The Revisionaries on PBS

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A somewhat shortened version of the movie, The Revisionaries, will be shown on PBS Monday night at 10 Eastern Time. The Revisionaries is a documentary about attempts by the Texas State Board of Education to inject creationism into the school standards.

Here is what PBS says about the program:

Witness an ongoing culture war raging in Texas – a tempest in a textbook. The state’s Board of Education has been engaged in a pitched, years-long battle over what belongs (and doesn’t) in public school textbooks. Legislators, educators, parents and students debate the facts and the theories – including what constitutes a fact versus a theory. The chair of the Board of Education fights tirelessly to include intelligent design in science books, while a board member argues to exclude mention of the slave trade and the Enlightenment in history books. The result is a chaotic scene, with the next generation’s education held hostage.

Most readers of PT probably know of the attempts to inject creationism (teach the “controversy”) into the curriculum, but New York Times reviewer was startled by

the casual way the board injected opinion into social studies textbooks, requiring, among many other additions, references to Ronald Reagan’s leadership in “restoring national confidence” and replacing hip-hop with country in a citation of pop music

not to mention inserting Hussein between Barack and Obama. I saw the full 84-min movie last night; the PBS version has been whittled down to 52 min and, I gathered from a talkback with the producer, not entirely to his liking.

I was astonished at what twits the SBOE members were. The star of the movie, in some sense, was Don McLeroy, the former chair of the SBOE. He came across as a completely honest, pleasant, ignorant ninny who evidently believes everything he thinks and is more than willing to let you know. The scene where he tries to convince Sunday-school students that there was plenty of room for dinosaurs and other creatures on the Ark would have been hilarious, had it not been so earnest. McLeroy could be an excellent, even inspiring teacher, if only he were not so badly misinformed.

Those are only some of the impressions I got from a movie that some will doubtless criticize for being too even-handed. See it for yourself, either on PBS or, preferably, the full-length version.

55 Comments

Anyone who says that “Someone has to stand up to experts,” is no doubt a little too willing to let you know what he thinks to fit in with the DI plan.

Not that Don wasn’t quite the opposite of expert, which apparently qualified him in his own eyes.

Glen Davidson

Glen Davidson said:

Anyone who says that “Someone has to stand up to experts,” is no doubt a little too willing to let you know what he thinks to fit in with the DI plan.

Not that Don wasn’t quite the opposite of expert, which apparently qualified him in his own eyes.

After all, if the experts aren’t kowtowing to party dogma, they must be wrong.

One thing about living and teaching in Texas during the McLeroy years was that I found he had minimal influence, even on the standards.

He tried to ignore teacher and expert input into the state standards, he tried to get publishers to put misleading information in the text. He gave tactic approval to use public schools to teach creationism and Bible literalism.

Yet, even with all that, he was largely unsuccessful in all of them. I am especially thinking of the process by which the Texas standardized test was created. The test items were all checked by professional fact checkers and content specialists who were scientists or science teachers (not the bad ones either). The test items were individually approved by an independent group of science teachers and science experts. (Same for History.)

There would never have been anything misleading or incorrect on the tests. The same applies to the textbook. Most schools in Texas use the Miller Levine books and I’m confident that misleading information is not going to get into those textbooks.

The most effect he had was giving tactic approval to the few teachers who would teach creationism. And they would have done that anyway.

I’m not saying that he hasn’t caused a mess here in the state. Texas is a massively divided state in terms of religion/science issues. And honestly, the students that are going to follow creationism are getting that support at home. No mere teacher will be able to crack the brainwashing that takes place in fundamentalist homes. On the other hand, no kid from a home that teaches and encourages thinking will fall for the crap McLeroy peddles.

Not all PBS channels. Mine is showing a propaganda piece praising Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy in that slot. May have something to do with the fact I live in Shimkus’ congressional district.

As someone who lived through the Carter and Reagan years, I can attest as to what a restorative Reagan’s optimism was. In a textbook it may be “opinion”, but it squares with my experience.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/[…]myX9u_xNgSt8 said:

As someone who lived through the Carter and Reagan years, I can attest as to what a restorative Reagan’s optimism was. In a textbook it may be “opinion”, but it squares with my experience.

In a textbook it is opinion. In your brain it is also opinion. You are entitled to that opinion, which some people share, and which some people do not. It might make sense, at a reasonably high grade level, to include the fact that some people had such opinions, but many others did not, during the Reagan years, in a history textbook.

What would be unfair, of course, would be for me to force taxpayer funded public schools to teach my subjective opinions of Ronald Reagan as if they were objective fact. It is also unfair if you, or Don McElroy, attempts to do that.

Not all PBS channels

But it will probably be available for viewing online.

PBS also posted 10 Interesting Lessons from Creationist-Inspired School Books on their Facebook page. What an shock…I never realized just how kooky these creationists are. Be sure to watch the video also…I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

Karen S. said:

PBS also posted 10 Interesting Lessons from Creationist-Inspired School Books on their Facebook page. What an shock…I never realized just how kooky these creationists are. Be sure to watch the video also…I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

Can I sign up to teach “biblical genetics”? It sounds ever so much easier that the real thing, what with all them messy chromosomes and such.

