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Topic: Replying to Owen
Replies: 15   Last Post: Nov 1, 2006 6:59 PM

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Kirby Urner

Posts: 4,713
Registered: 12/6/04
Replying to Owen
Posted: Oct 31, 2006 10:00 AM
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Replying to Owen's post here:


> i'm no big math cheese. thanks for even considering
> the possibility.

All is relative. You're a big enough cheese for math-teach I think. We're kinda podunk.

> i have no idea who "amy" is. are you "hiding behind"
> her to justify blanket insults to "math teachers"
> (they lack communication skills, don't like math, are
> really quite stupid, etcetera)? beats me.

Any strong discipline, planning to stay in the game for the long haul, tends to incorporate a counter discourse or counter culture that challenges it to remain true or die.

Strong internal debates, sparring, keeps the players healthy, ready to face another day in a sometimes difficult and competitive arena.

Or then there's the "falling prey to marauding outsiders" template, which I've also been featuring as in my "carving up the math teacher portfolio and handing it around to more competent disciplines" model (I expect only a few flagship schools to experiment in this way, testing the waters before others jump in).

You've heard of John Taylor Gatto right? He's kind of a model of the insider agitator (teachers keep giving him awards for talking like a subversive). Ralph McGehee another prize winning dissenter, from another walk of life (author of 'Deadly Deceits').

It's not simply trolling if it's done expertly. Polemics, a branch of rhetoric, used to be considered a high art. But maybe because we've seen such poor quality politics on TV for so long, we just blanket label it "mud slinging" and tune out.

In earlier years, I've done my best to establish my credentials as a rhetoritician, talking about how its OK for teachers to offer up political views in the context of kids learning debating skills, what's a fallacy, what's a legitimate argument. We talked a lot about GWB's service record (I salute him for escaping the killing fields of Vietnam, a damaging psychopathic experience for this country which many patriots resisted or countered, from across the political spectrum).

> can't see why you'd want to post such messages in a
> list of math teachers

Do you see why yet?

Amy = Amy Edmondson, studied under MIT crystallographer the late Arthur Loeb, then at Harvard (Loeb a friend of M.C. Escher and his son George). She got roped in to writing about such as A & B modules for Springer-Verlag, making a handsome little 'A Fuller Explanation' based on the content of Fuller's 'Synergetics' (for which Loeb wrote an intro).

It went over like a lead balloon, Amy's book, though the buckaneer die-hards like me liked it.

Probably because a lot of this stuff is just so trivially easy it hurts mathematician egos to read it. Feels too condescending (not enough difficult cryptic notation) or, in the case of Fuller's magnum opus, feels overblown (Coxeter's reaction -- because no one told him it's actually quite economical and stark as *philosophy* -- an "extraordinary grammar" as we Wittgensteinians say).

You know who Coxeter is right? Famous geometer? The guy to whom Bucky dedicated Synergetics?

I thought cuz you said you'd looked into A & B modules at one time, I could get away with some name dropping, some allusions to our elitist little counter-culture. Charming and beautiful Amy tried to jump through the hoops, to do it a way the math teaching community might willingly accept.

I've learned from her example i.e. seen how that didn't work.

Here's a page about Amy today:
(she's at the Harvard Business School -- 'A Fuller Explanation' gets mentioned towards the end).

> even if you believe they're true. we've already got
> a world-class troll in mikegold; why try to compete?

I focus more on math content than MPG does. In addition to the easy on-ramp to geometry, I've got the whole math-through-programming schtick, centered around Python. Plus I demo this stuff in the field, publish class write-ups to the various math groups, like edu-sig in Python Nation. I walk my talk, to a very high degree.

> now. charm is nice when you can get it.
> i even like some cheesecake now and again. and i
> know better than to expect even simple respect in what
> amounts to a flamewar arena.
> just the same ... sure, the kinder, gentler kirby was
> more pleasant reading.
> this other stuff? - - well, so's your old man
> (fuller the nutjob).
> nyah, nyah, nyah.
> no hide off my behind.

But my point was being pleasant hasn't worked either, and I'm not just talking about *me* being pleasant or *my* efforts to break in.

There's some essential content here, published by Macmillan in 1975 (> 30 years ago). It makes spatial geometry accessible in ways that tie in with contemporary science, other disciplines. Lots of eye candy, lots of engineering. All sitting in a junk pile, rusting, while the USA goes into kill mode, turning its back on its best heritage. Negative futurism has a way of damaging young minds by destroying hope, and tends to be self-fulfilling therefore.

The concentric hierarchy of whole number polyhedra doesn't get shared with kids. Wayne is it least clear he thinks it *shouldn't* be, though he gives no coherent reasons why (I don't think he has any).

For my part, I'm very clear there are *no* professional justifications for not teaching this stuff. I'm a smart enough cookie, with a Princeton degree and all that, to see through the smoke screens and snootiness that might work with other lay persons.

And although Princeton may be lousy in football (the basis for the Ivy League is "bad in sports"), we have a reputation for being fierce and combative if called upon in the line of duty. Walter Kaufmann was another role model (another philo guy).

Just about everyone else on math-teach, I thought maybe with the exception of yourself, is apparently 99% oblivious to what I'm talking about (too busy being a math teacher or whatever), and maybe justifies this head in the sandism based on Google word frequency checks, just like politicians do (hit = vote). If this stuff were important, more people'd be teaching it, but then I'd know about it already, which I don't, so it must not be, so why bother learning it, and so on. A self-reinforcing feedback loop.

But that's not how math is supposed to work (it's not just a popularity contest is it?).

Finally, one other model you might use is this one: I've been interrogating for the benefit of over-my-shoulder readers, a lot of 'em military-industrial types, but not math teachers, who've been confused about why Buckminster Fuller, an effective cold warrior, inventor of radomes, engineer of showcase USA pavilions at World Expos (Montreal, Afghanistan), would be countered so angrily, plus have his legacy shoved aside after he died in 1983, even though Ronald Reagan gave him a Medal of Freedom and everyone said a lot of his stuff was kid friendly.

So what's up with that? Enquiring minds want to know.

Maybe Kirby, a professional with plenty of overseas experience, can mix it up with those math teacher types and get to the bottom of this mystery for us, leaving an archived audit trail for future postmortems.

I think I've been pretty effective at doing that, to the point where my peers are new persuaded that leaving the math teaching professionals to their own devices will *never* get us where we need to go vis-a-vis teaching this basic, elementary content. As an ethnicity, the math-teaching cult is too inbred to make such changes all on its own.

Inbreeding leads to hyperspecialization and is rampant in universities more generally -- a big part of the problem (which Fuller put his finger on in his own lifetime).

Inbreeding means you *don't* get that internalized counter-culture that challenges you to stay on the money. Psychological projection becomes a tell tale symptom then ("gotta protect my turf from marauders").

Which is why we in the military-industrial complex are up to trying some new approaches. I just hope it's not too little too late. The delays have been very expensive, in terms of living standards and quality of life for so many around the world, USAers included.


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