MATH EDUCATION MADNESS
I’m glad TMV co-blogger and editor Jerry Remmers recently posted and wrote about America’s overall stupidity with respect to Mathematics. The reader comments were excellent as well and got me thinking (and now ranting). I would like to mention a few more items in this vein before turning to other posts and subjects. Since I am an authorized TMV blogger with over 2 regular fans, I am free to go ad nauseum or ad absurdum in any area.
ENGAGED PARENTS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR LEARNING MATH
My father was excellent in mathematics and he regularly tutored me through high school. I’m now doing that with my 10-year-old son. My father was a graduate of the second-oldest High School in the U.S. (Central in Philadelphia) and graduated from and taught architecture at Columbia University in New York during the 1950’s and 60’s. He was an assistant ship’s navigator on an Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific during World War II. He spent most of his life as an architect (the world’s second-oldest profession). He taught other architects the unpopular mathematical parts of the profession that ensured buildings didn’t collapse.
I spent many vacations with my father wandering all over European and American cities, cathedrals, museums, concert halls, seaports, and railroad stations. (He loved ships and trains and so do I.) Back during my school years, I regularly tromped with him all over various building sites during various stages of construction. I inherited my father’s keen sense of direction and ability to transpose flat maps and blueprints into 3-dimensional reality. I am dumbfounded that many people perpetually require computerized directions for driving around Phoenix, a very simple grid city interrupted occasionally by mountains, highways, canals and railroad tracks.
MATH FOR FUN OR TORTURE
I took a variety of mathematically-related courses in College because they were interesting and I only spent the minimal time in my scholarship-paid major of Music. I took Calculus my first year and got all “B’s” while various smart friends just got by or flunked out. I then wandered off and took many additional classes in economics, statistics, physics and accounting, also getting straight “B’s” for modest efforts because I had too many other academic and social commitments. (I had to regularly accompany on the piano every brass and percussion instrument that only played dismal mathematically-based pieces by various 20th Century composers – Don’t mention Hindemith or I’ll scream.) I tutored a number of Freshmen football and basketball players in remedial math who were destined to be College Varsity standouts. The word “stupid” took on a whole new meaning and became insufficient as an adequate description for ignorance.
During elementary school, I grew up during a time when U.S. educators were introducing the Metric system and they decided to teach both the old U.S. and new systems badly, or as afterthoughts only. Many of my contemporaries can’t describe distances, weights, or any measurements with any coherence. “It’s about ‘way’ long” is the best summary of their measuring skills.
I’m not too sure fractions are needed to understand the old measurement systems. (2 & 11/17th plus 4 & 3/7th doesn’t correspond to anything in the real world, and it can be solved by converting to decimals much faster.) We still need to know there are 4 quarters in an increasingly worthless dollar and how to evenly slice a whole pie to keep everyone at the table satisfied. (You don’t need to know any math to realize that our country’s corporate oligarchy takes most of the U.S. income and wealth pies leaving the majority of us with just a few crumbs.)
METRIFICATION FOR NEEDED ECONOMIC STIMULUS
A yard is just 10 centimeters (1 cigarette) shy of one meter and most people can stretch out their arms and reach about a yard or a meter. Most human beings are between 155 and 195 centimeters tall. A pound is just under a half a kilo. (Ideally, a person should weigh in kilos less than half his or her height in centimeters – about .45 or 45%.) There are almost 4 liters (3.8) in a gallon which has 4 old-fashioned quarts unless it is some imperial gallon that few people understand. Driving at 100 kilometers per hour is about the same as driving 60 miles per hour. (About a kilometer or a mile per minute) With these basic corresponding measurements, you can conduct most of your life as a happy and protected consumer in the metric system.
All automobiles, appliances, soft drinks, and heavy equipment (manufactured or sold here and that are found around the world) are built to metric specifications. 200 years ago, the U.S. was the first country to adopt a metric currency (dollar) and then time stood still with respect to measuring everything else that mattered. Modern Medicine is wholly practiced within the metric system. The most regressive parts of the U.S. that cling to the old and confusing measuring system are in the areas of construction, real estate, law and government.
Perhaps if we undertook a complete conversion to the metric system, it could be a new economic stimulus measure. If there were steep fines imposed or losses of federal funding by not complying within 2 years, all levels of governments and most all private industry would hire the new personnel, buy the needed equipment and signage, and engage the consultants to make the complete metric conversion. This undertaking would be a strong systemic shot that would positively ripple throughout the entire economy significantly reducing unemployment.
Unfortunately many on the political “right” (yet frequently “wrong”) including zealous conservatives, libertarians and Republicans would probably decry any change to the metric system as more creeping socialism, government intrusiveness, outright Nazism, evil globalism, and wholly against our basic freedom to be non-competitive with the rest of the world. They will likely block such a proposal as they have frequently done for the past few decades with most every sensible idea and needed change for our society. (Sometimes the only cure for such utter stupidity, rigidity, intransigence and intolerance is a swift kick in the ass or a hard punch in the mouth.)