Seriously, history has already taught us what happens when you make up crap like this and it ain’t pretty. These morons need to be exposed for the charlatans that they are.

Karen S. said:

I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

Perhaps it’s the same reason He dislikes zero and the square root of minus one.

Or perhaps He’s just generally theory-phobic.

And there is this.

Karen S. said:

PBS also posted 10 Interesting Lessons from Creationist-Inspired School Books on their Facebook page. What an shock…I never realized just how kooky these creationists are. Be sure to watch the video also…I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

Might be related to Tom Lehrer’s quip about it in his song about “new math”…”So simple, so very simple, that ONLY a child can do it!”

phhht said:

Karen S. said:

I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

Perhaps it’s the same reason He dislikes zero and the square root of minus one.

Or perhaps He’s just generally theory-phobic.

From what I heard listening to the short video, is that they teach math without that pesky “set theory” stuff, not that God doesn’t approve of it, per se. Now, I don’t have personal experience with those particular texts myself, so I can’t know for sure. But my guess is that they are referring to the “old style” of teaching math, where you have to memorize addition and multiplication facts, and demonstrate that you know those facts, as opposed to the “new math” that attempts to teach grade school kids the underlying fundamental theories of why math works. At that age, it is necessary to learn the “what” of math, rather then the “why”.

(And yes, I did very badly at epsilon-delta proofs in my second year of calculus in college. While I’m sure it’s important for somebody to be able to prove that integration is “true”, that “theory” class turned out to be a big mistake for an engineering major who needed to know the nuts and bolts of how integration works. It was a different level of math, but the educational dichotomy was exactly analogous. And yes, I eventually learned set theory.)

My wife is no sympathizer of creationism. She is a teacher, and (more importantly) has studied teaching techniques and the theory(ies) of learning. What frosts her is the current “modern” theories of eduction that stress teaching kids about subjects, without teaching any content. Further, “modern” theories of eduction are more concerned about how students feel about a subject, rather than what they know about a subject. For Christ’s sake, you can’t “reason” about a subject, unless you have some facts to reason about.

You think I’m making this up? In seventh grade, my son was taking algebra in a public school. (Algebra in 7th? Yeah, he was a whiz at math in 6th grade, and tested into algebra.) They were using Oregon state-approved texts, with no religious slant whatsoever. One day our son came home with a math homework assignment. They had been assigned 5 of the 10 questions from the current chapter. The first 3 were actual math problems, 1 for each subject covered in the chapter. Just one problem each! The last 2 questions (again, from a math text book for 7th grade students) asked our son to write several paragraphs about how he felt about himself while doing the first 3 problems. Seriously.

I was livid. The next day, I tore the teacher a new one for even assigning such bullshit questions. But what was more appalling was that the text book even contained those questions in the first place. I don’t care what my 11 year old feels about his ability to do math. I want him to learn the facts and processes of doing math. At that point, I wouldn’t have cared whether the textbook taught that math was created by little pink pixies, if only the bloody text book had actually taught something about math.

While taking three years of math at that school (using state-approved texts, and getting all A’s in class) our son’s knowledge of math increased exactly zero, based on standardized tests. He went from being a year ahead and liking math, to being two years behind and hating math. Three precious years of early education wasted, because of “modern” (so called) “teaching” methods. By graduation he had caught up to “grade level”, but was still a year behind what was needed to be a freshman in engineering, putting him behind his cohort in college.)

So yeah, I’m against teaching “set theory” and some feel-good bullshit to young kids in place of actually teaching them arithmetic and, you know, actual “math”. Wait ’till they’re a math major in college when it will actually mean something to them.

And yeah, if there is a God and if he knows anything about “set theory” he would be violently opposed to teaching it to young kids before they know what the “distributive” and “commutative” properties, and how to use them.

Scott F said:

phhht said:

Karen S. said:

I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

Perhaps it’s the same reason He dislikes zero and the square root of minus one.

Or perhaps He’s just generally theory-phobic.

From what I heard listening to the short video, is that they teach math without that pesky “set theory” stuff, not that God doesn’t approve of it, per se. Now, I don’t have personal experience with those particular texts myself, so I can’t know for sure. But my guess is that they are referring to the “old style” of teaching math, where you have to memorize addition and multiplication facts, and demonstrate that you know those facts, as opposed to the “new math” that attempts to teach grade school kids the underlying fundamental theories of why math works. At that age, it is necessary to learn the “what” of math, rather then the “why”.

I feel a lot of your pain…and not on behalf of my kids, either.

Lehrer’s song–“New Math”–was in reaction to the, then (mid-1960s) adoption of the heavy use of set theory in education up through high school. It hit when I was a Sophomore in high school. Drove me nuts…especially since I was good at math at that time (my downfall being integral calculus, which I passed…but went no further).

I suppose the irony is that I *do* know a quite mundane and utilitarian use for set theory that I *do* use on a regular basis now. It’s the underlying principle of SQL. If you don’t know set theory (or don’t understand that relational databases do data retrieval based on set theory), you’ll go crazy trying to figure out how SQL works. Once you realize that it’s just set theory, SQL falls into place and is trivially easy to use.

So,,, yeah. As an Engineering student, set theory was a waste of time. Twenty years later as RDBS’ emerged, set theory became very useful indeed as a programmer.

