

I dont know about the second part... but i'm sure glad I didn't jave illiterate trouble-causers in my class (as i did in elementary school (7-15yo)).

One such disrupter can take away easilly 10 minutes of a class hour, and 1/3 of the class not understanding basics, means the teacher has to try again and again to teach them the things they should already know, while the rest of tle class stagnates.

We had that at my American high school. It’s called honors and AP classes. There are event “magnet“ high schools, or high schools dedicated to top artistic talent. They just aren’t uniformly available.

True - artistic (but not mathematical or scientific). But AP classes are really good at what they are meant to achieve indeed.

Not sure what you mean by artistic here?

Available AP classes/tests include STEM...so Physics, Chemistry, Calculus, Biology, etc.

In the early 90s, I lived in a US apartment complex and went to schools with a lot of recent Russian migrants.

Three times a week all the Russian kids were rounded up for "Russian Math," taught by, Arkady... my friend Mike's Dad. They followed the Russian/Soviet curriculum, which was 2-3 years ahead of the school's.

I think we focus a lot of educational systems, because these are matters of policy which can be critiqued and maybe changed. But, I think culture plays a big role.

My mother has PHD in physics, so its not like I'm from an anti-math culture. But, the Russian take was a different level. Being mathematical was very important to them, and they made it happen.

A good example for this is language learning. In some schools/places/countries/communities, language learning is culturally important and culturally supported. In those places schooling works, and kids graduate with strong language abilities. In other places, it isn't, and kids generally don't progress regardless of what classes they are in.

Europe is like a lab for this. Most Dutch kids graduate with native-level english, and often a 3rd and 4th language. In Italy, kids have almost no english. Modern young-people Dutch borrows a lot of English. They watch English TV. English is part of the culture, so the schooling works.

I moved from post-Soviet Ukraine to Alabama in 1999 and started school in grade 6 in the US. For the first 3 years or so my entire math class seemed like just a rehash of things we had already learned in Ukraine.

I failed in taking math study seriously at that point as everything was so easy. When things did get hard at some point in high school and I had to learn new things, I no longer had the discipline to really commit. Also there was no strict grandmother to make me study math for hours after school or on Saturdays anymore. I really regret not having the foresight to stay committed to it now. I did end up taking "advanced" math classes through high school, but my level of commitment and understanding was never what it could have been.

> I failed in taking math study seriously at that point as everything was so easy. When things did get hard at some point in high school and I had to learn new things, I no longer had the discipline to really commit.

oh god.. I failed because of this too. By the time I got to college I was so weak I sunk to the bottom in less than 3 weeks. An .. interesting experience.

"I think on average the difference between a high school student from Russia and US is negligible." That's difficult to believe. I went to comparable level early education schools in Russia and the US and observed stark differences in the quality of math education. Math culture is a thing, and it varies between countries, affecting the education system on the whole as well.

I think OP's comment focuses on the average outcome and your comment is about the education process. I think both are right. While there are stark differences in the process, the average outcome is probably not much different. Students not in the US can do harder problems in their final exams but how much of that comes from actual understanding of math. How much is retained a day or a month after the exams? This is about the average student, mind you. From my short talks with math educators in the US and in a Soviet-like system, I got the impression that the average math student is a mess in math in both cases.

There are probably more people on the long tail of math talent here so it's understandable their impressions on the two systems are much different. OP's comment also talked about the pipeline for gifted kids and he concurred that the Soviet style is effective for training those students.

I remember reading about the Soviet physicist Landau and I believe they made the argument that the difference between the US and the USSR is the US tried to bring every student to as high a level in math as they could, whereas the USSR was more interested in just selecting the best math students and didn't worry so much about the rest.

Curious, what do you and your peers that were feed into a well defined path so early make of it now understanding that is not how all children reach advanced skills in mathematics?

In iirc 8th grade, I've placed high in the final round of a Moscow-wide physics competition, incidentally hosted by MSU. My classmate, who placed even higher, and myself have received an invitation to enroll in the MSU-affiliated maths/physics focused school (#2, the schools in Moscow are all numbered semi arbitrarily). As far as I recall, every time I'd go to one of those competitions bulk of the people in later rounds were from #2 and #57, another math-focused school. The kids from other schools who did well were, I assume, largely scooped up by those targeted schools.

EDIT: Oh, and the maths/physics/etc. competitions started at neighborhood level, so every school would typically send at least a few kids, and encourage the kids who were better at the subjects to do well. I went to neighborhood biology/history/etc. competitions too, but never did very well. I assume whoever did well in those and went into next rounds could go on to enroll into a different set of specialized schools :) Also, some parents did enroll their kids straight into those schools, but I dunno how prevalent that is. They are very ability focused, unlike US private schools that I've heard of where money and helicopter parenting seem to be a major factor.

As a side note, my friend did enroll into #2, and I didn't go because was too lazy to commute 40mins one way when my own school was a 3-minute walk (it was a subway trip for him as is, so I'd like to think that was the difference ;)). We've both done well for ourselves but he's definitely much better at math now.

Yep, can confirm, such system existed in other large Soviet cites as well. I also graduated from one such maths and physics oriented school. Compared to regular public schools the education level was much higher, and not only in those subjects. The studying there was extremely intense, 6-day week (which was standard in USSR at that time), long hours, and tons of homework to keep you busy late at nights and weekends (read: Sunday). Best graduates were expected to go further study in MSU or other top universities. The rest of us who went to local universities found themselves bored in the first years of their studies.

Now, living in a western European country I found in a hard way that the key to a better education for your talented kid hides in your bank account.

Don't get me wrong, I in no way support Soviet system, but this was one of the things they did good.

Well, 2 is prime, and so is 57, so it makes sense those would be math focused schools. ;) [0]


[0]: https://hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/6358/story-of-grothe...

> And indeed 57 looks a bit prime for some psychological reason

It tricked me, until I read the link.

No one taught me this in school, but if you add up the digits (5+7=12) and the result is divisible by 3, then so is the original number. It works recursively.

My maths teacher made me prove that, my first proof by induction. Try it. You know you want to procrastinate with a nice proof by induction now.

Induction seems like an odd way to prove this. Do you need to preform induction over all the numbers that are not multiples of three?

The converse claim (every multiple of 3 has a digit sum that is a multiple of 3) is a more natural one for induction, though that's not the most standard proof there either.

