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Posted by on Dec 30, 2009 in Economy, Education, Health, International, Places, Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 34 comments

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

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • jkremmers

    Marc, thanks for the kind words. I hope the comments to your post are as poignant as those made on mine.

    Back in the 1960s, the superintendent of the Tustin (Calif.) school district told me something I don’t know holds true today. That is, the California Education Code is written in such a way that local districts ARE PROHIBITED from doing anything unless specifically authorized in the education code. Man, if that doesn’t stifle innovation and creativity, I don’t know what would. — Jer

  • KUppiano

    You lost me when you started talking about government mandates and heavy fines to force metrification. We don’t need government to shove anything down our throats. We should be at liberty to make our own decisions. We are already “metrificified”. We are gradually switching over, where it is needed, where it matters, where it makes sense. So what if our road signs say 60 MPH instead of 100 KPH? Big deal if our thermostats are calibrated in Fahrenheit. Most devices, computers, etc., are switchable between units. Many of our automobiles use metric hardware. The fact that some auto mechanics might require two socket sets isn’t going to sink our economy, nor will American products that happen to use English dimensions. Companies that are interestsed in selling overseas will make the necessary adaptations. I work for a software company that “localizes” the user interface for the various languages and cultures. We do that because we want to participate in the global market. If we were a hardware manufacturer, we would do the same there too — if it was necessary to interface with local dimensions. When I worked for an electronics firm, we used power supplies with interchangeable cords, and 110/220 capability. No big whoop.

  • Marc — This was such a great article, right up until the end. I enjoyed reading about your father teaching you math (I have similar awesome dad-n-me memories of learning things like the basics of algebra on the top of a mountain using a stick in the dirt as a pencil). I agree that we should all be appalled at how little math the average person knows. I agree that a switch to the metric system would do the US a great deal of good, although I doubt its efficacy as an economic stimulus.

    …and then you go and bash the teachers unions, and make silly and overbroad suggestions about classroom discipline. Yes, of course we need knew K-12 math teachers, and I actually like the idea of having, for example, retired people (say, engineers, architects, etc) do this. Getting rid of unions and credentialling is a terrible way of going about that.

    • Dr J

      Getting rid of unions and credentialling is a terrible way of going about that.

      Show me the correlation between credentials and teaching proficiency, and I’ll be happy to agree with you.

      • Hmm, Dr J. That’s a very interesting request. I mean, the suggestion is that teaching is somehow different than pretty much any other profession on earth in that being trained in how to do it has no discernable effect on how well the job gets done. That’s a pretty darned ridiculous suggestion, don’t you think? It would be like saying that getting trained or educated in, say, engineering, doesn’t make, on average, better engineers. Or lawyers. Or whatever.

        • Dr J

          That’s a pretty darned ridiculous suggestion, don’t you think?

          I’d say the ridiculous suggestion is the opposite, that once you’ve learned English or history or math–maybe even gotten a college degree in it–you’re incapable of teaching it to 13-year-olds without jumping through additional accreditation hoops.

          So much of teaching comes down to the soft skills of motivating kids, which are at best difficult to teach. Whether credentialing programs successfully teach them seems a pretty reasonable question.

          • Have you ever taught, Dr. J? It is actually an entirely different set of skills than just doing whatever is being taught. This set of skills, like most, is subject to different philosphies and trends, but in general can be taught effectively to those willing to learn. An excellent teacher can do a decent job at teaching something they barely know themselves, and an awesome writer can have not the faintest idea how to teach writing. The best teachers keep their skill sets growing by attending workshops or new trainings every once in a while, and many school districts require courses and workshops for their teachers. Some of these programs are good, and some pretty much suck, but the ones that are good will actually teach teachers better ways to teach. As with any subject, there are those with more innate talent than others, and these go on to be the best in their professions, but the skills are learnable to the middle-of-the-pack soon-to-be educator as well.

            “Whether credentialing programs successfully teach them seems a pretty reasonable question.”

            Do you have any reason to think that they don’t? I mean, there will always be a few who squeak through an educational program without really mastering the material, and it’s certainly the case with teachings as with most other jobs that it takes a while to really master the skills in a “real” environment, but why would you think that would be improved by getting rid of the educational program altogether? Again, this just seems entirely counter-intuitive as a concept, and yes, ridiculous.

