g:\doc\web\2000\05\revoke.txt
In a message dated 4/27/00 10:12:13 AM, rparkany@BORG.COM writes (responding
to Jack Schmidt):
<< How did kids used to learn algebra? >>
Jack,
The answer to your question is simple. Most high school kids didn't learn
much math in the "good old days."
Many kids who "passed" the courses called "algebra" and "geometry" did so
because teachers had the flexibility to award grades of "D" and "C" for those
kids who knew a bit of it, but not really much. There was, and is, absolutely
nothing wrong with that. A closer examination of the hypocrisy of the
"standards" movement will show that it was always necessary to have the "C"
and "D" grades. How can we grind that fact into the eyes of those who bash
teachers and schools nowadays? I would prefer to do it by making the simple
demand that the current political practitioners apply the "standards" they
are promoting for others to themselves -- especially in math.
As RAP notes, a large number of people here (on ARN) hit DELETE when math is
discussed. Since the test stuff we're always talking about here requires some
math to understand, we're in a bit of difficulty. That's probably one of the
reasons why the witch doctors of "standards" and "accountability" have gotten
so far in recent years.
[Logic certainly hasn't had much to do with all this. Remember the Reagan era
claims that our "rising tide of mediocrity" was going to sink our economy in
the wake of Japanese and German miracles and commie craftiness? We now have
the most productive economy in world history. But William Bennett and The
Heritage Foundation still haven't thanked me, my fellow teachers, or our
public schools for making America great. Japan and our other rivals flubbed
the game somehow, but we haven't been thanked -- let alone gotten credit for
winning the Cold War and the economic war...AARGH!].
Back to this thread.
Lack of basic math knowledge is still a problem in society. I would locate
the problem elsewhere than in the classrooms where most of our 14 -
18-year-olds presently learn. People can function quite well with only the
most basic (say, baseball standings and simple statistics) versions of math
(as many of the people on this list would admit, if candor were complete).
Unfortunately, many social realities (including the mathematical bases of
"standards" and "accountability") are now a bit beyond those simple-minded
and simplistic realms that bring us the three most common daily forms of math
-- public opinion polls, sports data, and (recently) stock market graphs and
trend data.
Some of the recent hysteria over stock prices (versus "value") might be
rooted in many young people's inability to understand long-term mathematical
realities. I think it's a bit more Biblical (like greed) than pedagogical or
mathematical, but we can have varying explanations. Should we pursue just one
model here and mandate it for our national math curriculum? It could get very
arcane. That discussion could easily take us all the way back to some Von
Neumann games theory and other stuff that would leave many of our most
patient colleagues here on ARN glazed over (even if it would also help them
pick the right mutual fund for long term sanity).
Is there a low level of math knowledge in the United States today? Yes But
compared to what?
Is that low level generally sufficient for most people to function as
productive citizens? Yes and No.
Is the general level of math knowledge in the population as a whole higher
than it's ever been? Yes.
Is that higher level of math knowledge generally the result of improvements
in our public school math programs and in the abilities of our public school
math teachers? Yes.
Will this ever be a perfect world?
So we have a relative problem, not one of absolutes. The problem is not one
that's going to be resolved in 162 games and some playoffs, like the American
League pennant race this year (although America longs to make every social
reality that simplistic).
We're not going to solve "the math problem" by denying kids who don't get to
the quadratic equation (or the Pythagorean theorem) at a mastery level a high
school diploma. I use those two objectives because they seem to be the
watersheds in introductory algebra and plane geometry in high school.
This is also proof that we're dealing in realms of fantasy, dominated by
politics and public relations -- not by pedagogy and human relations. If a
"standard" requiring mastery of algebra and geometry to those levels
(quadratic equation and Pythagorean theorem) be the case, then we should
apply the "standard" retroactively to all of the politicians who promote
those "standards" requiring lots more math. Let's test them -- as well as all
these kids who are currently being screwed by "standards." Let's revoke the
politicians' (and "educators'") high school diplomas (and all the degrees
they've gotten since high school that began with that high school diploma) if
they don't "pass" the level of math they've now mandated for all our kids.
If most Chicago public school administrators, most Chicago politicians, and
all of Chicago's present school CEOs, school board presidents, and mayors
were required to pass the first semester CASE "Algebra" test they gave here
in January to our 40,000 or so 9th graders, Richard Daley, Paul Vallas, Gery
Chico, and their colleagues would flunk. We'd at least clean house and be
able to start over. In their hypocrisy, however, they mandate for others (and
for the children of others) what they don't apply to themselves (and to their
own children).
Neither Paul Vallas (a "numbers" guy who is really a political hack, meaning
that he was a "budget director" but never qualified to do heavy numerical
lifting or other CPA-level stuff) or Richard Daley (a lawyer who doesn't know
much law, but got through high school, college, and law school thanks to the
"social promotion" he now derides) can handle this stuff.
Mayor Daley, CEO Paul Vallas, and others in their realms also have families
full of generally nice, very average kids. An elitist might call their reigns
a "triumph of mediocrity" (with a heavy dose of public relations). Someone
might also argue that Chicago's "education mayor" and "education leaders" are
the nation's best example of how the "rising tide of mediocrity" noted in
1983 peaked here a few years ago, when Daley took over America's third
largest public school system. But before we hammer mediocrity (and
mediocrities) and praise "excellence" (in those SAT and IQ score senses),
let's take a close look at the kinds of public performance we get when we
make an oily Fulbright "Scholar" with an Ivy League law degree President of
the United States.
Our two academically mediocre, linguistically languishing, and
math-challenged Chicago guys (Paul Vallas and Rich Daley) have become
nationally famous by bashing teachers, kids and schools on the basis of these
"standards." It's their right to be both English- and math-challenged. The
problem comes when they go after the children of others, imposing
hypocritical "standards" and "accountability" programs they don't measure up
to themselves. But the solution is not to replace them with people who made
higher scores in communications and passed (and actually know) pre calculus.
We have to examine the whole crazy basis for these claims in the first place.
Isn't this hypocrisy ever going to become clear enough for people to see in
its simplicity?
Sharon and I enjoyed covering the AERA convention last week. New Orleans was
fun. Then I woke up in Chicago this morning with the temperature outside at
38 degrees.
George Schmidt
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