If induction is the only tool you have then it’s ok. What you really want is modular arithmetic. If you don’t have modular arithmetic then pricing it directly is hard:

  n = Sum(d_k 10^k)
  Let S = sum of digits = Sum(d_k)
  n - S = Sum(d_k (10^k - 1))
  But (10^k - 1) = ((9 + 1)^k - 1) = ((1 + k*9 + (2 choose k)*9^2 + ... + 9^k) - 1)
  by binomial expansion so is divisible by 9.
  Therefore n - S is divisible by 9, so n is divisible by 9 iff S is.
  The same is true when you replace divisibility by 9 with divisibility by 3.
I remember being asked this in an interview for a place at university and I solved it by induction (which was all I had) and was then shown this direct proof.

Odd if you're looking for the simplest way to prove that. Less odd, perhaps, if you're looking for something that can be proved simply using induction, in order to make students do their first proof by induction.

I don't remember precisely what it was we were asked to prove. It may have been the converse.

Yes, a simple consequence of e.g. 3-digit number being:

100x + 10y + z modulo 3

Removing 9y and 99x gives equivalence: x + y + z modulo 3

Now what’s left is induction with proper base (1-digit).

As dan-robertson mentioned in another branch, you don't even need induction - you can sidestep it by writing X = sum_i x_i 10^i and noticing that all the 10^i are 1 modulo 9 (and therefore modulo 3).

"What is Mathematics" by Courant and Robbins teaches some more divisibility tricks, might be useful sometimes. btw, we learned divisibility by 3 in 5th or 6th grade (not the proof, of course)

Works for 9 as well (or any b such that 10 mod b = 1 .. so 3 and 9).

> and I didn't go because was too lazy to commute 40mins one way when my own school was a 3-minute walk

Hah, that mirrors my wife’s experience in Riga - she came second and first in national physics competitions for two years, and was twice invited to enroll in a different school - but she stayed put, because she didn’t want to have to change trams twice, rather than a direct trolley bus. She’s happy with her choice.

Went to #548 from elementary to middle, tried to transfer to #57 but failed interviews (I think I went up to round 8), spent one year at #1523 and then successfully got into #57 the next year.

I think that I was very lucky to get in and it was the most valuable part of my overall education. It taught me many things. That there are other people who are much smarter than me and it's OK (and may be I'm not smart enough to do math as a science for a living). A lot of mathematical intuition, about very non-mathematical things, all the way to poetry. How to structure your thought, attack your own arguments and prove something - or discover that the proposition you were trying to prove was false to begin with. (Apart from state-mandated math program, we had our own, with special lessons, where we wouldn't need to calculate or find anything. The only activity was to try and prove theorems and lemmas that you didn't know the proofs of.) That despite years of experience of being a weirdo and a nerd I can finally find a social circle where I can feel normal and accepted. In fact, 15 years after graduation we still have an active Discord server where 8 people were streaming some video games and chilled in voice chat just last night.

So, I think that when you filter kids not only by some "IQ-by-proxy" tests but also by what later get the name "culture fit", and let them coexist together for a few years, it can be a very powerful and life-changing thing. Not everyone such a good experience, of course - but a lot of us did.

Ha-ha, the #57 mafia is freakin everywhere, now I even meet you guys in HN comments :)

I suspect that there's much more of us here in the comments in general than you would recognize. As well as all other post-soviet math-schoolers. It's exactly the kind of education and attitude that makes a career of a senior engineer at FAANG or CTO at a VC-backed startup not only easy in a technical sense, but also a perfect cultural fit.

What does this number, and the other one, refer to?

In a soviet system, schools go by numbers first, and only sometimes have their own names.

I liked to read and found (and understood) my farther’s calculus books while in elementary school ;) I was honestly bored in math classes through elementary and middle school. Teachers preferred to ignore me and especially my questions. I got through some math competitions with average success, then got invite to a qualification testing into a couple math high schools. Was selected in the last round of testing to the one I liked the most, and then graduated at the top of my year ;)

Edit: btw, I don’t know how I actually got these invites. Either from math competitions, or through my math teachers who found a way to get rid of me ;)

> btw, I don’t know how I actually got these invites. Either from math competitions, or through my math teachers who found a way to get rid of me ;)

Almost certainly from the math competitions. Nikolay Konstantinov [1] had his apartment full of boxes of punched cards with data on every high school student who produced at least a partial solution to any of the advanced problems at those competitions.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolay_Konstantinov

Most of the children don't want, don't care or just plain stupid to be able to grasp the subjects.

It makes sense to isolate together those who can. The special schools don't do anything special, they just cut down the distractions, shift 0.5-2 university years into the school and spice things up with some competitive math/physics/programming/chemistry/biology/geography/etc.

Im crap at math, but annoyed at why. Read about math teaching, and what I found was that there's nothing that correlates with math ability except interest and encouragement (and general iq). There's no genes, brain scans, blood tests, or behavioral signs at preschool age that can predict math success. Teacher ability and enthusiasm likely plays a role.

I believe the opposite when it comes to 'behavioral signs at preschool age' .. I think a child natural inclination towards 'math like' sciences is visible very early

Yep, school is moving at the pace of the slowest common denominator.

I don't believe there is anything as too stupid child. Not even a stupid child. They become stupid adults, often because of school and people there treating them as stupid children when in fact it's a problem with the socioeconomical/family situation.

When you're in such a school you can really feel what's up, especially in Soviet/post-Soviet case: the socioeconomical situation is exactly the same (because communism), and you usually know the families of other pupils. Then you see the ones who try hard but still can't get it, you also see the lazy smarts.

I am a kid from a post-communist state. What I saw was that abused children had it very rough even though they were very bright, and the lazy smarts generally had perfect conditions at home with loving parents ready to help at any time - and I don't mean with homework itself. You wouldn't believe what sense of not being loved and stress does to a child.

> the socioeconomical situation is exactly the same (because communism)

Not true at all. It might look that way to an american, but there are things like social capital, and it's not even true for financial capital. From USA perspective we were all equally poor, but from our perspective and "in our world", 300 vs 900 usd monthly wage is (was) a huuuuuge difference.

You have to consider that my parents and parents of my former classmates were raised during actual communism. Do you know how they raised children during communism? They beat them, because disobedience could mean death or lifelong prison or being sent to uranium mines - for the whole family. One bad word was all it took. And many parents haven't yet realized, even today's, that this is not the correct way. On top of that, during the 90's, rampant corruption has emerged, then the economical crisis, etc.

And then of course the teachers - their role during communism was different that what it should really be today, and many have not realized yet.

