Math with letters is a liberal conspiracy


There is no test for competence before any old yahoo can get elected to congress. Take Al Melvin, a Reagan Republican from Tucson, who recently joined in the vote against implementing the Common Core standards in Arizona. He has a fabulous reason for voting down the standards.

Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands some of the reading material is borderline pornographic. And he said the program uses fuzzy math, substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

Holy crap! Math that uses letters? Abomination! I expect to see this become an important issue in the Republican Party platform.

Don’t tell him that the math also uses Arabic numbers, and that algebra comes from an Iranian (well, it was called Persia then) Muslim named Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī — he’ll die of apoplexy.

These are the people running the country. Fills you with confidence, doesn’t it?

Comments

  1. says

    Damn! They’re on to us! (I’m off to school this morning with a briefcase full of algebra quizzes—instruments of math instruction.)

  2. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    I must be completely and totally liberal. I never liked math until we got to use letters. Then it was fun.

    Didn’t stay that way, though. Even with letters and all kinds of fun stuff, it still got boring. Too easy.

  3. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    Let A = how often I wish these idiots couldn’t get elected. (Seconds per day)
    Let B = the number days since I was last disappointed by a politician.
    Let C = the number of kilometers I must be from said poli in order to feel safe.

    C/(A*B)= 11.2 KM/S

    If only it were that easy to escape.

  4. kathleenmcnamara says

    Not entirely related to this guy’s insanity (letters, oh no!) but I’ve tutored students that had trouble with algebra specifically because of the letters. Make them something else, like colored blanks, or a little doodle of a teddy bear, or whatever, and it will click. For some reason, the letters thing does seem to throw some people off initially. I had a kid who could solve systems of 3 or more linear equations if the variables were little boxes done in different colors, but had a mental block as soon as you replaced the boxes with letters, even though it was the exact same thing.

  5. says

    I’ve heard that out numbers aren’t actually Arabic but actually Hindou… Indeed if you see some Arabic numbers, they don’t look like “ours” at all. But then again, I’ve never seen any Hindou numbers…

    (I think I saw that on the British show “QI”, just FYI)

    Not that it makes any difference obviously but can anyone confirm or deny that?

  6. jasonnishiyama says

    I had one of the students in my university undergrad level intro astronomy course come up to me at the end of class and state “So that’s what algebra’s for…”

    Unfortunately most people forget algebra shortly after learning it as they don’t really use it much after that.

  7. says

    Wait, what? The “letters for numbers” thing means algebra? As in: y=mx+b, that sort of thing? I guess this is what we can expect from “Reagan conservatives”.

  8. Snoof says

    Don’t tell him that the math also uses Arabic numbers, and that algebra comes from an Iranian (well, it was called Persia then) Muslim named Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī — he’ll die of apoplexy.

    Who also gave his name to the algorithm!

  9. says

    Curse you, Daz! I was going to make that joke! (Although I didn’t think of the upper- and lower-case bit. Sigh.)

    Maybe we can make these idiots’ heads explode by telling them about complex numbers: numbers and letters and so-called imaginary numbers in an unholy menage a trois!

  10. Athywren says

    the program uses fuzzy math, substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

    …No.
    I’m going back to bed.

  11. cottonnero says

    That’s up there with Andy Schlafly not believing in imaginary numbers, or A Beka Book’s problem with set theory.

  12. notyet says

    My sister and I were both born and raised in Arizona and she is a professor of mathematics for an online university. I read her Melvin’s statement while she was grading some papers as we had coffee this morning. I’m headed down to the store now to pick her up a new keyboard. Thanks.

  13. Alex says

    In one of our city highschools where I went to uni, there was a serious initiative to abolish units in physics, because it would needlessly complicate calculations. The palming of faces among actually science-literate science teachers was great, but it came dangerously close to being implemented. So it’s not only the US. Although, if a politician actually said that in europe, he’d probably be laughed off the stage… I hope…

    @kathleenmcnamara

    cool, looks like a way to circumvent maths problems due to dyslexia or something. One should keep it in mind.

  14. says

    Eamon Knight (#12) –

    Wait, what? The “letters for numbers” thing means algebra? As in: y=mx+b, that sort of thing? I guess this is what we can expect from “Reagan conservatives”.

    It brings new meaning to the phrase, “voodoo economics”. The religious wingnuts think numbers are witchcraft.

    And let’s not forget the rank stupidity of Fox Nuisance in January 2013, when they equated the distributive property in mathematics to communism….

