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Topic: Re: Anti- Anti- Anti-math diatribe diatribe diatribe
Replies: 9   Last Post: Apr 30, 2001 9:20 AM

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Posts: 160
Registered: 12/4/04
Re: Anti- Anti- Anti-math diatribe diatribe diatribe
Posted: Apr 28, 2001 12:14 PM
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>>> Mark Bridger <> 04/26/01 >>>

> Magliozzi's anti-math diatribe was certainly "Car Talk" ---
> more specifically, exhaust. It was so stupid, unoriginal
> and unimaginative that it really isn't worth listening to.

I don't agree.

A lot of what we (well, many of us, anyway,) do is teach
calculus to students who really can't use it. Even children
of MIT graduates like Magliotti sometimes turn out better
suited to be shrinks, social workers, street musicians,
web designers or stock brokers: all important members
of today's economy who don't need calculus. The
difference between Tom Magliotti and his fellow
residents of Cambridge Mass is that he knows it,
but they refuse to see it.

Some more questions from Socrates (Archimedes):

Why do so many parents want their kids to learn calculus?

Why do we accomodate them?

Why do kids have to learn algebra in grade 8 or earlier?
It used to be necessary, because it took that long to get
kids through the nuts and bolts of hand computation. But
now? Is it not possible to take an intelligent adult human
being from Algebra through Calc 3 in a little more than a
year? Why not let the kids have some fun in grade school?

Why do all kids have to learn the same stuff? With this
brave new world of technology, can't we let different
kinds of students take different kinds of mathematics,
and still have them all be rocket scientists by age 21?

If it no longer becomes *necessary* to teach kids algebra
in grade 7, we *could* offer it as an option, sort of liberal
arts algebra, where kids learn algebra for the sheer
delight of it, not for practical reasons. then we can do
some of that wonderful mindless symbolic manipulation
(MSM) that list members so love to hate. If the pressure
is taken off it, kids could learn to love it. As it is, it is a
necessity to learn the algebra first, therefore there is
pressure to take every "unnecessary" thing out of the
algebra syllabus, so either (1) any idiot can get it, or
(2) any average kid can get it fast.

I have made lots of assumptions about what kids like,
what teachers like, what teachers think is necessary,
and so on. OK, let's use any reasonable assumptions
you want. My point is that the curriculum is pushed by
forces that are not entirely understood by everyone,
and not admitted by those who do understand it. There
are politicians who need to get elected. There are parents
who need to be able to point to their kids with pride. There
are kids whose ideas of what is cool and interesting is
based on hearsay. There are textbook manufacturers
who need to get as many classes as they can doing the
exact same thing, so they can make a profit.

Finally, here is an entertainer (well, a talk-show co-host)
who's brave enough to say publicly that calculus is not
for his kids. He's saying that we teach 50 million kids algebra
so that 40 million of them can take geometry, so that 30
million of them can take trig, and about 500,000 of them take
calculus, about 400,000 then take calc 2, and on and on,
and about 5,000 of them actually use the stuff, the rest become
talk-show hosts or what have you. I'm just making up the
numbers, don't ask me for my sources.

Assume he's brave enought to weather the
storm of ridicule that his kids will get from their classmates:
"Jeeze, Tommy Jr, why didja sign up for calculus if it's too
hard for your dad?" Will he be able to defend his position
against the assault of other parents from his son's school

Will educators understand what he has done, or will they
assume he is against calculus? He is FOR subjects
that are immediately meaningful to kids in middle-school:
humanities, arts, and AGAINST standard, mindless curricula
that mandate algebra for all at the same time. I claim that we
can manage perfectly well if students are presented algebra
for the first time in grade 10 or 11. Learning calculus in college
is not a setback. Lots of things can be done before then:
Geometry (oh yes, there's lots of geometry that doesn't
require algebra), logic, statistics (again, lots of statistics
that can be done at a pre-algebra level, or the algebra
for which can be done right in stats class. It won't be a
conventional statistics course. Re-thinking will have to
be done). Computer programming. (Why not? Who says
algebra has to be a pre-requisite? Programming could
motivate algebra beautifully, so that a kid could appreciate
algebra by the time he gets to grade 11.)

It's time for the affluent society to get out of the subsistence-
farming mindset. In a society where there's only one teacher
per town, we have to let him or her teach as many kids the
exact same thing as possible. But we've moved beyond that.

It is so sad that there is a huge number of students out there
who have taken every conceivable subject in school,
but know absolutely nothing. It is about them that Magliotti
speaks, not the smal minority of kids who learn calculus
well in high school and thrive on it. It is wrong to push a
multitude through the "filter" of algebra and calculus so that
a few precious drops can be harvested from the process.
this is what NCTM and the AMS have been saying about
calculus. There the emphasis is different: let's change
calculus. Magliotti is saying: let's change the rules.

Mark >>>
I'd advise people on this list not to bother: you've heard
it all before ("schools never teach us anything useful").
Magliozzi really ought to know better than to think that
calculus is just about finding tangents to, and areas
under, curves. I'm disappointed in NPR for airing this
drivel, but not surprised.

Magliotti has made a point about the curriculum being
too inflexible. Unfortunately, a flexible curriculum has
implications in social stratification of students, with the
less affluent being identified with the less able, and so
on. But if we bear in mind that we can reduce the length
of these long curricular "chains" algebra-> geometry ->
trigonometry -> .... we can give Magliotti an intelligent answer:
Yes, we can let your kid take algebra later, if he wishes, when
he can take responsibility for choosing to take it. Nobody
needs to learn stuff they don't *want* to learn, and certainly
not calculus.




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