I have a permanent and irradicable blind spot for mathematics. I’m quite reliable with arithmetic, because I was taught the multiplication tables by rote, and the four operations by drilling them, even with fractions, even with positive and negative numbers.

But that’s as far as it goes. My son, who’s a whiz, undertook to tutor me. I was quite willing, and even made some progress in trig - until I fetched up against the idea of the sine of an angle greater than 90 degrees.

I knew what a sine is: the ratio between the side opposite the angle and the hypotenuse, ie, the side opposite the right angle, in a right-angled triangle. So, what’s the sine of an angle of ninety-four degrees? What’s the sine of an angle of two hundred and forty degrees?

I simply cannot get my head around such a notion. It’s completely meaningless to me. An angle of ninety degrees and another of more than ninety degrees cannot exist together in a plane triangle. It’s an impossible idea. Being impossible, it can’t exist.

I mean, really. I deal all day in things that don’t exist - characters, events, fantasy. No problemo. But I also live in the real world. I know that they don’t exist. I don’t kid myself that they do. That would be crazy.

But mathematics is all about things that don’t exist. Sines of angles of more than ninety degrees. Square roots of negative numbers. For that matter, negative numbers themselves. Infinities that are bigger than other infinities. And maths guys act as though they do exist. They’re impossible, but they simply act as if they were as real as wood.

But that means that they’re acting crazy.

I can’t be having with it. My brain simply locks up and refuses to function.

Further, “modern” theories of eduction are more concerned about how students feel about a subject, rather than what they know about a subject.

That would pretty much describe a curriculum like “Everyday Mathematics,” which is garbage.

I just think that creationists are opposed to anything they think is “modern.” And it wasn’t taught in all school districts. So if a creationist never learned it, it will be easy to convince him that his kids don’t need to learn it. But Set Theory is not really modern, and can be taught successfully to young children.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/[…]myX9u_xNgSt8 said:

As someone who lived through the Carter and Reagan years, I can attest as to what a restorative Reagan’s optimism was. In a textbook it may be “opinion”, but it squares with my experience.

As someone who also lived through those years I can attest that nearly everyone I knew was horribly depressed by the election of Reagan, and I personally almost lost my faith in the rationality and morality of the American people as I watched them fall for that liar and idiot. But then that’s my opinion.

Scott F. -

1) Elementary, high school, and most university math should include a lot of problems, because that’s the only way that most people can learn to apply the priniciples in problems, and application is 99.9% of why we study math.

2) There is also such a thing as too much rote grinding. I attended a rural elementary school with elderly teachers, which gave me a solid education but in a sometimes ridiculous way. In “grade four” (I went to elementary school in Canada), our math class consisted of mainly of doing endless long division problems from a book full of pages of long division problems. If you finished the problems for the day, you could read from a shelf of books. No-one else was interested in the books, but I loved reading. I learned how to do long division but then was unable to resist. I did maybe 5% of the assigned problems and then pretended to be done and grabbed a book. Much to my shock, at the end of the year, the “test” was to hand in our notebooks. I got a “D” in fourth grade math. I am very good at long division, and was in fourth grade. I went on to do well in math in subsequent years and to mainly enjoy my math and stats at college; most of the kids who ground out dozens of long divisions a day did not and many didn’t even get much better at long division. That class was probably the ultimate “old math” class, based on the idea that math is like artillery drill - you get better by doing the same thing over and over and over again. Mercifully it didn’t kill my liking of math. It’s possible that my childishly deceptive behavior actually saved my enjoyment of math. A couple of hundred repetitive three digit number into a seven digit number long divisions by hand per day might have killed it.

The truth lies somewhere between the extremes. “New math” emerged because “old math” had serious issues of its own.

There are vast differences in the way students approach math; and pedagogical methods have to be adapted to make the most of student abilities, backgrounds, and perspectives. One of the biggest mistakes is to place all students together in the same kinds of classes. What works for some sets of students is a complete disaster for others.

After I retired from research, I spent the last ten years of my career teaching in a program for gifted and talented students at a math/science center. It was a lot work, but also a lot of fun. I taught calculus, statistics, and physics. Many of those kids came into the program as freshmen (9th grade) taking calculus. There were also many freshmen in my statistics courses. These students were better than many of the graduate students I had taught.

In their second year, these students took a somewhat advanced version of 3rd semester calculus which I taught out of a book by Mary Boaz that was designed for sophomore/junior level college physics students. That course included vector calculus (divergence, gradient, curl stuff), functions of a complex variable, matrix algebra, and Fourier transforms.

In their third year, these students took differential equations or statistics, and in their 4th year they took whatever elective they missed or any elective in math that they could get at a nearby university (our teaching load was too heavy for me to teach yet another advanced math course on top of everything else I was doing).

These students handled my calculus level physics course out of Halliday, Resnick, and Krane with ease, but I also had to take into account students who were just beginning their calculus sequences as seniors.

These students thrived on the “Integrated Math” approaches in their middle school years where they picked up most of what they needed to advance into calculus by the time they reached 9th grade. Many of them had taken summer courses in a program sponsored by a nearby university.