The "social capital" was based on the proximity to the ruling minority. The power was greatly centralized so there weren't many of those type of families. Majority had all same: same stuff like photocopied all over the place.

About the beatings: it's more about the Russian culture, it's even kinda normal for the husband-wife relationships in some regions. To the West there was less of it.

> The "social capital" was based on the proximity to the ruling minority. The power was greatly centralized so there weren't many of those type of families. Majority had all same: same stuff like photocopied all over the place.

Sounds like something from a school history textbook. It was way more complicated than that; the "ruling minority" or proximity to it was nearly irrelevant to most people (and also a direct threat - you stayed away from these people and their 'friends' as much as you could), what mattered more was your street's communist committee, the teachers at schools, if you wanted to have nicer (or any at all) stuff, then you had to know the shopkeepers, if you wanted your child to go to a high school, you had to know the principal, if you wanted your child to go to university, then the whole family had to have a clean and pro-communist record, if you wanted to visit a doctor, you had to know them or bring something (not necessarily money - money was not that useful), if you wanted to have a okay-ish workplace then... (I could go on forever)

In my previous comments, I was talking mainly about the 90's and early 00's - post-communism. I'm also not a Russian, I'm as west as communism got.

Well, you were apparently too far from that ruling minority. At the level of the shopkeepers/teachers/etc.

For the positions like for example even drivers for the high party members it starts getting unequal.

And about the nineties: inequality in the nineties is weird because very large amount of the criminals who got rich didn't bother to educate their children. Of course, some part of them opted for expensive teachers/schools or for sending children to the Western schools, but the "getting by force" attitude of the parents didn't really mesh well with learning.

Everyone was "too far" and no one wanted to be close, it was more of a death sentence than anything else, not a good price for not that much better life. You're talking at most about hundreds of people - out of hundreds of millions (in the Eastern Bloc as a whole).

ex-YU? GDR?

Czech Republic. Life was relatively better in socialist Yugoslavia from what I heard; not so much here or in GDR.

Of course there are countries that had it even worse, like Hungary and Romania, and the states that broke off the Soviet Union.

There will always be stupid kids in a world where intelligence levels vary.

In the 80s and 90s some attempts were made to try to escape this reality by changing the question. Multiple-factor intelligence models were proposed and widely accepted by pop-psychology, but most academics acknowledge now that there is some general intelligence level, a "g-factor".

Anecdotal - I always remember my aunt who was a literature teacher. She always stuck to those ideas and told me that it's obvious that there are different types of talents, because there are people that are good at maths, but do a lousy job in her classes. What she did acknowledge once though, was that people that were good at maths were also the ones that have been writing the best essays from all of her students. There was something that underpined their skills in both areas, but since they knew that they can achive something real in maths they probably did not try so hard to "pick the right key" in interpretive literature tasks. On the other hand for those students that were a bit slower literature was the only field that thay could perform well. Good literature students did not have any particular field in maths that they could perform well in. They stuck to literature, because they could memorize all the important answers and boast that they poses some innate talent.

Anecdotal 2 - Sure, there are some kids that could perform in one area better than in the other, but in my experience this variance is overshadowed by the difference between kids that can do ALL things well and kids that can do NO things well.

EDIT: A nice example of the multi-factor intelligence "scam" are the books from D. Goleman in "Emotional Intelligence" series. They were mostly targeted for middle management people and were very in line with the whole trend. The main motive is that emotional intelligence is a much bigger factor than general intelligence in the context of career progression and overall success in life. What was not made obvious is that the comparisons were done in environments of people that were already successful. If you take a group of people that have a high iq level, then it's very possible that the most successful will be the ones that can work with people a little better. Unfortunately it's not sufficient to be a peoples person to achieve high efficiency in such environments. The "hidden" conclusion was: GI + EI > GI; EI < GI; GI + GI < GI + EI (at least to some degree). There were also some unresolved questions - can you really possess EI without a sufficient level of GI? Isn't EI just a form of GI? In summary there was a lot more of nitpicking of definitions than actual science. It all felt like p-value hacking on language level.

There are plenty of programs exactly like that in the US.

There are now, not so much 40 years ago. Even today, a lot of the STEM enrichment programs in the US have roots in the USSR. Hell, a big fraction of the physics problems I assign when tutoring these days were written by Russians in the 80s, because they're just that good.

That's the opposite of what I've seen in California. There used to be a big focus on tracking, gifted programs and "accelerated math", but it is now perceived as inequitable. Gifted programs were cancelled, tracks eliminated, and accelerated math discouraged (you can skip a year if you study outside school, but it is discouraged). The focus is getting everyone to some minimal level, and no attention on the high performers.

It’s not just California. The combination of “no child left behind” legislation, combined with modern political movements (CRT/I in particular), has rendered large swaths of American public education devoted to bringing everyone up to a minimum standard (not necessarily a bad thing in itself, mind you), but all the while sacrificing the potential of gifted students by not placing everyone into separate (and significantly varying) tracks according to their varying abilities.

In addition, schools are funded based on standardized test scores, which encourages many schools, especially in poorer areas, to teach to the tests—instead of teaching students to think.

By CRT are you referring to Critical Race Theory? I'm sceptical that its both that influential, or that any good faith reading of CRT supports sacrificing accelerated programs. In particular CRT in education if anything pushes against reliance on standardized testing scores.

Yes, that’s what I meant (and I for intersectionality). Agreed that CRT/I would oppose standardized tests, but that’s only because CRT/I at its core opposes anything objective. And the philosophy of CRT/I has already made significant inroads in American culture.

Witness all the accelerated programs that have been shut down, the many recent attacks on objective standards—all in the name of “equity” (which does not mean equality of value, treatment, or opportunity—it means creating equal outcomes by whatever means is available —consider the implications carefully).

Universities are being forced to grapple with these ideas, with the core question being “does our university still value the pursuit of truth, critical thinking, and free inquiry above all else, or will we acknowledge that ‘people from oppressed classes have a truth unto themselves that cannot be taught but must be respected, and all opposing viewpoints must be shut down’?”

If this movement hasn’t yet affected you, it will soon. It’s ripping apart social groups all over the place.

(I can give examples of all I’ve described in the morning if you’re interested. I’m just tapping this out before bed.)

Yeah please share the examples!

What you write sounds plausible, but it also mirrors a lot of what we hear from the right that is at times overstated.

I'd love to hear a set of sober examples- I don't have any connection to early education anymore and I'm really curious.

