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Dumbing It Down


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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:28:58 AM PST
When I was in high school and college, the US had basically finally won The Cold War. Terrorism wasn't yet the next consuming struggle. So, Asia--particularly Japan--became the focus of a Tech War of sorts with the US. And like in the 50s with the Sputnik scare that exacerbated The Cold War, Japan's mass production of technology and scientists caused a palatable US push to churn out more rocket scientists, too.

Long post short, my math teachers pushed far too much upper level, theoretical math and science that is hardly applicable to the everyday student's life. They didn't teach figuring mortgage rates, compound interest, or tax prep. It was stuff for going into engineering, physics--basically following the prevailing polemics of the day and tailoring their teaching style to it.

Today, with growing economic uncertainty worldwide, it makes more sense to me to teach kids real math for the real world problems many will face. Balancing a bank account, tax prep, basic money math. If the kid is going into hard science or medical fields then by all means, they should be taught to be proficient in the necessary math regimen.

But for the rest of us who almost inevitably end up in an office or hard services atmosphere, you can figure basic to intermediate math--and are encouraged to do by management so!--with computers and/or the provided tech support personnel. And with our specialized economic setup, if you can't "do the math", you can find someone who can--and often on the cheap, with it being a relatively free market still.

But when schools are charging exorbitant tuition that will endebt many families to a lifetime of crippling repayments, it's time to stop wasting time with theoretical math that tends to push a particular agenda--that being, that without a thorough understanding and demonstration of competent use of every principle or theorem you won't survive in the world. You will survive!

What shouldn't survive, but is allowed to, is politics (which often pads its pockets by piling on mind-numbing prerequisites that won't prepare you for a very different job market than what is taught exists).

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:32:53 AM PST
That's a very sobering story. I hate being sober.
Here's hoping for a (started to say miracle when I meant) solution.
Mike

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:34:33 AM PST
"It is a frightening concept that three Soldiers ran around in a panic trying to find a means of recording info that was coming over the phone until a fourth handed one of them a piece of paper and a pen. Seriously. You can't make this stuff up."

Oh my gosh, that is really sad. We are doomed!

About the handwriting, I agree with you. I require only cursive in my class. Then I sent out a mass email to all of the middle school teachers asking whether or not they require cursive in their classes. I was trying to make a point with my students about how they would need cursive in the future. I was shocked! NONE of the middle school teachers require it, and none of them use it with their students. I had to adjust. I still require cursive but only for their spelling work (1 workbook lesson of 4 pages, plus ten sentences each week), their daily logs which must be written using complete sentences, and their weekly reading letters to me. At other times, they are free to print.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:36:24 AM PST
P. S. Wright says:
Solution: Liquid suspension, a mixture of dissolved chemicals, tincture, fluid
Yep.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:38:08 AM PST
Yours is a point well made. I hope that 'solution' I've imagined will include this, and I'm glad it isn't up to me - I'm already way over my head.
Mike

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:39:35 AM PST
I see what you're talking about James. You are specifically referring to higher level math classes in upper high school and college courses. I agree about college. By that point, students should be learning what THEY will need based on their chosen area of study. However, I dropped out halfway through calculus in high school. Here's why. I'd already taken enough required math to get into college AND more importantly, my teacher was skipping over units some of the students had covered in physics (even though not all of us had or were taking physics) so I was busting my butt to keep up. Add to that, that he wasn't explaining why anything worked the way it did. Before I dropped, my friend who was taking the same class with another teacher, tried to explain a problem I was struggling with involving sine, cosine and tangent, if I'm remembering correctly. Suddenly she stopped and asked, "Didn't Mr. __________ tell you why this works?" That's when I decided to drop the class.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:43:04 AM PST
Okay, I'm whupped. I deserved that. It's why I fear e-mails and sites like this. I feel so sure of myself as I yammer away, then realize that, unlike when I'm writing novels, I'm not as careful with word choice as I should expect to be.
Mark Twain (maybe...at least I think he did....I remember reading it...maybe) said, "The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug."
So there.
Mike

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:49:04 AM PST
P. S. Wright says:
It's part of how our schools developed from the very beginning. We've always had this back and forth between teaching the theoretical and academic, and teaching the practical. Some believe a higher education is for expanding the mind and making the person a better overall citizen. Others think it is to prepare the student for eventual employment in a skilled job or profession. You're never going to get 100% agreement. But I do think we could do with a little less politics in our classrooms at every level.