On the other hand, students in technical programs at community colleges need an entirely different approach. Many of them need to be able to do trigonometry; but as Dave Luckett has described of his own experience, they want only “right-angle trig.” They clutch at any notions of sines of angles greater than 90 degrees. They also have an aversion to both positive and negative current flows in electrical circuits. For them, current has to flow from positive to negative. Most of the integrated math approaches used for those students at the math/science center would not work for these students.

Even more different are students who come from homes in which one or both parents have an intense fear or hatred of math. My wife once helped tutor a home-schooled boy for four years whose math-phobic mother purchased one of those A Beka math books. The book had only a few religious references in it; but my wife pulled together other materials to supplement the book. The kid was terrified of math in the beginning, but ended up liking math by the time he finished four years later. Drill and practice helped him, but he also needed to expand his horizons in math in order to lose his fear of math.

My own recollection of the “New Math,” when it came out back in the 1960s, is that it was very poorly presented. It was far too abstract in its approach, making assumptions about the concrete experiences of children that were totally unjustified. There was no way students at that age could know what the “objects” of a set meant without having experience with specific examples of the properties of those examples.

Numbers and operations on numbers have patterns that are at the heart of algebra. But trying to teach those ideas using a general, abstract language didn’t work. Students first need to have experience with those properties of numbers and the operations with those numbers. Furthermore, set theory encompasses more than just numbers. Other “objects” or “elements” of a set can have entirely different kinds of properties from numbers, and one has to have experiences with those as well; otherwise all sorts of misconceptions and conflations arise in the minds of students. The result is confusion ending up in an aversion to math.

The “epsilon-delta” approach to calculus assumes a huge background of experience that many, if not most, students entering calculus don’t have; therefore it is not an appropriate approach for a general course in calculus that includes all students. It is meant more for math majors; and it becomes more relevant as one gains more experience with math. Eventually physics and engineering students can benefit from this perspective. On the other hand, many math majors could eventually benefit from the perspectives of physics and engineering applications of math.

There has also developed an artificial distinction between “pure” and “applied” math; with the “applied” math holding a lower status than “pure” math. However, most of the great mathematicians of the past were motivated by applications of math to the real world. Only later did those applications lead to abstract generalizations and recognition that the mathematics developed in one area also applied to seemingly unrelated areas.

Mike Elzinga said:

After I retired from research, I spent the last ten years of my career teaching in a program for gifted and talented students at a math/science center.

So, what you’re saying is that after you retired, you died and went to heaven. :-)

Scott F said:

Mike Elzinga said:

After I retired from research, I spent the last ten years of my career teaching in a program for gifted and talented students at a math/science center.

So, what you’re saying is that after you retired, you died and went to heaven. :-)

Yup! :-)

Karen S. said:

Further, “modern” theories of eduction are more concerned about how students feel about a subject, rather than what they know about a subject.

That would pretty much describe a curriculum like “Everyday Mathematics,” which is garbage.

I just think that creationists are opposed to anything they think is “modern.” And it wasn’t taught in all school districts. So if a creationist never learned it, it will be easy to convince him that his kids don’t need to learn it. But Set Theory is not really modern, and can be taught successfully to young children.

Oh, set theory is no doubt useful, especially (as Heydt puts it) for SQL. (I program database applications, after all.) There’s nothing wrong with learning set theory. It’s not that set theory is modern. It’s the use to which it is put in education that is/was “modern”. The problem is when you either teach set theory to the exclusion of other basic maths (there’s only a limited amount of classroom time, after all), or when the purpose of teaching set theory is to attempt to prove the other basic maths to grade school kids (especially through teachers who themselves (as a general rule in “education” majors) didn’t take a lot of math in college).

As I see it, set theory is to algebra as the epsilon-delta proof is to calculus (in a gross, general sense). I don’t need the “proof” to be able to use the tool. If you try to teach me the “proof” before I even know how to use the tool, I have no knowledge and experience to hang the information on. The “proof” is meaningless, or confusing, or at best a waste of time.

It’s like trying to explain the thermodynamics of the internal combustion engine in drivers’ training class to “prove” what happens when you step on the gas pedal. Sure, for a race car driver who wants to squeeze every last erg of energy out of his missile on wheels, understanding at that level of detail can be very important. But at the level of, foot-down-car-go, the details of why are a distraction from learning the very basics.

Mike Elzinga said:

My own recollection of the “New Math,” when it came out back in the 1960s, is that it was very poorly presented. It was far too abstract in its approach, making assumptions about the concrete experiences of children that were totally unjustified. There was no way students at that age could know what the “objects” of a set meant without having experience with specific examples of the properties of those examples.

Bingo!

Numbers and operations on numbers have patterns that are at the heart of algebra.

Precisely. In my wife’s studies she kept lamenting, “If you know the patterns already, just tell me and save everyone the time. Don’t make me rediscover them for myself.”

But trying to teach those ideas using a general, abstract language didn’t work. Students first need to have experience with those properties of numbers and the operations with those numbers. Furthermore, set theory encompasses more than just numbers. Other “objects” or “elements” of a set can have entirely different kinds of properties from numbers, and one has to have experiences with those as well; otherwise all sorts of misconceptions and conflations arise in the minds of students. The result is confusion ending up in an aversion to math.

Exactly.