  15. ledasmom says

    Is there any possible way that Al Melvin does not mean algebra? Grasping at straws here –
    If anyone’s interested in the history of numbers, I recommend Georges Ifrah’s “Universal History of Numbers”, one of the best presents I ever got.

  16. anuran says

    Al-Gebra sounds a lot like Al-Qaeda.
    It’s a Communist plot to bring Sharia to America and make us gay-marry New Black Panthers in Obummer’s FEMA camps to get free health care.

  17. Alex says

    @Gregory

    You mean Republicans take their legislative agenda from talking barbie dolls? That explains a lot!

    @anuran

    that’s not a coincidence, just the same language. Al means “The”.

  18. says

    I hate to point out the obvious, but…. why isn’t he quoted on using letters instead of numbers? If an article is going to criticize what someone said, it should give what he said. Verbatim. We’re living in the age of digital communication. There’s no excuse for paraphrase.

  19. anteprepro says

    Have him talk to the Randroids in his party. Can’t wait to see what happens when hear them say that “A=A”.

  20. anteprepro says

    We’re living in the age of digital communication. There’s no excuse for paraphrase.

    lolwut?

  21. Dunc says

    In one of our city highschools where I went to uni, there was a serious initiative to abolish units in physics, because it would needlessly complicate calculations.

    Who needs dimensional analysis anyway?

    As for the OP… OK, I’m prepared to accept that the battle over “math” vs “maths” is hopelessly lost, but have we also given up on making a distinction between maths and arithmetic? If it’s got actual numbers in it, it’s probably not maths.

    (Here in Scotland, at least when I was at school, “maths” and “arithmetic” were separate subjects, with separate exams.)

  22. vaiyt says

    Not entirely related to this guy’s insanity (letters, oh no!) but I’ve tutored students that had trouble with algebra specifically because of the letters. Make them something else, like colored blanks, or a little doodle of a teddy bear, or whatever, and it will click.

    Elementary-level math here gives kids simple algebra problems with little squares in the place of letters.

  23. anteprepro says

    I have even taught my students to use Greek letters in their equations!

    *spits out coffee* WHAT!? This is AMERICA! Speak English or get out!

  24. says

    @Alex – I wish we could blame the Republicans for this one, but no: it was proposed on June 1, 2009, by the National Governor’s Association. The NGA appointed a panel of “experts” — academics who had theoretical knowledge on education, but very little actual experience — who released the new standards in June, 2010. The standards were then adopted by state legislatures and departments of education, and are now used in 45 states. Neither the President nor Congress were involved.

    Common Core has a very strong emphasis in the “3 Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic. Other fields such as science, history and civics gets relatively little attention, and there is no room for art, music, PE or social development. Common Core focuses on rote memorization and recitation: actually being able to understand the material is secondary; developing skills in logic, problem solving and critical analysis is left to high school, and is then addressed lightly in the context of “You will need this if you go to college.”

    My main problem is that the standards focus on a very narrow median of academic skill. Students who are below that narrow range are being tossed to the wayside, as the standards do not allow teachers to spend extra time with children struggling with ADHD, dyslexia, autism and other such issues. Students who are above that narrow range are not being challenged, and the standards make it very difficult for advanced students to move ahead of their peer group or receive special enrichment.

    So what we have with Common Core is a “one size fits all” approach to education, designed by people with an academic understanding of education theory. It cannot work, it is not working, and America is thus becoming even more dumber than before.

  25. nomadiq says

    Wait until Al Melvin learns about the branch of mathematics where the letters don’t even have to stand for numbers! But you already knew formal logic was going to melt his brain.

  26. says

    @26, et al: What did this dumb Republican actually say about math with letters? The linked article doesn’t quote him on that.

  27. gussnarp says

    The furor over Common Core really fascinates me. When I first heard about it I was somewhat bothered by the fact the standards for reading more non-fiction over fiction, as I (still to some extent) harbored a concern that this would lead to a less than adequate grounding in literature. I also understand that some people are upset about the testing requirements, and I can certainly sympathize with that, our obsession with standardized testing does not seem to be having positive results. Maybe we need another standardized test to gather data on that…

    But the math curriculum? Granted, I’m no mathematician nor an educator, but I think the math curriculum, especially for early grades, is pretty great. It seems to really emphasize thinking about numbers in a way I don’t think we were ever taught, while still providing lots of practice of basic skills.