As someone that has been spending a lot of time around Higher Education over the past 7 years or so, I personally cannot think of a single University I have interacted that isn't making many of their decisions under the influence of the ideas described above.

This is in the US/UK.

In the UK at least, the way I read the situation is that most of the Russell Group pays their bills off the fees they can charge international students - and compared to the income this gets us from China, other countries are a rounding error.

The problem is, these students are not coming here to learn how we're all equal, they're paying for a degree that proves they're very much not equal to about a billion people back home (compare the median wage in China with the cost of a one-year MSc in the UK for example).

That's also why most of our Covid-19 planning is around how do we deal with the income loss if 50% fewer international students enrol next year, the options seem to be government bailout or bust.

So there may be an unspoken rule in some places that you don't criticise the latest theories on diversity, but there's an even more unspoken rule that you don't publicly apply them to the situation in Tibet or Urumqi.

It will be extremely interesting to see how these two pressures interact over the coming decade.

It reminds me of a great bit from Yes Prime Minister: "Coffee at the University" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW7mhtp5a5E

The part later in that episode where the PM shows up to the high table is pretty classic too.

Johnathan Haidt has some good talks on youtube about this sort of stuff. I think he mentioned Chicago University being one that is pushing for "truth" over "social justice".

Sorry these are coming a whole day later. Here we go:

New York City has (or had?) an active effort in place to cancel/dismantle "gifted" programs in primary and secondary education. Here's the PDF released by their committed last August: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/1c478c_f14e1d13df45444c883bbf... . There are lots of other examples of this phenomenon around the country... I doubt I need to come up with more examples now.

Notably, the University of Chicago came firmly down on the side of free inquiry: http://provost.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/documents/re...

An excellent, charitable, clear-minded discussion on critical theory in general: https://youtu.be/p6DnHxuuXI4

Here's a good introduction to many of the practical, everyday consequences of CRT/I's influence in American culture. It's an interview with Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay (this is part 1, and I think there are 3 or 4 parts in total): https://youtu.be/YDFL3xwEEG8

-- that last one in particular, if you watch the whole thing, is chock full of great examples.

Hope that's helpful. That's all I was able to find in the time I had.

The thing is, if you accept the basic "liberal arts" idea of education that it's about creating a common culture, then a lot of the ideas coming from the social justice side of things actually make some sense. From the "liberal" point of view, one of the purposes of English lit class and education in general is to create a common background that people in professional settings can use in conversation - I can use my favourite Shakespearean metaphor to argue a point and I know that you, as an educated colleague, will understand what I mean. I could talk about CRT/I and say "something wicked this way comes" if I wanted to, and you could hopefully decode that. Otherwise I'd have the Herculean task of having to keep a database of which of my colleagues understand which kinds of analogies, or reduce all my communication to the lowest common denominator. For example, I'm assuming here that the expressions "Herculean" and "lowest common denominator" (as a figure of speech) mean something to readers on HN.

If you accept this point of view - and lots of educators past and present have done so, including white male ones - then the student slogan "Why is my curriculum white?" makes sense. Would a stock of common background knowledge (for want of a better word) be that much less effective if it included slightly less Hemingway and Twain and slightly more contributions from more diverse authors? So the argument goes, if (to simplofy a lot) white kids learn about white culture at home and black kids learn about black culture, but the test to get a good job includes the "culture fit" part of can we hold a conversation based on the kinds of analogies and forms of speech you learn at college, then it's (1) unfair if the thing you learn at college just happens to be "white culture" and (2) even more so if a more diverse college education would serve _exactly the same purpose_.

The million dollar question is whether (2) is true. I personally think it mostly is for "arts", mainly because there are different cultures with different languages even within "the west" and several of them seem to work about equally well.

But here's the rub: science doesn't work like that.

There's a philosophical argument that Twain _created_ Huck Finn, but Newton only _discovered_ the laws of motion - if Twain hadn't lived then we might have equally good literature, but it would not be the same. But if Newton hadn't lived, someone else would have discovered F=ma and the like by now, and the formula would be exactly the same.

My main worry is that if the US tries to turn science/tech into liberal arts and China doesn't, then we're creating a new kind of inequality: in a generation or two they will wipe the floor with us. But I'm happy to listen to any argument from the SJ/CRT/I side that doesn't imply us handing over our place in the world to a power who very much believes that all races are not equal.

SJ/CRT movement is devouring itself. The more and more it will affect sciences, technology and other critical economic areas, the more US economy will suffer. That will mean US will be less capable on exporting those ideologies into other countries.

Meanwhile, countries which no such handicap will rise economically and be able to export more of their own ideologies.

That assumes that universities matter for the economy. And that is not really all that clear.

Soviet Union had great schools, doesn't mean their economy was doing well.

The US is still doing well even when its school system and even university system have not really been that great overall.

> Would a stock of common background knowledge (for want of a better word) be that much less effective if it included slightly less Hemingway and Twain and slightly more contributions from more diverse authors?

In practice it hasn’t worked out that way.

Instead it has:

1) Created a cultural barrier between the average Joe and the “liberal elite”.

It turns out that Twain etc are approachable to the average high school diploma American in a way the replacements texts are not.

2) Created a clear divide between minorities who study at elite US universities and the rest of us.

For example there is a level of alienation between Chinese tech workers who went to college in the US vs other Chinese tech workers here.

3) Created a group of “liberal elite” who think they can speak on behalf of, and even lead, other cultural groups when what they have learned isn’t representative of those cultures at all.

Its hard to take these assertions seriously while they are so vague, especially as they seem to be respins of the idea that education, and higher education in particular, is taking liberalism/anti-racism/feminism "too far".

My understanding is that you're saying there is a causal link between admission programs being shutdown and CRT/I, and that the particular aspect of CRT/I that causes this is an insistence on equal outcomes across social groups. I'd be interested to first establish what the actual statistics are wrt gifted and talented student programs - are the closing faster than they opening? Are they shrinking or expanding? Where approaches have changed, are the outcomes definitely worse? etc.

Does this mean we are discounting material possibilities, such as just not having enough money or changing demands/restrictions on expenditure? Accelerated programs sound a lot like arts programs - easy to cut with minimal blowback. Are we also discounting that providing fair access to accelerated programs turned out to be far more complicated than we originally thought and that the choice has been to cut rather than spend money on extra tests and more qualified staff? CRT/I [aren't the only academic source](https://sci-hub.tw/10.1080/02783190609554382) of critique these programs receive.