MANY ATTORNEYS DON’T KNOW ANY MATH
I spent many frustrating years working as an attorney with lawyers who generally knew little about mathematics. Often arduous, lengthy and complex descriptions in oral and written forms could have been summed up by drawings, pictures and equations. Most attorneys in personal injury work and who defend insurance companies from such claims know only how to multiply and divide by 3. It may take years to get to a final settlement, but most people should know that the vast majority of personal injury suits come out the same.
Take the total out of pocket losses (medical bills, lost wages, expert fees, plus any lost future earnings) times 3 and that’s the final insurance settlement payment. (Sometimes juries get carried away but appellate courts generally fall back to the 3x rule.) The plaintiff’s attorney takes one-third, the medical providers are generally all paid, and the real pain and suffering is covered by the last third of the total award or settlement.
This basic equation works for most medical malpractice claims but don’t delude yourself into thinking that reforming this area will have any impact on the massive cost overruns in our healthcare system. (You can get up to 10 times medical bills for bruised but uninjured minors with very little work expended by attorneys on both sides of the litigation.) I’d better stop now or else I might give away more secrets of the legal profession. I’ve never been welcomed in any other professions despite my wide educational background because I am short in graduate coursework and professional certifications. (A Jack of all trades just makes a jack-ass.)
EVEN THOSE THAT SHOULD KNOW MATH DON’T
In my 20-year career, I’ve spent more time working with entrepreneurs, accountants, MBA’s, corporate officers, directors, and business lawyers, who also have held many naive notions about basic mathematics and statistics, SEC rules, and the ever-fluid GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Over the past few decades, many public and private financial statements have degenerated into complete fictions and marketing fantasies for shareholders and the general public. (To read any annual report, start at the back and read the footnotes first.) However, with accountants and attorneys spending most of their time now hiding some of the important facts in footnotes, these addenda have become obtuse, complex, convoluted, and utter wastes of time to peruse. In fact, more business and financial activities now occur “off the books” and we really need a team of forensic accountants, completely independent auditors and appraisers, and experienced security attorneys to make sense of our private and public financial statements.
WE NEED NEW TEACHERS IN K-12
Many friends and acquaintances have told me that I would make a good math, history, or Economics instructor at the high school or college level. (Some TMV readers might counsel me to stay away from teaching English or creative writing classes.) There are many Americans from various professional backgrounds that would also be great teachers in our public schools. As a result of this deep recession, the few new job openings in relatively open community colleges are flooded with many great applicants but only the few with connections, certifications or prior teaching experience are preferred. Most American States are in severe economic and fiscal disarray so they are cutting educational positions within K-12. However, every teacher has to retire sometime and there already is well-documented burnout in the profession that drives many teachers away.
In most states, the biggest impediment (to getting good math, science, history, English and foreign language teachers) is the exclusionary state certification process. It is needlessly expensive and lengthy, not to mention completely pointless as an overall academic pursuit for any sane individual to tolerate. We probably could use just one national certification process but by having 50 separate systems, we keep our country further behind the rest of the world.
The U.S. needs to open up K-12 instruction to many part-time non-certified individuals who want to teach and tutor a few classes per semester or year for some extra income. More important, these individuals are motivated to teach for the intellectual stimulation and the strong desire to help society and our children. (I’m not going to tutor for free future sports stars who just need to pass remedial math in order for them to lose most of their professional earnings to shyster managers and advisors.) The entire U.S. educational system and its bloated bureaucracies, including nihilistic teachers’ unions, stand firmly in the way of meaningful progress and excellence in student instruction.
I’ve been admonished by administrators and teachers that I need special training in dealing with difficult children who are discipline problems and who refuse to learn. The simple answer is to calmly ask such kids to leave the class if they are not interested and then move on with the kids that are. (Sometimes everyone needs to run around outside for 30 minutes at recess and then we can discuss mathematics in sports with everyone fully engaged.) I would naturally be interested in learning about a few alternative teaching methods for specific subjects because I know each child learns in his or her own unique way. I have had to approach certain subjects differently with my son than the way I was taught because he is naturally different from me.
WASTING OUR TIME AND MONEY INSTEAD
Overall, the U.S. is degenerating into a society that perpetually wastes human talent at all levels in favor of a small oligarchy of the rich, connected, greedy and corrupt. It’s not that we don’t spend enough money on our overall duplicitous educational system. Instead we misallocated massive amounts of taxpayer funds all the time and we miss basic insights and methods that other societies have taken for granted as a result of our growing and dangerous combination of national arrogance, partisanship and ignorance.
The many new achievement and aptitude tests are so weak and limited as to measure nothing of consequence. Yet they now dominate the overall curriculum to the detriment of a well-balanced education needed for our citizens to compete globally in the 21st Century.
I could go on forever but I will stop here and welcome reader comments.
Marc Pascal, happily ranting in Phoenix, AZ