The “epsilon-delta” approach to calculus assumes a huge background of experience that many, if not most, students entering calculus don’t have; therefore it is not an appropriate approach for a general course in calculus that includes all students. It is meant more for math majors; and it becomes more relevant as one gains more experience with math.

My experience exactly. In our second term “honors” calculus class of 13 very bright students, there was one student who got 98% on the final. He was the math major. The 12 engineering students all got between 40% and 50%. And we never really learned how to do integration.

Eventually physics and engineering students can benefit from this perspective. On the other hand, many math majors could eventually benefit from the perspectives of physics and engineering applications of math.

Exactly. Get the basics down, in whatever field, and then relate what you’ve learned to other fields. If you don’t have the basics, you have nothing to relate anything else to.

There has also developed an artificial distinction between “pure” and “applied” math; with the “applied” math holding a lower status than “pure” math. However, most of the great mathematicians of the past were motivated by applications of math to the real world. Only later did those applications lead to abstract generalizations and recognition that the mathematics developed in one area also applied to seemingly unrelated areas.

So, you ask a “math” professor (with little or no experience in teaching young children) to design a math text book to teach the “basics”. Well, to the theoretician, the “basics” would be the fundamental theories that underpin your profession. Right? You tend to get a text that focuses on that.

I remember well that the people who taught best were the young TA’s. They were only a few years (or just months) removed from the same shoes that we found ourselves in. Most of the older professors either never knew, or had forgotten how hard it could be. They simply couldn’t understand how we could be confused. The TA’s, meanwhile, still understood the wrong mental turns one could take, or the misconceptions that could get in the way of understanding. It was the rare, and valuable professor who could both understand the “why” behind his profession, and still be able to explain the “fundamentals” to the new student, hiding most of the ugly details until the right time.

I can’t imagine why God doesn’t approve of Set Theory!

They have reasons. Those reasons don’t make any sense.

Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute….A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.” — ABeka.com

Basically, it seems that set theory is “modern”. Modern means developed more than 2,000 years ago.

I don’t see that set theory is any more arbitrary and relative than 1+1=2.

I suspect the real reason is because the Abeka curriculum is designed to keep children from being more than minimally educated and mostly ignorant so they can’t read Pandasthumb and similar websites

You can see Josh Kornbluth’s moving and hilarious story about being a math whiz - until he “hit the wall” in calculus at Princeton - now on DVD. Here’s the trailer.

The Mathematics of Change

My experience exactly. In our second term “honors” calculus class of 13 very bright students, there was one student who got 98% on the final. He was the math major. The 12 engineering students all got between 40% and 50%. And we never really learned how to do integration.

That was the culture in engineering when I was in college (I considered it before deciding I liked biology better, so I made some close observations). Their professors would slam them with humiliatingly low grades for some cultural reason. They got their degrees, so I assume it was “curved” in the end.

Possibly they were victimized by a tiny minority of math and physics majors. It can be tough when different groups are in the same class. I had to run a pathology class for two different types of non-physician medical professionals for a couple of years. Without stating what the two fields were, one is much more competitive and prestigious than the other (because it pays more and requires much more cognitive decision making). They should not have been taking the same class, but in the wisdom of the administration, they were, probably as a money saving stunt. In order to allow the people from the less prestigious field a chance to get their degrees and earn an honest useful living, I had to design exams which caused the other group of people in the class to always get very high grades. Maybe engineers get a reverse effect - in order to hold some physics whiz down to 98% or below, the professor has to design an exam that slaughters the engineering majors. Also, of course, the professor is probably a physicist, not an engineer, himself.

Way back in the Cretaceous, during my undergraduate years, I switched from electrical engineering into physics in my senior year after discovering late that physics was where I belonged all along. It meant a few more semesters of undergraduate work. And I was always scrambling to keep up with the math and afraid that I didn’t know enough. So I kept taking more math courses as well. Finally someone informed me that if I took two more math courses, I would also have a major in math; so I did.

Looking back, and comparing my math education with the way math is taught today – and with the way I taught it to those bright young students I had at the math/science center – I think that calculus is taught much better today than it used to be. The textbooks are also much better. It is no longer that “high pinnacle” of math one arrived at after taking College Algebra, College Trigonometry, College Geometry, Analytic Geometry, Calculus I, II, and III, finally Differential Equations.

Today there are far better integrated concepts that reinforce each other and allow one to move to what used to be considered “advanced” notions that required years of preparation. It has taken many decades of mathematics “reform” to get here. Nevertheless, it is still a long haul until one gains enough experience with the various areas of math and it all begins to really “sink in” and unify.

Math is a much more integral part of physics. For engineers – electrical engineers probably being an exception – the ability to design and test designs is more important. Math is important; but engineers have a more direct responsibility for producing products that other people will use. The ability to design tests that really shake out the flaws in a product is probably better than a set of calculations that “show that the product works.” You just can’t foresee every contingency in a mathematical model of an engineered product; it has to be tested under a wide variety of conditions for which it is expected to operate. Math isn’t necessarily the answer in this case.

On the other hand, math is very important in many of the interdisciplinary fields of applied research and development in which I have worked. These are areas in which engineers, physicists, computer scientists, and mathematicians work together in teams to develop basic science research into technological applications. In these cases, it is the engineers who can really shake out the bugs in design and trim down the design to efficiency and lower the cost; and they quickly uncover things that weren’t usually seen in advance. They don’t need math to do that.