I'd also contest your definition of equity in CRT/I as an overriding principle ('equality of outcomes by whatever means available' and implicitly, regardless of the consequences). CRT/I uses the principle of equity - that outcomes should be proportionate across social groups and that unequal outcomes must be accounted for. The vast majority of CRT/I scholarship explicitly focuses on 'leveling-up' outcomes, and where this focus is not explicit it is normally implicit (in that the paper would not otherwise make much sense, or the prospect of reducing everyone's outcomes to the lowest common denominator is a rhetorical tool).

‘people from oppressed classes have a truth unto themselves that cannot be taught but must be respected, and all opposing viewpoints must be shut down’: This is a misreading of CRT/I, and one that I suggest highlights its value. CRT/I asserts that everybody has a point of view and way of seeing the world that is affected by their various interlocking identities and experience. There are plenty of aspects of life were we generally accept the necessity and uniqueness of experience as a kind of knowledge - jobs, parenting, relationships, etc. Why should race, gender or class be different? However I'd argue that this assertion gets us closer to the truth. Accounting for bias in science and acknowledging how fundamental it is to people and instruments gets us better science, not worse, even if its harder. "all opposing viewpoints must be shutdown", seems to be a strawman: No reading of CRT/I demands this, in fact most of the literature consists of patient, often quantitative, critiques of systems (law, education, science, public health, etc). So if anything, CRT/I furthers the ideals you see it as threatening.

Examples would be good.

CRT is postmodernism, witch is basically what depressed Communists came up with to continue to hope they get communism. The amount of inroads stuff like this has made, specially in universities is beyond sad.

This just happened in Seattle. The program for gifted students was canceled after being found to be inequitable.

FYI,New York isn't doing the same. The mayor's task panel issued recommendations last year, but he has yet to implement any. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/05/turning-up-the-pre...

Wow. By that argument, one could just as easily label top universities with high scholastic admissions requirements to be “inequitable”, and thus unacceptable.

Equal opportunity does not imply equal outcome—even for a perfectly fair school. Quite the opposite! In fact, I’m glad I got rejected from several schools... their high bar helped guide me to something that worked better for me anyway.

I think people do say that. The notion is that when you look at the people attending Harvard and Mit, for instance, their parents tend to be much more wealthy than the students at Bunker Hill Community College. You're right! That isn't an excuse to shut them down but it might be a reason to think of the system a inequitable. It may be that similar parallels exist in K-12. Then if you're middle class or poor, you have to wonder, "Why am I paying taxes for an elite school that my kid likely won't attend? Can't the rich kids' parents pay for the elite school themselves?" That may be short term thinking or kind of defeatist but it is reasonable.

> That may be short term thinking or kind of defeatist but it is reasonable.

I think this is exactly the wrong thinking about taxes. And it's abused by pundits and politicians by making people spend the same money many times in their head. I mean, you can't be simultaneously outraged that "your tax money" supports elite schools and abortion clinics and the military; you don't pay that much of a tax. In fact, an average taxpayer's contribution would amount to buying some office supplies for one, small government building.

Money is fungible, and by the time enough is collected to fund a school, there's no "my money" in there anymore, much like if you take a fistful of sand from your yard and throw it on a beach nearby, there is no more "your sand".

> [O]ne could just as easily label top universities with high scholastic admissions requirements to be “inequitable”, and thus unacceptable.

The opposite was recently litigated - that top universities were inequitable because they didnt sufficiently consider scholastic achievement:



People who believe in this nonsense are essentially communists. The people who came up with it, clearly were and they were quite explicite about this.

They don't want equal opportunity, they reject that something like that even exists as opportunity is always unequal. Only transformation of society to communism in the end will 'solve' those problems.

So yes, in their opinion all of this stuff is evil and bad and should be replaced with ... something better. Of course they couldn't really tell you how that would look like.

These programs exist, but are generally separated from the ordinary high school system. For example, right here in the Bay area there's Proof School, a private school founded precisely "for kids who love math", AoPS Academy, for extracurricular challenging math classes, and powerhouse public schools like Lynbrook, where gigantic student-run clubs aimed at competitions provide exactly this kind of education.

Comparing the Bay to the American education system as a whole is unfair. In the more rural part of California I grew up we had no options available to us at all. There was the high school, and the more trade-focused high school that only existed as somewhere to put kids who had been expelled from the normal high school.

People do that with Soviet system too. In the 1980s, a disproportionate number of top scientific cadre were born and raised in Moscow and went through the few focused schools there.

Born gifted in Govneevka, Kirov obl., pop. 20,000? Good luck.

Something about this (emphasis more on problems for people with Jewish ancestry in the Soviet Union) can be found here:


from someone, born in the system:


The system was absolutely flawed, still is, but still good enough to encourage the highly skilled.

Our (Romania's) education system was (is) the same, if you were GOOD at something there were plenty of paths that teachers would generally push you towards, special clubs for maths, languages, art (less common). Or schools who would try to group together highly skilled students.

System (after communism) has the same flaw, most rural areas have worse access to education, or better said, much worse quality of education.

Yup, when I went through school the gifted program was cancelled at around the same time as the recession and never brought back, and students would skip a year or two in math. Now trying to skip two is much, much harder.

High performers are starting to be home schooled, more and more.

> There used to be a big focus on tracking, gifted programs and "accelerated math", but it is now perceived as inequitable.

That is exactly right. The other people commenting to the contrary don't seem to know what they're talking about. Even in public schools it was common across the US until the late 1990s to have separate programs and classes (almost always referred to as "gifted" in some regard) for superior students. It wasn't viewed as unfair either, it was common and it was a point of pride to be in those classes, to be selected as a higher tier student.

Something changed in the last 20 years where treating students differently became considered unfair. The everybody gets a trophy syndrome took over.

Ironic that Russia is pushing for excellence while the States is pushing for equality.

Where's the irony? (Not sure which one is worse.)

This is common core, and the reason why it was created will shock and enrage you.


Straight from the horses mouth.

He wanted poorer, minority kids to have a chance at a good education and high standards as well? Wasn't very shocking, though the title was incendiary.

He tries to do that not by elevating people, but by dragging people down. I'm not OK with this.

I transcribed the clip, and I don't see where he's "dragging people down". My guess is that you're reacting to "as a white male in society I'm given a lot of privilege that I didn't earn" and "I think it's really important those kids learn how to read just as well as I had the opportunity to learn how to read." It sounds to me exactly like he's trying to "elevate people", but you're reading it as "drag people down". Why? This is confusing to me.

