Archive for September, 2007

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the best parts of my job— perma-temping at a community college—is the one-on-one tutoring I do in our “Learning Center”. Now, what with having done seven years of graduate work in math and all, I’m fully capable of working with students from any of the classes offered here. But not all of our faculty can make this claim, and the stated requirement is that all the tutors should be comfortable with all the material “up to the pre-calculus level”. For Business Math, Statistics, and Calculus, we’re asked to put checkmarks in boxes for whichever (if any) we’re willing and able to tutor students of.

I’ve always checked the Calculus box, of course … but never Business or Statistics. I never studied these subjects and, in fact, find them distasteful (“business” because of the God/Mammon thing— they like to pretend that a “good” is the same as “something that can be bought and sold”; “statistics” because its principal application is to propaganda). Up until today, though, I’ve always been glad to help out students from these areas whenever they showed up. Now I’ve had it. The math-ed “reformers” appear to have succeeded in butchering the course content in the Statistics class to the extent that I’m embarrassed to talk to the tutees.

One now encounters even more questions of the form “Read my mind; tell me what I think in your own words.”—exactly the kind of thing I became a math major to avoid. The pages of the new book are covered in screenshots of some point-and-click computer application and look more like a “Windows for Dummies” manual than a mathbook. So on. And I think I’m finally just gonna have to start saying, “Sorry; can’t help you” whenever I see one of these poor blighters with their hand up.

And I’ve got this weird feeling of not having been paranoid enough. When I wrote my third post and its sequel, about textbooks suppressing notations that have been standard for generations in an effort not to look so mathy, I think I would’ve considered the fact that my first example was taken from the field of Statistics as just that, a fact. My next example was from an Algebra book; it probably could have gone either way. But it now occurs to me: the “reformers” have been pushing “more statistics” in public school at least since the notorious 1989 Standards. I’d always taken this as a euphemism for “less algebra”, of course … but never really felt that it was much of a threat to my way of life. But now we’ve got all these mathless stix classes here and are running more of ’em every year … and the books all keep getting worse …

It begins to feel that some Dr. Evil somewhere must have decided “We’ve turned just about everything in the world into money and waste products; kept the money; and spread around the waste products. While the public cheers: ‘Give us bread and circuses! Give us miracle, mystery, and authority!’ And still, our archenemy, Mathematics, resists! Even mathophobes seem to believe that no human power can alter mathematical truth—this must stop for our authority to be absolute. But how?” Then some sycophant sidekick whimpers “try to replace it with statistics” … but not too loudly … the boss is going to want to pretend it was his idea …

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\bulletExcel 2007 outwitted by 5-digit number (hat-tip: Jorn).
\bulletThe “infamous trick of adding in zero”, illustrated. Ah-ha. Now I get it.

How to Avoid Grading

Carnival XVII

I’m cited in the Seventeenth Edition of the Carnival of Mathematics for having submitted a couple nominations.

A Thorp is a Dorp

\bulletIn praise of Von Neumann (bonus: discussion of “…you just get used to them.”).
\bulletA call for survey participants (short and kind of interesting).
\bulletMore exposition of elementary geometry from Mr. Person (citing me).

Here’s a characteristically brilliant rant by Cosma (Three-Toed Sloth) Shalizi on “Econophysics” (written last year but published last week). The disclaimer

At best, I can make semi-informed guesses here, and I shouldn’t pretend that they’re anything more than that, though my tendency to strident over-statement may make it sound like I think I’ve got the one true explanation.
shouldn’t be taken too seriously (though a case could be made that I should post it at the top of this blog …): following up even a small fraction of the links should convince anyone that, agree or disagree, our author has done his homework.

It pleases me much more than it should that Shalizi singles out Samuel Bowles‘s work in microeconomics for some high praise since I approvingly cited a paper of his earlier this year (also in my other blog [March 28, 2007]). Because unlike Shalizi, I haven’t done the homework: I consider “Economics” a branch of “Theology” (which is itself a branch of Psychology—no scarequotes because it actually—sometimes—studies the subject it proports to study) and have consequently maintained a profound ignorance in this area by actively avoiding any serious reading therein.

Details . . .

The Steen interview(s) I plugged in my last two posts have seen a great deal of debate in their comments threads, mostly between mathmom and non-blogger (but KTM2 regular) SteveH. These commenters manage to disagree with each other about certain issues in math ed while each still actually responds to actual points made by the other, and all without name-calling. If this were as easy as it sounds, I expect there would be a whole lot more of it. (I haven’t looked at math-teach lately … ever wonder why?)

Speaking of interesting comment threads in blogs recently plugged here … well … pretty much any recent post by T. Gowers qualifies. This guy is doing amazing work: how can we best present advanced mathematics to beginners? That he gets so much feedback from T. Tao is just icing on the cake.

Classes started today and I’m beat. But in a good way.

I’m Back

\bulletMathmom’s calculator rant (yesterday).
\bulletPart II of the Lynn Arthur Steen interview at MathNotations.
\bulletHow Should Logarithms Be Taught, by Timothy Gowers.

Part I of the Lynn Arthur Steen interview, today at MathNotations. What a concept. Find somebody with interesting things to say and ask them to answer a bunch of questions for publication. Professor Steen comes off quite well in my opinion—I mean, of course, “pretty honest for a high-level policy guru”.

CoM XVI

Right here: the good, bad, and ugly sites of the fortnight at the latest Carnival of Mathematics, edited by Kurt Van Etten.