I am sure, as harold can probably verify, that medicine has become specialized for a very good reason. In dealing with human health and life-or-death decisions, it is probably better in the long run to confine oneself to a specialty. But I suspect that can only work well as long as the specialists are communicating effectively and efficiently with each other and sharing information, and as long as there are general practitioners who can pull together the bigger, overall picture of a patient’s health.

I recall being fascinated reading a book that described how to model the real number system using axiomatic set theory (non-negative integers to rationals, to reals, to complex, with negatives inserted in a somewhat arbitrary point early in that series). (Such a model turns the real number axioms into theorems.) As far as I can recall, that use of set theory didn’t get covered in any of my math classes.

But that was well after having learned how to deal with real numbers without all that.

Henry

Just for background on this…Univ. of California at Berkeley from 1966 to 1970 in EECS. Lousy EE, but a good grasp of the guts of computers, which is handy as a programmer.

Scott F said:

Mike Elzinga said:

My own recollection of the “New Math,” when it came out back in the 1960s, is that it was very poorly presented. It was far too abstract in its approach, making assumptions about the concrete experiences of children that were totally unjustified. There was no way students at that age could know what the “objects” of a set meant without having experience with specific examples of the properties of those examples.

Bingo!

Part of the problem with the “new math” in the 1960s is that when you got it, you got it at grade level without having come up through the whole sequence. Rather, it was a discontinuous function. That, I think, was the most disconcerting part. It had nothing to do with the math instruction that one had had previously, but assumed that you’d had the same teaching system all along.

My experience exactly. In our second term “honors” calculus class of 13 very bright students, there was one student who got 98% on the final. He was the math major. The 12 engineering students all got between 40% and 50%. And we never really learned how to do integration.

Shades of the problems with the Berkeley Physics Course when I took it. Berkeley had just gone on the quarter system. The course, Physics 4A through 4E, course title “Physics for Scientists and Engineers” was so new that the text books were sold as soft cover offset prints of typed manuscript. The Berkeley Physics department later decided that, not only was the course material *not* suited for lower division students, they weren’t even sure it was suitable for undergraduate students. On one mid-term the class average was 17 out of a possible 100. So far as I know, the Physics students didn’t do particularly better than the Engineering students on that one.

On the other hand, what was noticeable was that Berkeley had two Comp. Sci. programs at the time. One–in the College of Letters and Science–amounted to a math major, while the other was in EECS. Both programs had what were considered–by the University–to be equivalent courses. Either program would grant credit towards the major to either equivalent course. What really stood out was that the L&S students *never* to the EECS courses. Possibly one example will show why… In the beginning L&S course, you got Algol in 9 weeks. In the beginning EECS course, you got FORTRAN *and* Algol in 9 weeks. I had no trouble with the EECS course…I already knew FORTRAN, so I just had to learn Algol.

Henry J said:

I recall being fascinated reading a book that described how to model the real number system using axiomatic set theory (non-negative integers to rationals, to reals, to complex, with negatives inserted in a somewhat arbitrary point early in that series). (Such a model turns the real number axioms into theorems.) As far as I can recall, that use of set theory didn’t get covered in any of my math classes.

But that was well after having learned how to deal with real numbers without all that.

Henry

Indeed.

Much of that other stuff is really about classifying and unifying. You have to have experienced examples of other mathematical systems in order to appreciate it.

Rings, groups, fields are about sets of objects and the operations that are allowed on those objects. You then learn whether or not there a “commutative law” applies in a particular case, or whether one operation “distributes” over another operation, and whether or not the mathematical systems are “closed” under an operation (i.e., whether or not the result is an element within the same set of objects); whether there are sub groups or sub fields and what “laws” apply.

One of the biggest sources of confusion I encountered along the way was in the uses of the word “multiplication” or “product.” Multiplying numbers is nothing like “multiplying” matrices, operators, or vectors. Talking about a “commutative” law for operators or vectors is nothing like talking about how one adds and multiplies numbers; what one does with operators and vectors is nothing like what one does with numbers. Dot products and cross products are ways of combing vectors, one of which doesn’t depend on order and produces a scalar (not closed within the set of vectors); the other depending on order and producing a vector (closed under that particular operation).

Putting on one’s socks and then one’s shoes does not produce the same result as reversing those operations. It is nothing like multiplying two numbers together.

Nevertheless, the words “product” and “commutative” or “non-commutative” are applied in both contexts. No child in elementary school, middle school, or high school would have enough experience with numbers and mathematical operations of various kinds to avoid confusion.

The real number set is a subset of the complex numbers; yet complex numbers are not ordered and the real numbers are. Hilbert spaces encompass a number of different mathematical systems that look nothing like each other when one first encounters them.

How could young kids get the gist of any of this from talking about sets and the operations on sets? You need a number of specific examples in order to appreciate set theory; not set theory to appreciate specific examples.

I am sure, as harold can probably verify, that medicine has become specialized for a very good reason. In dealing with human health and life-or-death decisions, it is probably better in the long run to confine oneself to a specialty. But I suspect that can only work well as long as the specialists are communicating effectively and efficiently with each other and sharing information, and as long as there are general practitioners who can pull together the bigger, overall picture of a patient’s health.