First person) Every teacher who's using it basically is saying this is inspiring a closer and more engaged student body. So the people that are actually using it like it. And again in terms of the local control, you still have local control. So if you want higher standards, if that's really, if that is your genuine point, then you can go ahead and do it. You can do the higher standard. And the process was indeed totally transparent. And when [garbled] we'll move on to David and Bill.

Second person) Um, I'm not paid to be here either. I'm just an interested teacher who helped write the standards. And the reason why I helped write the standards and the reason why I am here today is that as a white male in society I'm given a lot of privilege that I didn't earn. And as a result ... [scattered boos from the audience] ... I think it's really important that all kids have an equal opportunity to learn how to read. I think I had a set of advantages as a result of who I was, not ???. And when I walk into places like Roberto Clemente high school on ??? side of Chicago, I think it's really important those kids learn how to read just as well as I had the opportunity to learn how to read. And ??? created an equitable education opportunity for all kids. I think this is actually the greatest lesson we can teach our kids.

I did not hear that in the video - could you pinpoint the timestamp? I would also not be OK with that.

I don’t see the issue. The internet exists now and you can access a world of content in seconds. I didn’t get any of this, ever in my mediocre education - I don’t see why so much focus should be placed on these elites at the expense of everyone else.

> I don’t see why so much focus should be placed on these elites at the expense of everyone else.

Because the big breakthroughs and innovations in math and science are achieved by the elites and not by the mediocre masses.

This doesn't mean that we should neglect the mediocre masses (I'm one of them, by the way), they do good, important work. But they're are not sufficient.

Who is permitted the time and resources to develop breakthroughs and innovations?

Surely not the proletariat in modern America, where the vast majority are getting poorer year by year.

The term "elites" in this thread does not refer to the aristocracy or the financial 0.1%. It refers to the high-achievers in math and science, and they have to work for their income just like everybody else (and from what I've ready about postgrads and PhD students in the US, they have to work their asses off).

The internet you use to access content in seconds was created by those elites.

Sounds like hagiography to me. There were lots of ordinary, non-prodigies that built ARPANet, TCP/IP, the Unix/Windows network stack and HTTP. Plenty work at companies that build the network planes, like Cisco and AWS and Microsoft.

Policies can't be decided based on your insecurities. You don't want anyone to be better perceived than you even when they may be objectively better. All your elitism comments say the same thing.

Objectively better? In what way?

I'd like you to explicitly list in which ways I'm "objectively inferior".

For one your comprehension. I said may. Give me a case by case study and I can give my opinion. Are you saying all software engineers are equal or you are better than everyone out there ? If not why don't the better ones deserve more pay / prestige etc.

How many ways are you going to call me stupid without having the gumption to actually come out and say it? Kind of cowardly IMO. Make your point.

I don't know you or your work. I have no qualms in saying most likely there is someone better than you. I have no qualms in saying that about 99% of the people I know because it's statistically true. To say that others don't deserve more pay or prestige is akin to saying "I will feel bad so don't pay someone better more".

Are you saying you're part of the top 1% of intellect or something? I thought that was just a meme. Yikes bro. Calm down.

Okay your comprehension is clearly lacking (not a subject at NCSU ?). Won't engage unless you aren't obviously trolling.

You're making pretty gross assumptions right now.

Anecdotal I know but I went to an entire school for “gifted” students in Texas in the 80’s.

40 years ago is 1980, so that seems consistent with his comment. Also consistent is that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, which has been ranked #1 and is generally in the top ten US high schools, was founded in 1985.

Bronx Science was founded in 1938. It has graduated eight nobel prize winners, seven in physics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronx_High_School_of_Science

And, per Wikipedia, many of the faculty came from Stuyvesant, founded 1904 (which has itself had 4 nobel prize winners). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuyvesant_High_School

Not at that level, I have 3 kids of various ages from elementary school to college ;) There is a HUGE difference in the programs from who is selected into the program to program goals.

For the sake of example, how was Soviet Science high school different from Stuyvesant/Brooklyn Tech/Bronx school of Science? (Just to name the ones I know of).

I am not very familiar with these schools, I am in CA. I think the biggest factor for me during my high school years was several hours per week of 1-1 discussions with currently active mathematicians and grad students. While formal math is really hard to read, a lot of ideas are very elegant and actually simple. It’s hard to find these ideas in a formal math text, but you can explain a lot of things in 1-1 setting while still allow student to “discover” core concepts on their own. Mathematics is not about solving 100 problems of one type ;)

This is what infuriates me about college level mathematics from about 12 years ago at least. Why can't they also explain it like they do in those 1-1 sessions instead of making calculus textbooks that assume you know set theory before set theory is taught in some of the worst most obtuse writing there is.

I'm glad there is khan academy now, but come on.

There are good reasons why formal texts are important but I can’t agree more that this is not a good way to teach math if there is nothing else available. But you also need to learn how to read these texts at the end because this is the way mathematicians communicate to each other ;)

Re 1-1: the biggest advantage is that students can rediscover things. It’s one experience to read or listen to a proof, and it is completely different experience when you discover it yourself with small hints from the teacher.

I don't think formal texts should go away, just things equivalent to those well done, plain spoken, 1-1 explanations need to be right beside them in the textbooks. They often are not.

Also math tends to have a documentation problem that could learn a lot from software engineering. Single letter variables are not acceptable in most coding for a simple example.

You would love 3B1B.

He teaches undergrad level math with his youtube videos in the most intuitive way I've ever seen on video.

And another point, high school and college level math is coming from the 18th and early 19th centuries. All of it can be explained without formalization from 1920-30 and students for non-mathematical degrees will understand it much better. I can explain sets to elementary school kids in 10 minutes ;)

The very point of 1-1 sessions is to start with an awareness of your existing knowledge background (set theory or not?) and to aim for real mastery in the most effective way. Unfortunately 1-1 sessions don't scale, while at least khan academy does.

I know lots of UC math/cs profs who meet 1-1 with high school students every week. Currently, the process is pretty informal, where local high school students just knock on the doors of professors until one agrees to regular meetings. UC Riverside is in the process of opening up a high school directly on the campus grounds to make the process more formal.

I'm not familiar with Stuyvesant, TJHSST and the like. The best Russian schools follow the Konstantinov [1] tradition of "listki" (handouts), where each student is essentially guided to re-invent the math curriculum by solving problems. There're no textbooks or lectures. You solve problems from the handouts at your own pace and discuss them with a TA when ready (typically volunteers from among former graduates of the same school).