            I hope you understand that if I’m being a bit diffensive, it’s because it really does bother me how so many people think they know something about educating just because they got an education. That somehow it’s this easy profession that doesn’t require any knowledge beyond the subject matter. This is just simply untrue. Sometimes, when these views are expressed as you are doing, the devious part of me would love to throw you in front of a classroom of 35 10-year-olds for a year. You realize quickly that it boils down to a bit more than adding fractions and assigning a few chapters from some Steinbeck novel.

          • Dr J

            It really does bother me how so many people think they know something about educating just because they got an education. That somehow it’s this easy profession that doesn’t require any knowledge beyond the subject matter.I said the opposite, that the best teachers are distinguished by their soft skills.Why does it bother you that people who spent a couple decades of their lives in school imagine they know something about education? Like most people, I had some terrific teachers and some appalling ones–and both types had teaching credentials.I’m hardly the first to raise questions about their value. And given that I’m paying public school teachers’ salaries, it doesn’t seem presumptuous to do so.Would you be similarly defensive about justifying engineering degrees? Or would the correlation between the degree and engineering competence be such a slam dunk that the question wouldn’t seem threatening?Teachers perform a vital service, and we need good ones. We cannot get them if we shroud their job in the mystique you’re asserting, nor if we get offended at calls for basic accountability.

          • duplicate post…

    • PatNaughtin

      Dear roro60,
      You wrote:
      “I agree that a switch to the metric system would do the US a great deal of good, although I doubt its efficacy as an economic stimulus.”
      You might like to reflect on how much non-metrication already costs each year in the USA. My estimate is a bit over a trillion dollars a year or roughly three times the USA military budget. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/docs/CostOfNonMetrication.pdf for the details of this assessment.
      Cheers,
      Pat Naughtin
      Geelong, Australia

      • Dr J

        Pat, you’re a loon. Manufacturing industries might well save money by metricizing, though they’re evidently not so convinced that they’re rushing to do so. It’s hardly fair to extrapolate industrial studies done in the days when people multiplied with slide rules to the entire US economy today. A good bit of it already uses the metric system.And as for costs being zero, that’s obvious nonsense. Just for starters, changing every highway sign in America has got to run to billions.

  • ProfElwood

    I’m still advocating freeing the schools from federal, state, and country restrictions. When parents have more influence on the school’s rules, they’ll slowly start supporting it more.

    • JeffersonDavis

      “I’m still advocating freeing the schools from federal, state, and country restrictions.”You should keep total control at the level at which tax funding is found. If it’s local, then keep control within the locality. If it’s county, then keep the control at the county. The only state or federal interference should come in the form of oversight to ensure proper bookkeeping and as a deterrence to corruption. Most schools in the US fund at the county level through property taxes. Therefore, I believe State Boards of Education should be abolished and leave all curriculum decisions to the county. That way, a liberal enclave can teach liberally, moderate enclaves can teach correctly, and conservative enclaves can teach conservatively.

      (did ya like how I squeaked that in there?)

      • ProfElwood

        You should keep total control at the level at which tax funding is found. . .

        Unfortunately, that’s how we got here. Every politician want’s to “improve” education at their level. First by increasing funding, then by “fixing” problems by attaching strings to that funding.

        (did ya like how I squeaked that in there?)

        Cute.

        • JeffersonDavis

          “that’s how we got here. Every politician want’s to “improve” education at their level.”

          I don’t agree, ProfElwood. More and more centralized control is the trend since the 70’s in education. That’s how we got here. Local politicians are less likely to get away with funding corruption – as they are much easier replaced than the higher ups in government.

          • ProfElwood

            Local politicians are less likely to get away with funding corruption – as they are much easier replaced than the higher ups in government.

            Agree completely. The point that I’m getting at is that local school boards are dealing with a hodgepodge of federal, state (including “pass-through” regulations that hold back education funding unless the states implement otherwise unconstitutional rules) and even county rules. Our school board has to deal with federal “no child left behind” rules, excessive state testing, and a bunch of state funding rules, just for starters.

            So federal politicians, state politicians, and even a few local politicians get their fingers stuck in the pie, and mostly for the appearance of “doing something”, while they don’t have to deal with the results of their laws. It’s interesting how many in congress and the presidency send their own kids to private schools.

