Posted by: bkivey | 21 August 2013

3 x 4 = 11

Years ago during the height of the ‘self-esteem’ fad, Gary Trudeau published a Doonesbury cartoon in which a math professor asked a student why he thought the square root of 144 was 15. The response was that “In my culture, we hold that the square root of 144 is 15”. The professor then asked if that was an advanced culture. Mr. Trudeau was poking fun at people who disregard facts in favor of feelings, and the cartoon was funny because math is a hard science: there is no ‘maybe’ about basic arithmetic.

About a week ago a brief video clip of a teacher training session on the Federal Common Core curriculum surfaced. In the clip, a presenter explains that under the guidelines, even wrong math answers are acceptable as long as the student can explain their reasoning. Instead of calling ‘bullshit’, only one person asks, asks, if correcting a wrong answer is OK.

This is what insanity feels like.

The theoretical underpinning of the curriculum is that students should develop reasoning skills in lieu of rote learning. We’ve been down this road before, with the introduction of ‘New Math’ in the 70’s. New Math also attempted to conceptualize basic math concepts, and was such a disaster that it was rejected wholesale after it turned out kids couldn’t do math. A good illustration is the difference in primary math education between my youngest sister and me. When I was in elementary school, memorizing the multiplication table to 12 x12 was a no-kidding requirement for promotion to 4th grade. No memorization, no promotion. By the time she came through the system 7 years later, that requirement was out the window. A holder of a couple of advanced degrees, she cannot multiply two single digit numbers.

The argument is that with ubiquitous calculators, rote memorization of math facts is unnecessary.  That reasoning is severely weakened when taken to the real world.  Let’s say a person wants to go someplace 40 miles away (we’ll assume they want to come back), their car gets 25 mpg, they have $20, and gas is $4.50/gal.. Can they buy enough gas?  Most people would quickly perform some mental arithmetic and realize that, yes, they can make the trip.  If someone can’t multiply, they may fire up the calculator app on their phone, but more likely will put the $20 in the tank and hope they have enough. Even if they do ‘reason it out’, as the Core Curriculum emphasizes, they’re going to spend much longer coming to the same conclusion. And what if they don’t have a smart phone? They’re screwed.

The whole concept of ‘fuzzy math’ illustrates some key points about Progressive thought.

The first is that without the proper tools, all the reasoning in the world won’t yield results. In math, those tools are a bank of stored factual knowledge like multiplication tables, plane and solid geometry formulas, the MDAS sequence of operations, the value of pi to a few places, FOIL, and other basic mathematical building blocks. You can’t reason if you don’t have the tools. Primary math education should be about acquiring the basic tools and learning how to use them. Stressing deductive ability before acquiring the tools necessary is very much putting the cart before the horse.

We’re talking about young children. There is no great ability for deductive reasoning here. They simply don’t have the experience, maturity, or educational background to reason as an adult. Children of this age are far better at memorizing than adults, and traditional educational methods exploit this. It’s one reason it’s far easier to learn other languages as a child than as an adult. Better to shove those facts into the intellectual sponge that is a small child than wait until later.

The second point is that Progressives tend to view, and treat, children as small adults, They’re not. Outside the obvious mental and physical differences, the world to most children is an infinitely wondrous and varying place, full of undiscovered pain and pleasure. It’s my experience that most liberals are disappointed children who are angry at a world that didn’t turn out the way they wanted. They tend to pass this cynicism onto children, creating a negative feedback loop. Fuzzy math looks something like a big ol’ middle finger to The Man.

The third point is that fuzzy math is the elevation of opinion over fact. The current Progressive agenda is replete with causes that have no basis in fact: climate change, gun control, income disparity, health care access, and many more items near and dear to the liberal heart don’t stand rigid scrutiny. Most liberal power comes from the disparity between an intellectual construct and the way things actually are, creating crises based on those disparities, and frightening people into believing that those crises are real things. Facts that conflict with a given worldview are to be ignored or diminished; opinion is the only reality. What better way to mold a generation to your political views and control than to have them question the most basic factual data?

As Mr. Trudeau pointed out, a culture that cannot learn, and use, factual information will not long be a culture.

Comments On The Video

If you click on the link to the video, you’ll also be treated to the comments section. A number of people maintain that math isn’t a ‘hard’ science in the sense that there are still some theoretical holes and unknowns. This is a classic case of Missing the Point. The difference between arithmetic and theoretical mathematics is like the difference between Newtonian and quantum physics. The former works very well at the macro level and answers the great majority of everyday needs. The latter is useful in more specialized situations, but is of no consequence to the discussion at hand.

$’s And Sense

Because I went to school in a time when proper English usage was valued, and I was raised by literate parents, I have an appreciation for proper grammar. I don’t consider myself part of the Grammar Police, but some things just irk me. Chief among them is the improper use of the $ sign. As in $10 v. 10$. Previously confined to internet comments, and people who didn’t know better, I’ve seen this usage increase to even otherwise well-written pieces. I suspect that this is an outgrowth of text message mindset. To a lot of people, symbols and words are interchangeable, so of course ’10 dollars’ and ’10$’ mean exactly the same thing.

Except, they don’t. One indicates a knowledge of the English language, while the other is ignorant or lazy. If someone can’t be bothered to use the ‘$’ sign correctly, I have to wonder what else they can’t be bothered to do.

Selling Obamacare

Of late the TV and radio airwaves have been filled with spots promoting the upcoming state healthcare exchange operation opening in October.  The spots uniformly tout the advantages of ‘healthcare for everyone’, and how ‘fair’ that is. The spots also imply that healthcare coverage will be provided free of charge. I say imply, because there is never any mention that purchase of a healthcare plan will be mandatory come 1 January.  I expect that there are going to be progressively harder sells in the ads as the end of the year approaches. The only question is when the ads are going to come out and say that purchasing healthcare coverage is a legal requirement.

I’ve previously noted that I think very few people who support Obamacare realize they’re going to have to pay for it. As others have pointed out, the young, the very people who were instrumental in electing Obama president, are going to pay a disproportionate amount of the nation’s healthcare bill. Some realization may sink in after the exchanges open, but there’s going to be massive sticker shock in January.


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