comment thread reprint

i signed on as a math teacher and became
however good i am at it now over the course
of a longer period than i like to think about.
meanwhile, a lot of math departments have committed
(e.g.) to require students to buy “graphing calculators”.
the curriculum is adjusted accordingly.
this not only does nothing to make my job easier,
it takes time (and student interest) *away*
from what is necessarily a very limited budget
to begin with. so too with, as far as i can see,
pretty much any other computer application.

not only do i not *want* to help the profiteers
that have hijacked the academy to sell their products,
i’m not even *qualified* to do so since i can
never get the doggone things to work in the first place.
what i *can* do, and still very often get a chance to do,
is get students to understand more mathematics by talking
with them about mathematics. not something our
society values a whole lot, i’ll admit, but still:
the product that the college actually goes out and sells.
switching in some bloody demos,
no matter how well-prepared,
is bait-and-switch and i resent it.

i’m never going to be much interested in selling.
speech & presence & suchlike variables …
heck yes. i’ve put in a lot of time working on ‘em
and hope to continue to improve my skills
over the whole rest of my working life.
bring a computer into the deal, though,
and you’ve *changed the subject*.
part of the gospel i preach is:
*you* can do this … with paper and pencil.

me, in dan meyer’s “what we did last time”
august 22, 07; comment 10 (but start at 8).


  1. Why not.

    Let’s say I’d like to have a mathematical conversation with my students about the advantages and disadvantages of large and small car tires — especially as their wheel diameters pertain to fuel economy.

    My sense of your comment here is that if I were to take several photos of car tires of several different sizes and show them to my classes, you would object that I’m enabling the hijacking of the academy by the manufacturers of digital cameras and digital projectors. If I then suggest that there are clear and unclear ways to take that photo of that car tire, I am also selling style over substance.

    Do I have that right?

  2. talking about how to make photos
    is talking about how to make photos
    not talking about math.

    i can’t make this any clearer.
    sorry if it doesn’t help your case.

  3. here’s a note of clarification anyway.

    to begin with what everyone knows,
    dan meyer does an outstanding blog;
    on this basis alone he deserves his
    considerable influence in mathedblog
    circles and this is without having seen
    any of what i’m confident are amazing

    i sure didn’t mean to have baited you
    over here to argue politics; that
    “technology” has been hugely corrupting
    is either obviously false or obviously true
    to pretty much everybody by now i guess
    and nobody came here to change sides.

    so here’s my rationalization for the repost.
    i recently began making
    some notes on “vlorbik on math ed”
    (the previous version of this blog).
    in the first draft of this “contents page”,
    i had this post
    (“ill-considered rantage”) as an entry.
    but it’s just one link, namely to dan’s
    “what we did…”. so i figured i’d cut
    out the bits that reminded me the most
    of the stuff i’d been going on about lately
    in my own blogs… low tech is even more
    of a theme for me *now* than *then*
    (which surprises me since i was already
    pretty deeply entrenched
    firmly committed). that’s it.

    with all that said, @dan again.
    geez. your sense is pretty far
    from mine. i’m a worse writer
    than i think or you’re a worse
    reader. or something else.

  4. Thanks for your response, Owen.

    … that “technology” has been hugely corrupting is either obviously false or obviously true to pretty much everybody by now.

    It might be obvious to me one way or the other, I suppose, if I were able to imagine this composite of yours called “technology.” Instead, I can’t help but share at least some degree of your hostility towards the graphing calculator cartel while at the same time finding a lot of value in a digital projector as a means for clarifying and building conversations around What Math Is.

    part of the gospel i preach is: *you* can do this … with paper and pencil.

    It’s hard for me not to interpret your gospel (also informed by your other comments about “changing the subject” and “you’re not talking about math”) as, “the only math that matters is math you can do with paper and pencil.”

    If that reading is accurate, it motivates certain questions like:

    Do you recommend trig tables to your students in lieu of scientific calculators that perform the same function?

    How do I manage conversations with my students about visual mathematical concepts (like the different car tires above) with pencil and paper exclusively?

