Monday, February 20, 2006

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

I know, I know, long time no post. So sue me. But wait, there's a whole boatload of blame to divvy up over the Algebra kerfluffle:

First, to PZ, for an excessively, overthetoppishly, righteous smackdown of Richard Cohen.

RC: I have lived a pretty full life and never, ever used—or wanted to use—algebra.
PZ: If sheep could talk, they'd say the same thing.

Next, to Gabriela, for not even showing up for class 62 of 93 times. To get the sympathy thing going, you have to at least look like you're making an effort.

Then, to the relevant school system(s), who apparently haven't heard that insanity means doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Surely they knew when algebra became a graduation requirement that they had a high failure rate. They could have added remedial classes, done some early intervention at the "pre-algebra" level, in other words, tried to make a difference. But it sounds as though all they could do was Mulligan classes after the fact. Too little, way too late.

And finally, to Richard Cohen, for demonstrating with a clever blend of verbal jiujitsu and Calvinball, that a lack of algebra can be seen in association with really putrid reasoning:

Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not.
The proof of this, Gabriela, is all the people in my high school who were
whizzes at math but did not know a thing about history and could not write a
readable English sentence.

Now, if I understand his drift (?!?!), he's saying that if algebra were really the highest form of reasoning, then mastery of algebra would endow students with a knowledge of history and dynamite syntactic skills. Obviously these counterexamples show that is not the case, therefore any stupid BS he writes must be true. Or maybe I don't get his drift.

Richard, this is moi: Writing is the use of symbols to convey certain abstract ideas. So is algebra. But the discipline of learning the rules of symbol manipulation in algebra can help to train your mind to evaluate if one sequence of symbols follows from another. This is a skill that could benefit you in the job for which, amazingly enough, you get paid actual money. It's never too late to take that first step.

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