I didn't get too much theoretical math in college. I took physics, chose to take genetics, was required to take Algebra I & II. Was required to take statistics and Graduate statistics only for my chosen degree path (research psychology and substance abuse research). That wasn't too horrible. I sucked at math then and still do. But can't really complain. I could have gotten away with less by just choosing a less challenging degree specialization. I can't comment on high school math because I never attended high school. Junior High was terrible. They really didn't teach enough about things like practical geometry and mortgage interest calculation. They told us the formulae for geometry and algebra, but their idea of showing us how useful it could be was the old "The train left the station." Who takes trains today? I'm never going to be a train engineer. Show me how to design a doghouse or frame out a barn. That makes sense. Sheesh.

Uh, but this is a thread about the dumbing down of writing. I have derailed the discussion. Sorry. I'll move along now.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 9:52:30 AM PST
The inference that somehow great math skills would save us in the event of a blackout or interruption quick energy supply is interesting...and one often used to innocently and intentionally defend the need for higher math on a pervasive scale.

If "blackouts, EMP, or some other catastrophic natural or man made disaster derails or utterly destroys the tech-driven global society, I doubt even the capability of quick, mental mathematical gymnastics will save, much less impress, the survivors.

Those left would be in a barter system, at best; a survival of the fittest abyss, at worst. And neither post apocalyptic setup, I'm afraid, will have a need for theoretical solutions--just immediate, expedient resolutions.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 10:01:05 AM PST
P. S. Wright says:
Oh goodness, that's a bit apocolyptic for me. I am thinking more on the range of say, a natural disaster in a small town. When the power goes out, the store doesn't have to close. Pull out battery opped calculators and pads of paper and let the cashiers become old fashioned sales clerks. If the computer stops working, you don't have to miss the deadline, figure it out on paper and go ahead with the work until it comes back up. If you're out on a patrol and your GPS stops working, use a compass and map. If you don't have a computer with printer and internet connection, fill the forms out by hand and send them by the first thing moving. I'm a belt and suspenders kind of person. I don't think we should throw away old technology in favor of new, nor reject new technology that makes our jobs and lives easier.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 10:04:18 AM PST
It wasn't my intent, at least, to suggest a total meltdown, some Armageddon. I'm just thinking how nice it is to be able to divide miles to the gas station by miles per gallon. I hate walking.
Mike

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 10:05:34 AM PST
P. S. Wright says:
With the price of gas soaring, you might want to get used to it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 10:16:57 AM PST
I live in a medium-sized city that would become the quickly floodedholding tank for not just refugees from nearby Kansas City, but from those same small towns you speak of. They would run out of supplies--especially medical-- too and likely high-tail it to where they thought a federal rescue effort was being staged--a large city.

Even in small towns, go to a WALGREENS or WALMART and look at the building design. The design of many stores nowadays is so large and unpoliceable that it makes more sense to close them, instead of try and remain open.

The limited security staffs couldn't defend every darkened aisle of a WALMART from shoppers turned looters in the dark. Cashiers safety would be at risk from people not so honorable enough to pay under blackout circumstances.

No matter how self reliant we think we are, the greater society in which we live has--for better or worse--become dependent on cheap, quick, and relaiable distribution of goods, services, and energy. And if you have them in a secluded area, soon you'd be shocked at how quickly you would find yourself not so exclusive anymore (with refugees and Feds knocking--banging on--at your in tact door).

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 10:26:11 AM PST
That's okay....gas prices will go back down after the election's over. They always do. That, or someone begins talking seriously about 'alternative energy.'
Mike

Posted on Feb 26, 2012 11:17:36 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 26, 2012 11:20:50 AM PST
Ian Fraser says:
re gas prices and 'what would happen' if gas went away, I can recommend a very interesting documentary: 'The End of Suburbia.' You wouldn't think a doccie about peak oil and town planning could be ghoulish fun, but it is. Simply put, the way the US' suburbs are laid out architecturally, and given the total reliance on gasoline to get from A to B, and the average lack of health of citizens, if gas ran out, that would be 'it' for a lot of people. Game over. Many simply wouldn't be able to walk to and from wherever gas 'might' be found. Supermarkets would empty rapidly at the first hint of a problem (most food travels, I think, 1200 miles or so before ending up in local stores), and ultimately, the people would be stuck waiting for a solution that probably wouldn't come. Instant Dark Ages.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 11:39:12 AM PST
And, as a friend of mine (who's spent over 40 years designing and building the world's largest tugboats - and they're used around the world) said, in reference to your comment about the lay out of suburbia, "And don't forget, Mike, all these little towns and neighborhoods are connected by rivers of oil."
Highways, he reminds me when I get pompous about saving the world, are rivers of oil. Solve that riddle first.
Mike
I'll look for the documentary.