  • kathykattenburg

    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.Good article overall, Marc, but I agree with roro on the union-bashing, and I also want to point out that the above statement shows a serious lack of experience, or understanding, or both, of conditions in many inner-city schools. I substitute-taught for a few weeks in a middle school in the Bronx, in NYC, and it was against school policy for teachers to send students out of the classroom unless they were on their way somewhere, accompanied by an authorized adult. And that rule was there for good reason. In my classroom probably three-quarters of the students had serious behavioral issues and disrupted the class on a regular basis. Sending those students out into the hallways with no supervision was dangerous for themselves and for others. They would just disappear, leave the school, harass other students, get into fights, and basically create chaos all over the school. I would have liked nothing better than to tell some of the students in my class to leave the room if they were not interested in learning, but aside from the fact I would have been violating school policy, you know what would have happened? All of the students in the class would have been running out of the classroom; students would have been acting out just so they *could* get kicked out of the room, and every teacher in the entire school would have had their teaching disrupted. There were students in that class who acted out nonstop, every day — students with serious emotional, psychological, personal, behavioral, learning problems. There was a male student who, despite being only middle-school age, was gigantic, and on one occasion he attacked a female student (they were supposedly in a relationship). Do you know what I mean when I say he attacked her? I mean that he lunged for her, knocking over desks, chairs, and me as well because I made the mistake of trying to protect her from him. She was tiny. Tiny, unbelievably tiny, both in height and build. Tiny, very thin, like a waif. She looked like someone who hadn’t gotten enough to eat on a consistent basis from her earliest years. And he was gigantically tall for his age and husky. Of course, in a situation like that you have to call for help, and the other teacher in the room did that (while I, like an idiot, was trying to get this boy off of her). But incidents that were not as blatant, extreme safety issues happened all the time, and you just cannot tell kids like that to leave the room.Now, do I know what the solution is? By no means. That’s why I didn’t last long in that school. But I do know that saying “the simple answer” to disruptive students is to calmly tell them to leave the room may work quite well in an upper-middle-class suburban school where disruptive behavior is the exception and not the rule, but it’s certainly not going to work everywhere, and you really have to understand the setting you’re in before you can develop effective ways to manage difficult behavioral problems.

  • daniel_jackson

    It’s amazing how talk about the metric system brings out the quirkier in society who revel in making up stuff about measuring things. Trillion Dollars!? LOL!

  • PatNaughtin

    Dear Dr J,
    Thank you for your comments.
    Firstly I will take your association of me as a loon as a compliment; it is nice to be associated with “The Lunar Men”! See http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/scibio/uglowj.htm
    Secondly, I agree that I was forced to draw a long bow in making an estimate of the cost of non-metrication in the USA as more that a trillion dollars as there are very few well researched studies of this subject. I would be pleased to see your estimate of the costs of non-metrication in the USA and to see the basis of your calculations.
    Thirdly, it is the experience of other nations that changing road signs can be planned to minimise costs, and that the changeover can be done in a single day as it was done in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa.
    Even so, costs in some areas of the economy are readily balanced and exceeded by savings in almost all other areas. For example costs of changing road signs might be balanced by the savings of about 10 % in a single year’s mathematics education (with all subsequent years as a bonus).
    Cheers,
    Pat Naughtin

    • Dr J

      I would be pleased to see your estimate of the costs of non-metrication in the USASure, my estimate is zero or close to it. To cite your own article:How many businesses have lost orders or contracts because they could not do the job inmetric?I’d wager almost none have literally lost orders over it. Most industries are unit-neutral, able to fill the customer’s order for, say, 400 liters of marine lubricants by secretly shipping 106 gallons. And all companies pick which markets they’re going to compete in, knowing that different sizes (no matter what units they’re measured in) are just one of the myriad differences they’ll have to accommodate overseas. Companies aren’t caught out by the Japanese using metric units any more than they are by them speaking Japanese.How many people have had to be terminated because they refused to work in metric?Wow, these units are quite a religious point with you Australians. When Americans refuse to work on principle, it’s over morning-after pills and letting gays adopt. I haven’t heard of any workplace showdowns because workers refused to abide the wicked centimeter.Anyway, the kicker for me is that businesses that think metricizing would yield a good ROI can simply do so. You cited GM doing it in the 70s. If more businesses aren’t doing it–despite the alleged profits to be had–that suggests your hypothesized ROI vanishes under scrutiny.