You can get some taste of these handouts for grades 8 and above from https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=http%...

[1] https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=&sl=ru&tl=en&u=htt...

And another factor, also coming from 1-1 tutoring, is that nobody waits for others. You can move ahead as fast as you can and actually you get more attention if you are ahead of class. As the result, while everyone knows the same fundamental theorems, some students have a chance to learn A LOT more.

Only in some very limited areas. I guess private programs exist too, but your parents would have to have knowledge of them plus the time, money, and wherewithal.

I am absolutely certain nothing like this was available to any kid in my schools growing up.

I'm not sure the total scope or worth really of the program in Los Angeles, but there are requirements just to apply (1), and slots at the highest scoring schools appear pretty limited (2).

It's also not an automatic thing, so a parent will have to be informed about the program and have the time to fill out the paperwork, and these schools are also at specific location, so if you live far away you might not be able to get there without difficulty and stress.

All of this puts filters on who gets to go, rather than just making space for everyone who shows interest in certain areas and puts forth effort. It also removes successful students from local schools, the proportion of academically inclined peers goes down, the proportion of bad influences goes up, and the entire school system suffers as a consequence. Ideally these programs should exist in house, expanded or contracted to fit the number of kids scoring >x% on whatever measure.

1. http://echoices.lausd.net/Magnet/MagnetGiftedCriteria

2. https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-edu-magnet-test-score...

My kid is in one of these LAUSD magnets. It’s a public school. The gifted magnets are open to anyone who tests into a certain percentile. The test is given to everyone so it’s quite transparent.

To get into the highly gifted magnet, you have to request a subsequent test, which the district administers. You have to score above the 99.5 percentile.

But they are not on the federal level, with the benefits and disadvantages of this. The benefit is that they don't get dragged into partisan politics and have their agendas changed every four years. The disadvantage is in reach and scale. In some countries they can get the top 2000 middle school math students across the country into the same campus. In the US it's more like the Top 100 students in Virginia, which is a different experience.

AP classes aren't really close to the same in my experience. They may technically be on par with entry level college courses but none of the content is so difficult than anyone else couldn't do it. If anything we just have low expectations and do very little to foster any critical thinking skills in most students. You could be below average in terms of natural ability and not have a problem with AP classes just by actually giving a shit.

My AP history teacher read us historical documents and wanted us to "take notes" by writing them down and then tested us on random parts of the document. I wish I took a lower-level history class. Such a waste of time.

I'd argue you could do the same without even trying, either. AP classes aren't really significantly more difficult than a regular class; they just have more focus on content covered on the AP exam.

Can you elaborate? I am interested in knowing about these programs for my son.

Which state are you in? Public resources differ quite a bit by state.

Privately, I would look at: https://cty.jhu.edu/

Thanks! I am in California (Bay Area)

Look into Art of Problem Solving (AOPS).


1) accelerated classes, 2) magnet schools, 3) statewide magnet schools, 4) high school research programs

My feeling is that the students in Eastern Europe (where I'm from) and very likely the Soviet Union, are very bimodal. Some are brilliant, some barely make it. If, for whatever reasons, early in your education you find yourself in the upper hump of the distribution, then it's a virtuous cycle. If not, not.

In America, it feels to me ,there are plenty of programs to help the students who don't perform that well. Brilliant kids, outside of various gifted/talented programs, are left unchallenged. My son just qualified to an online math olympiad, and he told his teacher and peers about that (over a zoom meeting, obviously). The teacher was impressed, and commended him, but that's it. He will not give my son any more challenging problems, or give him any extra attention. If he does well in that olympiad, he'll congratulate my son once more, if not, he couldn't care less.

When I was a kid growing up, math/physics olympiads was what I was living for. Here most teachers are not even aware they exist.

Overall though, I'll go against the popular opinion, and state that I consider the school system in America (or at least in NYC) better than the one in Eastern Europe. Sure, some could point out at the ridiculous budget that schools have here ($25k per pupil in NYC [1]). But all in all, I feel my son's school experience is better than mine 35 years ago.

[1] https://nypost.com/2019/05/21/nyc-spends-double-the-national...

Yes! I was about to say something similar about China as well. In China, and maybe other former Communist countries as well, kids with talents or what seems like talents are identified very early on and only those with such aptitudes are given the resources and put on a track to nurture those talents. Same thing with sports too! My guess is that China probably borrowed a lot from the USSR in their programs and philosophy.

I went to a top university in the US and there were definitely kids who arrived being much more advanced in certain areas such as mathematics than the rest of us. Maybe it is not as regimented in the US but there are definitely highly talented kids who take much more advanced STEM classes than the average student.

I wonder how much the respective cultures and politico-economic systems of those states play into that.

My dad was similarly hyper-tracked: he entered grade school at 7 and graduated at 16 (he grew up in the Philippines, but as part of the expat Filipino-Chinese community, and went to Chinese schools). When my dad tried similarly hyper-tracking me academically (suburban Boston), I got beat up, physically, by my peers. Having been traumatized into becoming a terrible student, I later found out I did much better economically than many of my more academically-diligent college classmates that ended up getting physics Ph.Ds.

The U.S. is fundamentally an exchange economy: you succeed based on how well you can make other people happy. That privileges EQ and social intelligence over IQ and academic intelligence. The USSR was a command economy, and China was an export economy until very recently. Both of those privilege having specific technical skills in areas that are particularly useful to the state, many of which have mathematics and science as a precursor. It wouldn't surprise me if China starts devaluing academic achievement as it transitions from an export economy to an exchange economy. We're already starting to see it with the fuerdai, the children of the new Chinese rich.

> I got beat up, physically, by my peers

This is a problem. Regardless of whether hyper-tracking is beneficial, no kid should have to suffer from this kind of bullying. I don't know why bullying in the U.S. is (or seems to be) so much worse than other countries.

Teachers in American schools are usually shit-scared of their students, which is the exact opposite of how things are in Russia, China, or even India.

There are many reasons. Parents and students wield too much power in the American school system, and the idea of tying a school's funding to local property taxes makes this worse.

In addition, America lacks the cultural norms of respect and deference for education and educators that are present in more traditional societies like India or China.

An American calls his or her parents "you" when talking to them.

Asians always address their parents with words meaning "mother" or "father". Calling them "you" is extremely rude.

We can go on and on how vastly different the norms on respecting parents (and teachers).

In most parts of Europe teachers and educated folks are respected.