That is exactly correct. The ideal proportion or number of primary care physicians versus specialists is an area of valid debate, but that is how it works.

I either had set theory somewhere in high school, or read about it on my own.

I encountered a few years ago when I took a graduate-level, albeit basic, course in probability.

It is useful and, now that someone has done the hard work of figuring it out for the rest of us, highly intuitively credible.

In my opinion, the issue is that authoritarianism and obsessively concrete thinking go together. Neither correlates with “intelligence” - there are plenty of highly intelligent obsessively concrete authoritarians - but they go together.

It is a pure emotional bias against anything that seems abstract in a challenging way and nothing more.

The ideas of Boolean algebra and logic are also done with sets. So it is interesting that many authoritarian sectarians are drawn to Aristotelian logic combined with their “book of singular authority” to argue for uniformity under their sectarian views.

Perhaps their objections to hierarchies of infinity and Georg Cantor lie in their perception that it is threat to the supremacy of their deity. After all, if a deity created the universe, what created the deity? Can’t have that kind of questioning on the part of the kids, can we?

Mike Elzinga said:

Perhaps their objections to hierarchies of infinity and Georg Cantor lie in their perception that it is threat to the supremacy of their deity. After all, if a deity created the universe, what created the deity? Can’t have that kind of questioning on the part of the kids, can we?

Actually, some take the opposite approach. Robert Marks (William Dembski’s co-author on the Search For A Search papers) has given talks on how Cantor’s work shows the divine origin of nature. Here are the slides for one of these talks.

So one can argue either way, and if the tent is big enough, you can treat both arguments as true.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Mike Elzinga said:

Perhaps their objections to hierarchies of infinity and Georg Cantor lie in their perception that it is threat to the supremacy of their deity. After all, if a deity created the universe, what created the deity? Can’t have that kind of questioning on the part of the kids, can we?

Actually, some take the opposite approach. Robert Marks (William Dembski’s co-author on the Search For A Search papers) has given talks on how Cantor’s work shows the divine origin of nature. Here are the slides for one of these talks.

So one can argue either way, and if the tent is big enough, you can treat both arguments as true.

There are only a few rules that ID/creationists have to follow -

1) Never openly state that any form of right wing fundamentalist Christianity is definitively wrong about anything.

2) Never openly state that any evidence supports the theory of evolution.

3) (Implicitly, on other issues such as gay rights, climate change, women’s rights, etc, either remain silent or toe the party line.)

Within those three limits, anything is acceptable, no matter how self-contradictory. You can claim that your ideas come from the Bible, or you can claim that “ID isn’t religious”. You can claim that the dinosaurs died in the Flood, or you can claim that medieval knights fought dinosaurs. You can claim that set theory is “modern” and a deceit from Satan, or you can claim that set theory proves the existence of the fundamentalist Christian God.

Anything is acceptable as long as it doesn’t break one of the rules above.

Anything is acceptable as long as it doesn’t break one of the rules above.

But can you claim that dinosaurs developed Set Theory?

btw, “The Revisionaries” is on tonight!

Karen S. said:

Anything is acceptable as long as it doesn’t break one of the rules above.

But can you claim that dinosaurs developed Set Theory?

btw, “The Revisionaries” is on tonight!

Of course. For example, you could claim that dinosaur fossils are actually the remains of demons and that demons invented set theory. That would be well within big tent boundaries.

You can’t say that dinosaurs definitively lived millions of years ago (you can say they didn’t, or you can say that you “don’t know”). You can’t say that some dinosaurs were almost certainly ancestors of modern birds - in fact, you have to actively deny that (even if you make shifty claims that “ID does not deny some common descent” at other times). You can’t say that dinosaurs and humans definitively never lived at the same time. To say those things would be verboten.

Dinosaurs breathing fire, eating a vegetarian diet with carnivore teeth, wearing saddles - all perfectly acceptable.

Dinosaurs breathing fire, eating a vegetarian diet with carnivore teeth, wearing saddles - all perfectly acceptable.

Yabba Dabba DOO!

Come on man. I really want to teach biblical genetics, maybe even biblical genetic counseling. I could make a fortune just making sure that parents never looked at any sick people while they were doing the horizontal momba. According to biblical genetics, that should protect them from every known genetic disease. I’m sure you could get lots of people to pay big money for this advice, especially if they promised not to sue if it didn’t work. That would just be because their faith wasn’t strong enough.

Teach the controversy!

There’s a PBS channel here in the UK, PBS America, but I can’t see any mention of the movie on the EPG.

Ian Derthal said:

There’s a PBS channel here in the UK, PBS America, but I can’t see any mention of the movie on the EPG.

You might check under “Independent Lens” which is the name of the program under which the film will be shown.

Come on man. I really want to teach biblical genetics, maybe even biblical genetic counseling. I could make a fortune just making sure that parents never looked at any sick people while they were doing the horizontal momba. According to biblical genetics, that should protect them from every known genetic disease. I’m sure you could get lots of people to pay big money for this advice, especially if they promised not to sue if it didn’t work. That would just be because their faith wasn’t strong enough.

Teach the controversy!

Bible genetics doesn’t work on humans. Otherwise, women would have babies that look like the ceiling.