      • PatNaughtin

        Dear Dr J,
        Thank you for your conjectures. I will not respond further.
        Cheers,
        Pat Naughtin
        Geelong, Australia

      • 20eric

        Maybe your astronomical and everlasting trade deficit is a better indication of how much trade you have lost with sticking to outdated measurement units. Your assertion that companies will produce in either measurement to satisfy customers would be prohibitively costly with continually re-adjusting precision machines and keeping 2 inventories. And that scenario does not take the inevitable and often costly conversion mistakes into account. People continually switching from one system to another are usually not good in either. More pertinent still, your unholy measurement mess leads to conversion mistakes in surgeries and hospitals that occasionally kill patients, or damage their health even more. If you have some compassion this alone should be a good reason to go metric all the way.

  • 20eric

    The argument for, or against US metrication boils down to this: America cannot function properly without metric units in science, medicine export and other important disciplines. So why waste children and teachers precious time on learning 2 measurement languages in a world that speaks practically only one? International maths tests confirm for quite some time that US children are trailing in maths compared to their metric educated peers. In this context and taking metric China’s meteoric rise in science and manufacture into account, Americans would do well to stay at least on par with that nation. To do that, you have to go with the times.

    • Dr J

      Your assertion that companies will produce in either measurement to satisfy customers would be prohibitively costly

      I think that’s true, just for very few companies. Car mechanics need a second set of wrenches. But you won’t find a metric aisle in the grocery store, metric shoes in the shoe store, nor metric pumps at the gas station. Doctors get by without duplicate syringes calibrated in teaspoons. Carpenters don’t require metric hammers or belt sanders, nor do bartenders need special glasses to pour metric pints.

      So why waste children and teachers precious time on learning 2 measurement languages in a world that speaks practically only one?

      Why, for the same reason we teach them roman numerals and cursive. Or the QWERTY keyboard, which is rumored to be terribly inefficient. Or indeed foreign languages, for which the costs of non-standardization dwarf anything we’re talking about.

      • 20eric

        “Why, for the same reason we teach them roman numerals and cursive. Or the QWERTY keyboard, which is rumored to be terribly inefficient. Or indeed foreign languages, for which the costs of non-standardization dwarf anything we’re talking about”.

        History and art widens children and adult’s mental horizon, learning cumbersome measurement units wastes children’s time for no justifiable reason at all. To compare languages with measurements is a fallacy because all languages are intrinsically equally good, or bad, but measurements modes are not. Metric is infinitely simpler to learn and use than disjointed medieval units, whether people like it or not.

      • 20eric

        “I think that’s true, just for very few companies. Car mechanics need a second set of wrenches”.

        Simplification is not using 2 sets of spanners, but using 3 metric spanners only to dismantle a VW beetle motor is. If that supermarket trolley has been manufactured in China it is made in mm and so are shoes made in that country. Likewise the pumps at your service station. For you it is all dumbed down to inches. Teaspoons are unreliable quantity measures, 5, 10, 15 mL are not. Carpenters using fractions waste a lot of time working out area, volume and lengths even without making mistakes. You are spot on with bar tenders.

  • daniel_jackson

    Dr J – There seem to be about 7 people in the world who monitor websites to see if people are talking about centimeters, liters etc. Once the conversation is found any number of odd ideas come to the fore if there is a chance to add comments to the feature. I believe they would even predict that the 10 men of the apocalypse will befall us due to people using miles etc. (’10 men’ because four is not decimal and hence would add to the trillion dollar deficit undoubtably). Incidentally – most Australians don’t give a hoot about measures.

  • blackcat309

    Dr J – There seems to be one individual who obsessively follows the whereabouts of the said metric loons. This individual, a Mr. Steven Humphreys, loves to stick it to one particular guy. Who is this guy? Mr. Daniel Jackson. It’s fun watching those two go at it. Mr. Humphreys, a clever bully, and Mr. Jackson, a humorless fanatic, would probably kill each other if they were found within a meter of each other. Thankfully the Atlantic Ocean separates them. Today, the person signed as daniel_jackson is really Steven Humphreys, and he is pulling one of his usual numbers. Have fun!