Well there's also the whole "school shooting epidemic" thing. But sure, the 3 billion people in those three countries are all fairly comparable. China:1.4 B India:1.35 B US:0.3 B

In socialist Hungary the experience was more nuanced.

There were programs after hours for gifted students but for the first eight years normal hours you were locked in with the other animals there wasn't anything special and it was living hell. Don't think I call my young peers animals for nothing, I do not only carry the emotional scars but also the physical: more than thirty years later it's visible where one of them has bitten my shoulder at the age of 13. I ran away from the school very early once and my father practically dragged me back and I was contemplating suicide when I was 9.

Doing a lot of those after hour programs and an ungodly amount of luck and goodwill made me pass the admittance exam of the best special maths high school class in Hungary. You know those question where they ask what you would do differently in your life if you could do it again? Well, I would tell 13.5 yrs old me to do the goddamned homework for the preparation course! One of the homework questions was the entrance exam and I mostly fubbed it and as I learned much later one of the two teachers didn't want to admit me while the other saw something... It makes me shudder to think of my life if I hadn't gotten in that class...

This happens in America; the difference is that there is an expectation that parental means play a role in success (both in the way the system is oriented and on the part of parents themselves). Most, though not all, of the time, those with clear and high aptitude are "tracked" into gifted programs and magnet schools (though the efficacy varies based on local conditions, re: school funding models in the US). For those with moderate or middling aptitude, it's up to the parents to support and advocate for their child; there is an ostensible cut-off, but it's blurred by the degree of access to tutors or coaches and by the parents' savvy with navigating qualification procedures (often including places where subjectivity can sneak in, like interviews). This, of course, favors the children of wealthy and well-educated parents.

This runs through to post-secondary education. America's college admissions system is legendarily rife with corruption, even into its basic structure; you think it starts there?

I suspect there's a huge variation within the US; Chicago area public schools do what you described in Russia, or did anyway.

When relocating years later to California for work, locals seemed to have had access to far fewer opportunities in school. Besides math, as in the OP's observations, foreign language options seemed to only include Spanish, whereas Chicagoland had French, German, Spanish, Latin, and that included some ancient Greek.

Just different opportunities, by school district.

>I think on average the difference between a high school student from Russia and US is negligible

I don't think so, compared to the difference between the US and my country (which is western but closer to USSR/Russia regarding math curriculum). I think you overestimate what the average US high school student learns...

I traveled a lot and studied in international schools, embassy sf schools and schools in USSR as well as US. I was born in USSR so I mainly studied there between my travels, and everything that I saw and experienced came no where close to the curriculum that I had in motherland. So I have to disagree with you.

It could also bet you can't stunt your growth with a calculator.

I've seen current students grasping at a calculator the first opportunity they were given.

i agree overall, there are also high schools for 'talented' kids who can take exams/ or private schools in the US/ of course not all is available everywhere

Such a program will never happen in America again because some people will complain about privilege-this and equity-that. America is basically living Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron already and dooming itself to mediocrity if is doesn’t realize the damage being done and correct things.

What happened with NYC’s gifted and talented programs was a perfect example of this idiocy.

Unfortunately, our systems must reflect the fact that our "reluctance" to provide truly equal opportunity in early learning and grade school precludes any claim to meritocracy. We have hobbled ourselves, but not in the way you seem to be imagining: saddled with poverty and anxiety, history and double consciousness, our Harrison Bergerons don't trouble the children of parents terrified of a truly level playing field.

I do agree that we should change that.

Don't forget genetics.

To have true equality we will need to bring genetic engineering to the masses. Human genetic augmentation seems criminally underfunded and over-restricted to me.

Everyone wants to not forget genetics. No one wants to admit the inadequacy of their models of heritability of cognitive function in explaining disparities in educational outcome. Should we continue to judge the entire country solely on studies that claim 60-70% genetic influence (on cohorts of exceedingly similar European-descended subjects)? Twin studies that fail to consider epigenetic influence, widespread psychological effects, etc.? Studies that cannot take into account disparities in environmental effects, because they were unknown or exceedingly difficult to quantify?

If we find that there are significant, genetically-controlled disparities, how do you suppose we go about treatment? We can't even treat SNP-based disorders yet. Cognitive function is controlled by the complex interaction of multiple genes.

I'm sorry for the cynical response. I'm just annoyed that this approach seems to come up constantly, despite the problem being unproven and the solution not efficacious. As a society, provide people with safe, stable homes and communities, their children with equal education and development-centered nutrition and activity, and keep going for a generation or two while we increase our sophistication with genetic and heritability science. Then we can talk about where differences may lie and how, if at all, to treat them.

Obviously heritability figures are time-and-place specific and safe and stable homes (with good nutrition) are vital for success.

But even if the IQ (yes, I can hear the collective groan, but keep reading) difference between a Nigerian and a South Korean is 0% genetic, the within-group differences are still a good 20 points, half of which a genetic engineering program might be able to fix.

We're a long way from being able to do this admittedly, which is why funding and less restrictions would help, but I believe the QALY gains from success would be huge.

Btw: If it does turn out that womb environment is the killer app, the government should try and encourage a massive surrogacy campaign (allowing payment if it doesn't already).

When I was in elementary school probably a decade ago we all had to take a math placement test (not the standardized test, a different one) to determine what math class we'd be in middle school.

Tons of privilege-this and that (this is normal in the bay area, pretty sure a lot more schools have similar systems) but at the end of the day kids (like me) studied extremely hard for these placement tests.

I'm honestly surprised that people have begun studying for that test; when I took it was fairly low-stress…

At my school in England, once or twice a year the best/worst students in each class were swapped with the class above/below, based on the teachers' decisions. I had this for maths and French.

I completely messed up a French test on purpose, so the teacher had an excuse to put me in the class below. We really didn't like each other, and I did much better being in the top 25% of the middle class, rather than the bottom 25% of the top class.

British teachers call splitting up a year by ability for all subjects "streaming", and just for some classes "setting", and searching with both terms shows there's plenty of debate on the merits of each (or neither) method at all ages. Since I left the UK, it looks like politicians have been trying to get involved.

Yeah maybe it was just me but I was predicting what the day would be, how many questions, difficulty, etc.

Ended up failing the elementary school test and was 1 out of 4 in the district who aced the middle school placement test to skip prealgebra (math 6 to algebra directly). Much of this can't be done nowadays because of common core.

By the time I went through precalc and calc at MV I realized maybe I should've taken a slower math sequence XD

It did during World War II and all the physics professors I've met who went through that program were maladjusted, even for physics professors.

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