Karen S. said:

Come on man. I really want to teach biblical genetics, maybe even biblical genetic counseling. I could make a fortune just making sure that parents never looked at any sick people while they were doing the horizontal momba. According to biblical genetics, that should protect them from every known genetic disease. I’m sure you could get lots of people to pay big money for this advice, especially if they promised not to sue if it didn’t work. That would just be because their faith wasn’t strong enough.

Teach the controversy!

Bible genetics doesn’t work on humans. Otherwise, women would have babies that look like the ceiling.

Or, if you keep your eyes closed, you might not get pregnant at all. It might even work in cases of legitimate rape (whatever that is).

So the solution is paint a picture on the ceiling of what you want the kid to look like?

Henry J said:

So the solution is paint a picture on the ceiling of what you want the kid to look like?

Well that might explain why posters of Brand and Angelina are so popular. Sure beats having to do all that fancy cipherin for them there pedigrees and such.

harold said:

I am sure, as harold can probably verify, that medicine has become specialized for a very good reason. In dealing with human health and life-or-death decisions, it is probably better in the long run to confine oneself to a specialty. But I suspect that can only work well as long as the specialists are communicating effectively and efficiently with each other and sharing information, and as long as there are general practitioners who can pull together the bigger, overall picture of a patient’s health.

That is exactly correct. The ideal proportion or number of primary care physicians versus specialists is an area of valid debate, but that is how it works.

When my recent health problems surfaced two years ago, involving surgeons, medical oncologists, chemotherapy specialists, and urologists scattered across three medical facilities in two cities, I had a conference with my primary care physician in which we agreed that he would be the ‘general contractor,’ would receive copies of all reports, and would act as my advisor in sorting out the various alternatives as I went through the several treatment regimens. That worked out well, though he recently retired on me. I’ve now made the same deal with my new primary care doc.

Karen S. said:

Bible genetics doesn’t work on humans. Otherwise, women would have babies that look like the ceiling.

Maybe it does work. The people in the Renaissance were always painting saints and angels on the ceiling. Maybe they knew something.

So the solution is paint a picture on the ceiling of what you want the kid to look like?

Yes, or have your hubby wear a mask

Bible genetics doesn’t work on humans. Otherwise, women would have babies that look like the ceiling.

Giving credit where it is due: My wife says sometimes they will look like a pillowcase.

Richard B. Hoppe said:

harold said:

I am sure, as harold can probably verify, that medicine has become specialized for a very good reason. In dealing with human health and life-or-death decisions, it is probably better in the long run to confine oneself to a specialty. But I suspect that can only work well as long as the specialists are communicating effectively and efficiently with each other and sharing information, and as long as there are general practitioners who can pull together the bigger, overall picture of a patient’s health.

That is exactly correct. The ideal proportion or number of primary care physicians versus specialists is an area of valid debate, but that is how it works.

When my recent health problems surfaced two years ago, involving surgeons, medical oncologists, chemotherapy specialists, and urologists scattered across three medical facilities in two cities, I had a conference with my primary care physician in which we agreed that he would be the ‘general contractor,’ would receive copies of all reports, and would act as my advisor in sorting out the various alternatives as I went through the several treatment regimens. That worked out well, though he recently retired on me. I’ve now made the same deal with my new primary care doc.

It’s an extremely good idea to have a central person when there are multiple sources of information. Good luck.

Set Theory is the basic for logic, and likely the reason Creationists might not want it taught. Can’t have the kiddies learning what logic is before they are fully indoctrinated, now can we?

Yep, now that would be illogical!

harold said:

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/[…]myX9u_xNgSt8 said:

As someone who lived through the Carter and Reagan years, I can attest as to what a restorative Reagan’s optimism was. In a textbook it may be “opinion”, but it squares with my experience.

In a textbook it is opinion. In your brain it is also opinion. You are entitled to that opinion, which some people share, and which some people do not. It might make sense, at a reasonably high grade level, to include the fact that some people had such opinions, but many others did not, during the Reagan years, in a history textbook.

What would be unfair, of course, would be for me to force taxpayer funded public schools to teach my subjective opinions of Ronald Reagan as if they were objective fact. It is also unfair if you, or Don McElroy, attempts to do that.

Expecting John Kwok to come in and start name-dropping and yelling about Obama in 5.…4…3…2…

Hey, I don’t recall seeing anything from Mr. Kwok in a long time. I kind of miss the guy. I really enjoyed baiting him with decelerations about hot women.

dalehusband said:

harold said:

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/[…]myX9u_xNgSt8 said:

As someone who lived through the Carter and Reagan years, I can attest as to what a restorative Reagan’s optimism was. In a textbook it may be “opinion”, but it squares with my experience.

In a textbook it is opinion. In your brain it is also opinion. You are entitled to that opinion, which some people share, and which some people do not. It might make sense, at a reasonably high grade level, to include the fact that some people had such opinions, but many others did not, during the Reagan years, in a history textbook.

What would be unfair, of course, would be for me to force taxpayer funded public schools to teach my subjective opinions of Ronald Reagan as if they were objective fact. It is also unfair if you, or Don McElroy, attempts to do that.

Expecting John Kwok to come in and start name-dropping and yelling about Obama in 5.…4…3…2…

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