  • daniel_jackson

    I suspect that using both metric AND English measures (which, lets face it, is what we do even if we don’t talk that way) removes the argument of ‘not going metric’ or ‘going metric’ or costs or non-costs or whatever. Seems a silly argument when you realize how many more important things affect us all.

  • Dr J — I’ve had dentists my whole life. A few good ones, and a few horrible ones. My ability to distinguish between the two doesn’t mean I would presume to be able to extract a tooth.

    “that the best teachers are distinguished by their soft skills”

    And, probably, their ability to clearly and engagingly teach? To discipline? To understand the laws in the state where they work? To aim their lessons at the skill level and learning styles of the different students in their class? To recognize when they’re losing their audience? To give a coherent performance every day all year? I don’t know — I’ve had a couple teacher that I loved, but who weren’t able to teach me much at all. One thing my dad always told me, as well: you can still learn from a teacher you hate. Sure, soft skills are part of it, but there’s a lot more to it. Again, I’d love to see you in front of a bunch of 5th graders for 7 hours a day for 9 months.

    “Why does it bother you that people who spent a couple decades of their lives in school imagine they know something about education?”

    The system is set up so that teachers have to know about the system, but the students just need to learn the material. Doesn’t that make sense? Do you know what is and is not on your state’s curriculum? Do you know how to teach a 5 paragraph explanatory essay?

    “Would you be similarly defensive about justifying engineering degrees?”

    Most certainly I would, if everyone who had been living in buildings or crossing bridges or riding in planes their whole lives suddenly thought that they knew the first thing about engineering. That’s obviously not the case with engineering. Nobody questions whether or not my MSE is valuable to the job that I do, which is funny, because it really wasn’t too terribly useful except as an instant salary-booster and resume bragging point.

    “We cannot get them if we shroud their job in the mystique you’re asserting, nor if we get offended at calls for basic accountability.”

    On the contrary, I would say it’s you who is assigning some sort of “mystique” to teaching. I’m the one who’s saying that there are particular skills involved, and that those skills can be taught, and that’s what that year of credentialling is about. You seem to have some idea that good teachers are these magical beings who just instinctively are good at teaching, and that they were born that way. Sure– there are a few people who just “have it” (just like those naturally good at, say, math), but there are still things that need to be taught. It’s not rocket science. As a former rocket scientist (well, technically, a combustion engineer), I always said even rocket science isn’t “rocket science” — it’s just a set of skills and background, and if you have those skills and background, it’s not all that mysterious.

    • Dr J

      I’m the one who’s saying that there are particular skills involved, and that those skills can be taught, and that’s what that year of credentialling is about.

      And I’m saying great, then the benefits of the credential should show up in the teachers’ performance. What’s wrong with asking for some evidence? That’s just basic accountability for a credentialing program.

      • Fair enough, Dr J. The first link in a google search showed a study, the conclusions of which are this:

        The twoalternative certification studies tell us that (1) there was no difference in test scores that could beattributed to a small alternative certification program in Georgia and (2) Teach for America has apositive, though generally insignificant, effect on student achievement in Houston relative toother new non–TFA teachers. The other studies tell us that (1) individual 12th grade mathematicsachievement falls with an uncertified teacher despite no difference between teachers withstandard and emergency certification, (2) traditionally certified teachers in Arizona elementaryand middle schools raise student achievement by 20 percent compared to uncertified teachers, (3)a higher share of emergency certified mathematics teachers in California high schools isassociated with lower mathematics scores, and (4) states with higher percentages of teachers withboth a standard certification and a degree in field are associated with higher fourth and eighthgrade state-average test scores.

        (note: the study does acknowledge some uncontrollable factors that may play a role)Here’s a study on the difference in effectiveness between the TFA teachers and traditionally certified teachers, and it shows the same, but it’s got some problems as well: http://www.ncate.org/documents/EdNews/StanfordT…I chose not to buy this full paper, but from the abstract, it says that credentialing programs to have a large effect: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12828.pdf

        This is, of course, highly unsurprising to me. It just makes sense that if a state decides that a good teacher should have certain skills, and then requires all teachers to go through a credential program that teaches those skills, that overall you will have better teachers that do possess better skills. This really isn’t difficult to understand.

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