Posted on Feb 26, 2012 11:57:32 AM PST
Entropiated says:
I'm sure you've all seen me post this before in relation to my own novel. In the interest of keeping this as a conversation and not a pitch, I'll avoid making a plug in respect to you all.
I really believe that the line between order and chaos is as thin as a stream of electrons flowing down a copper wire. Without those electrons to power all our gadgets, I don't hold out much hope for modern "civilization." In the face of a major outage, I give less than 24 hours before the criminals start having a field day. We can barely hold them back now. Do you think the criminally minded would waste a chance to live out their fantasies without the worry of being caught on security cameras? As for the rest of the general public, I'll be generous; forty-eight hours of darkness before the average guy on the street realizes he'd better get something while the getting is good. I say by the ninety-six hour mark your easy targets will be stripped of anything useful.

Posted on Feb 26, 2012 12:02:49 PM PST
Entropiated says:
Also, consider all the people living around us that require medical equipment to survive. None of that stuff will run after lights out and, unless they have some kind of backup generator (how many do?) the real sick ones don't stand a chance. Even if someone is lucky enough to have an emergency generator, how much fuel do they have on hand to run it? Forty-eight to ninety-six hours worth, probably. Good luck finding gasoline after that. The tanks will be empty before 24 hours is up and there won't be any more deliveries coming.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 12:15:39 PM PST
P. S. Wright says:
Ok, cities have a history of riots during blackouts. Yet history also shows that less than 50% of the population participates in those riots and that they are usually under control within days or weeks depending on the strength of the underpinned civilization and ability to restore power. In more rural communities, such behavior is rarely seen. We have had power outages many times. We had tornadoes that knocked out power for several towns in NM when I lived there. No rioting, few deaths. Here in upstate NY, every year blizzards and other winter hazards knock out power for several communities, some years this lasts for days or weeks. Again, no rioting, few deaths. I am generally a cynical person. But most people have no desire to destroy their own neighborhoods. They want civilization, even as they curse it. Now if we faced a doomsday scenario, you might be correct about all that. But really, it changes nothing about the very real need to maintain high standards of education and the ability to think through problems. If anything, it supports the need to educate as many as possible. Where would we be today if the monks and friars hadn't kept much of our learning alive during the dark ages?

In any case, I am glad I was educated by people who felt it was important to learn how to actually add and subtract without a calculator and to write with pen and paper, not with little electronic pulses on a screen. But I am also very grateful for the wonderful invention of the microchip and all the other technology that makes it possible for me to sit here "conversing" with you wherever you are! Gotta love it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 12:33:16 PM PST
Yeah...good points all. I watched Contagion a couple of weeks ago on Satellite TV (lovin' those microchips) and after the movie, which I enjoyed, I turned to MSNBC to make sure the world was still there. After watching about an hour of news, it occurred to me that, if Contagion became real, in today's media environment, the entire story would take place on the crawler at the bottom of the screen as we watch some insipid politician, some missing celebrity, a baby in a well or miners trapped in a mine.
After all, Japan seems still to be melting into the sea as all its debris fills the ocean and I haven't seen it on the news in months. Too messy. But, man, that woman who was found not guilty when we all 'knew' she was guilty, now that's titillating.
glued to the screen,
Mike

Posted on Feb 26, 2012 4:09:55 PM PST
P. S. Wright says:
Is it just me or does the word "titalating" sound... titalating? I'm sorry. Felt a bit silly there for a second. It's under control now.

That's a good point Mike. It seems to me they have dumbed down the news these days too. I remember watching 60 minutes, in depth coverage, plus occasional long news specials that were a half hour to an hour by themselves. Nobody watches those types of news programs anymore. Talking heads and comedians have become our source of news. An hour of calling each other names and commentary takes the place of reporting and investigating. 60 minutes and 20/20 viewership has declined to insignificance.

In the meantime, we've decided we don't need a space program after all and no one seems concerned about that development. There are serious groups out there *still* trying to argue the Snopes trial and pushing for education about "intelligent design" in public schools. And what are we talking about? Madonna, some whacko in a meat dress, the latest sports star, Jersey Shore, the royal families, and sparkly vampires. It's sad really.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 5:13:07 PM PST
I wouldn't say that "...we've decided we don't need a space program after all...".

I romanticized like everyone else about the lofty, old style ideas of manned space flight going beyond the moon and possibly to the stars. About meeting aliens with the knowledge to help mankind progress. My parents put up with my STAR WARS addiction in the 70s and 80s. And I'll forever be a Trekkie.

But in real life, international robotics missions can pretty much tell us what we need to know about outer space--and for less cost dollar wise; and health wise, to our astronauts.

The prevailing reason for canceling deep space missions back to the moon and then to Mars is not only cost and that robots can tell us what we need to know, but the inability to adequately shield human crews from increased solar storm activity and creating enough artificial gravity to counteract the damages of weightlessness on the human body.