    What do we do with math that is technological by nature? The analysis and visualization of large data sets, for instance?

    Does this in any way reflect a college instructor’s bias towards pure math or a high school instructor’s bias towards applied math?

    It’s entirely possible I’ve misread your composition but you aren’t painting with very many shades of gray.

    I’m not interested in your conversion to or validation of my own Way of Doing Things. I am somewhat interested lately in tracing our biases and presuppositions about What Math Is to some kind of origin though. No offense taken if you don’t feel like undertaking the same exercise.

  5. this “composite” of mine is alas a composite
    of our tone-deaf times and not of my own.
    usually i mean by it what everyone usually means:
    *digital* technology. quite often it means, even
    more particular to the local teacher jargon, stuff
    specially designed for the ed “market” like those
    damnable boxes from texas.

    these days, for all i know, it means “the internet”.
    it might as well mean “magic”.

    ever since 1984 (literally; the mac was announced
    at the superbowl that year with a famous ad),
    the public has paid and paid and paid again
    to be taught that computer use should be
    “intuitive”… which being translated, means
    “i don’t understand it, and i won’t sit still
    for an explanation”.

    i *do* like to show statistics students how to use tables.
    moreover those that bother to follow along pretty reliably
    report things like “seeing what’s going on” that they weren’t
    experiencing with the calculator-only approach.

    naturally, if there’s a calculator at hand,
    i want to know… and i want the student to know…
    how to get our results without the table.

    many calculator-only students appear to want
    credit for learning which data to plug in where
    given certain very rigid verbal cues; a perfectly
    useless skill unless we are selling boxes to plug
    data *into*. there’s not much point in a hundred
    z-scores fast until you know what *one* z-score
    is, slowly. i used to see it nearly every day.

    until the student can do
    sigma = 30, mu = 3
    z = -2, x= ?
    or some such thing,
    there’s little point in asking ’em
    to plug the numbers from half-a-dozen
    exercises *just like the textbooks*
    into the magic box to produce
    meaningless numbers from
    the given meaningless numbers.

    you (dan) hate this as much as i do and
    have designed and implemented
    procedures for your classes to prevent it.
    good. “how math must assess”:
    good on ya. i’ve seldom had
    the freedom to “assess” my students
    by methods of my own design though
    and don’t think many other teachers
    have it either.

    curriculum design as carried out
    by those with the power actually
    to implement their policies on a
    large scale? buy our stuff or be crushed.

    “statistics” as actually implemented
    is an enormous win for the forces of
    “you’ll never understand; take out
    another student loan”.

    you can’t even get real *phone* service
    (never mind access to living math teachers)
    without a hell of a lot more money to spend
    than *i’ve* got. america isn’t
    anything *like* as rich as we let on since
    so much of the budget goes to killing people,
    and locking them up, and moving imaginary
    money around, and lying about it.

    “digital projector”. *i* haven’t got one.
    and i don’t know how to make the slides.
    even if it’s easy, the process belongs
    to *somebody else*; somebody that’ll
    mess it up for everyone if they’re not
    getting paid. like nearly every *other*
    software i’ve ever dealt with. tables abide.

    the doctrine of the masters is: you need us.
    there are no prophets and we priests know
    god’s will: fuck you, pay me.

    high-tech is their greatest weapon since
    the comforting lie. we *don’t* need them
    or even want them though and looking at
    pretty pictures when we should be thinking
    about code isn’t helping.

    draw a big circle on the board.
    draw a smaller circle.
    put in radii. ask a question
    about ratios. what the devil
    advantage is there for me
    or my students if i needed
    a planet-destroying “technology”
    to draw the circles?

    understand the *simple* things
    as well as you can and the messy
    stuff becomes, anyhow, slightly
    less incomprehensible.

    archimedes drew in the sand.
    the empire killed him doing it.
    some people have all the luck.

    i despair of having made myself any clearer.
    nobody with a good job *ever* gets it, pretty much.
    there are fewer and fewer of those around though
    so maybe i’ll soon get through to a few more people
    than what i’ve *been* doing…

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