Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore

Maybe it's the caffeine and the sugar talking, or maybe the hormones; but I am in one of those "kicking butt and taking names" moods right now. A couple of days ago we received an application for Princess to be nominated for the Gifted and Talented program. I was asked to provide a short paragraph on why she deserved to get in, and I just blew up (or as close to blowing up as I get, anyway). I basically said that she should get in because she's bored out of her skull and her teachers are exploiting her as a tutor for the other students (yes, I used the word "exploit" and the phrase "bored out of her skull") and it was about frickin' time (no, I didn't use the word "frickin' ") that they actually started teaching her something at her level, before she gets so tired of the School Game that she starts underachieving.

Also, some dude named Fred Flener left a comment on my post "Math or Technology: Take Your Pick" over at Edspresso (no link directly to the post; I don't want a trackback from that post to what I'm about to say about some guy I don't even know) that really cheesed me off. He seemed to think that training some kids to put numbers into a spreadsheet was going to give them some sort of deep insight about compound interest. This guy must be from the Hollywood School of Deep Insights, where Tom Cruise gets cast as Plato and "$#!^ Happens" is considered really, truly profound. This, folks, is what we get for cutting ancient Greek and Roman classics from the curriculum. We get people like this guy who think "the numbers go up" is a profound mathematical insight. He doesn't know enough math to know what he's missing.

I had a student last semester who admitted that as a result of her not understanding fractions, she never shopped on the discount rack. She was never able to calculate what, say, 30% off the price was. For fifty-something years this woman had paid full price for all her clothing, because she couldn't calculate 30% off. When I taught her how to do it, it was a revelation. This same lady was completely thrilled to learn how to solve simple linear equations because now she could program her own spreadsheet without help from somebody "smarter". This woman worked in low-paying, dead-end jobs for decades because of her ignorance and was excited to finally be able to move on to something better. Mr. Flener can take that and stick it in [your favorite bodily orifice here] and frickin' light it on FIRE, if he thinks ignorance of fractions and algebra doesn't affect your real life.

Obviously people can survive without fractions. Our medieval forebears clearly lived long enough to reproduce, and maybe they even had some fraction-free fun on saints' days. But if you believe in universal public education, and if you believe that it should include things called "algebra" and "calculus" that bear some passing resemblance to what for the last 500 years have been called "algebra" and "calculus" so that they will do for the students what the last 500 years of "algebra" and "calculus" did for their students in the past, then you DAMN WELL BETTER believe that students should learn fractions. The existence of calculators that add rational expressions does not obviate the need for students who want to ACTUALLY LEARN HOW to add rational expressions to know fractions. If you are foolish enough to believe that a student has learned some math by merely copying the answer out of a fancy calculator, then why not just have them copy the answers out of a freakin' BOOK? They're much, much cheaper, even if they're less trendy.

Since Mr. Flener apparently believes algebra is useless and spreadsheets teach compound interest, I have a very nice bridge to sell to him. It only costs a dollar (plus interest, of course) and he won't have to make any payments on it for 100 years! How much you wanna bet he goes for it?