Currently, even with theoretical ion and plasma driven craft, you're looking at a roughly two year trip to Mars--almost a year there, a month on the surface, and almost another year back to Earth. And the old 60s nuclear powered ships, though theoretically faster, again wouldn't adequately shield crews from the dangerous ionized exhaust.

Despite the popular belief that the shuttle and space stations are "spaceships", they are low earth orbitals--not even geosynchronous platforms. Meaning they barely get above the outer atmosphere of Earth. The only time we've ever flown true "spaceships" was to the moon, when the APOLLOS went through the Van Allen Belts and into the unprotected environs of true deep space.

If we couldn't learn about the heavens through our advancements in robotic technology, I'd be all in favor of continual manned ventures into space to unlock those mysteries.

But VIKING, VOYAGER, PATHFINDER, VENERA, PIONEER, and other robotic missions to the planets, asteroids, and moons have basically told us that the Earth is the only immediately habitable world in our solar system. Even the extra solar worlds HUBBLE and other telescopes have found haven't found a habitable world within our faintest hopes of reaching, let alone colonizing.

Interesting how it took robotics to tell us what we've pretty much known all along: that the Earth is still our best hope, and that we'd better use every dollar and drop of human effort to make it a better place to live.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 5:20:09 PM PST
I believe we've simply lost the desire to look forward. Imagine, being able to tell out grandchildren we saw men land on the moon. No wonder they think we're doddering fools. It's not like the money we didn't spend on space will pop up where needed. It'll just go into the same old visionless things. Or pockets. And 30 year old people will play masters of war, or whatever.
Depressed,
Mike

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 5:49:30 PM PST
Valid argument.

Of course, the counterpoint is that by somehow sending people to the moon and Mars we'll "teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" (to borrow the old Coca-Cola ditty). Still, after the APOLLOS, we have "masters of wars".

As far as space goes, we're looking at it more than our parents and any other generation in human history has. Only now, it's with the almost crystal clear advancements of electronic eyes. Eyes that aren't susceptible to cataract damage from increased solar radiation.

I think the problem with some overzealous proponents of man in space uber alis is human pride. That only man can unlock the secrets of the cosmos, not robots.

At this critical point in our planet's history, does it really matter if a human foot or a mechanical landing gear graces the gravel of worlds that we know we CAN'T live on without trillions in continual life support?

Trillions...for maybe 5 astronauts per mission?!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2012 8:46:12 PM PST
I love where this thread has gone and is going with regards to the space program. I'll never forget one year when, during an astronomy discussion about the ISS, one student looked at me in amazement and said, "You mean, there are people up there right now?" She was pointing up as she said this, and her eyes were wide.

What our children don't know is scary, and what are the first programs to be cut when finances are tight? Okay...after art, music and PE...it's science and history that are cut. Yet, all of these subject areas are so important to our growth as a society. And yes, I am as upset as you are about ignorant people pushing for schools to teach "intelligent design." What a fishnet full of carp! Egads!

I'd like to add to the discussion about news coverage as well. Prepare yourself for another anecdote (it's what I do best). A few years ago, The Golden Compass was being made into a major motion picture. I like for my students to read books before they see movies based on those books, so I read that one aloud to my class. The following year, one of my students (I teach the same students for 3 years - Montessori, you know?) wanted to turn it into a play for the students to perform. He wanted to include all students from all grades in our school. It was a really nice and thoughtful project. He worked really hard on it. I helped him boil it down to a decent beginning scene, end scene and a few middle scenes that would take the audience from point A to point B, but he did the work himself. Then he came to school in tears one morning because the woman who drove him to school (carpool, not even a relative of his) told him that we wouldn't be allowed to perform his play because the author was quoted in the news as having said that he was trying to pull kids away from God. I asked him to find out from her which news show it was. He did - it was Fox News. I went online and checked things out. The quote had been pulled from a website that referenced a legit newspaper article, an interview with the author to be exact. I decided to double check, so I looked up that newspaper and that article. I found the article and read it from beginning to end. There was no such quote from the author. In fact, when he was asked what his intentions were in writing the book, his answer was something along the lines of "to tell an entertaining story."

I shared all this with my class of 4th - 6th grade students. It was a wonderful lesson for everyone, only I'm sure it wasn't the lesson that mother expected. In fact, the day of the performance, that mother requested that her son sit in the office for the duration of the play. He did. The next year, when he would have entered my class, his parents decided to enroll him in a parochial school instead. They wouldn't even talk to me.
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Discussion in:  Meet Our Authors forum
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Total posts:  326
Initial post:  Feb 20, 2012
Latest post:  Aug 13, 2012

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