    But I guess if you’re an adult who’s still mad about having had to take “useless” algebra, then you’re probably ignorant enough to think that’s a bad idea…

  28. says

    I know we’ve all been making fun of the letters for numbers line, but I’m curious about the “borderline pornographic” literature. Can’t be much worse than the bible, can it?

  29. says

    I don’t understand why Melvin, a Reagan Republican, does like fuzzy math. If there was anything that Reagan’s budget loved more than bombs and guns, it was fuzzy math.

  30. anteprepro says

    God fucking dammit rturpin. BAAAWing over paraphrases? Really?

    Here, you fucking pedantic git

    A video

    In the segment they show, he says “the math area, fuzzy math, substitution of letters over numbers, a…it’s hard to say these things with a straight face”. Yeah, paraphrasing was such a horrible crime, here.

  31. chigau (違う) says

    What is so awful about actually quoting what the man actually said rather than every news article quoting some other news article?
    The actual quote makes him look stupider than the paraphrase.

  32. Alex says

    In the future, if you’re wondering: “the substitution of letters over numbers, a…it’s hard to say these things with a straight face” is when I decided to kick your ass

  33. Nemo says

    @Snoof #13:

    Who also gave his name to the algorithm!

    I doubt this fool even knows that word.

    @Gregory in Seattle #22:

    There are plenty of reasons to be critical of in Common Core. “Math is hard” is not one of them.

    Neither is “It came from the feds.”

  34. anteprepro says

    What is so awful about actually quoting what the man actually said rather than every news article quoting some other news article?

    What’s so awful about paraphrasing when it gives you the same exact information but makes the article seem less disjointed and more coherent? The point is that paraphrases are perfectly fine if they aren’t done dishonestly. Direct quotations are good but not mandatory.

  35. ledasmom says

    Possibly the point at which one finds it difficult to say something with a straight face is the point at which one should consider whether one should say it.

  36. chigau (違う) says

    If you keep clicking, you find paraphrases of the paraphrase.
    And definitely “not less disjointed and more coherent”.
    Much easier to quote the original.

  37. anteprepro says

    . And definitely “not less disjointed and more coherent”. Much easier to quote the original

    Bullshit. The original is disjointed and incoherent! It doesn’t make sense without framing devices! And then people will start whining about “out of context” instead of whining about fucking paraphrasing.

  38. Randomfactor says

    “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.”

    I’ll give him that one. Common Core allows quoting from the Bible.

  39. says

    anteprepro: “What’s so awful about paraphrasing when it gives you the same exact information?”

    I’m just suspicious of paraphrase in articles poking fun at people for what they said. In this case, the paraphrase was accurate and what was said plenty dumb. Other times, I’ve seen things ripped completely out of context and distorted.

    When I laugh dumb Republicans, I like it to be hearty laugh, innocent of guile.

  40. David Marjanović says

    an Iranian (well, it was called Persia then) Muslim named Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī

    “Today Khwarezm belongs partly to Uzbekistan, partly to Kazakhstan and partly to Turkmenistan.”

    (BTW, behold the Aralkum desert in that satellite photo, and weep.)

    that’s not a coincidence, just the same language. Al means “The”.

    It was obvious sarcasm.

    (Here in Scotland, at least when I was at school, “maths” and “arithmetic” were separate subjects, with separate exams.)

    *blink* what

    Seriously???

    Mathematics is the cover term (and is a subject in most countries). Some of the things it covers are arithmetic, geometry, algebra, calculus, stochastics…

    In the later years we did a lot of analytic geometry: solving geometric problems by algebra (and later calculus) instead of by drawing.

    The actual quote makes him look stupider than the paraphrase.

    That may be exactly why the Liberal Media® paraphrase.

  41. Alex says

    It was obvious sarcasm.

    Yes, of course, but it was a bit too much truth in sarcasm to work :)

    (BTW, behold the Aralkum desert in that satellite photo, and weep.

    Ugh, it is much worse than I thought.

  42. anteprepro says

    I’m just suspicious of paraphrase in articles poking fun at people for what they said. In this case, the paraphrase was accurate and what was said plenty dumb. Other times, I’ve seen things ripped completely out of context and distorted.

    In fairness, I completely understand the skepticism. But it is unfair to be suspicious of paraphrasing specifically. Quotes can be just as misleading! In some ways, they are more dangerous, because if someone wants to be deceptive, they usually KNOW that people trust quotes more. But I suppose it is harder to just outright lie if you are quoting someone….

  43. says

    I’ve heard that out numbers aren’t actually Arabic but actually Hindou… Indeed if you see some Arabic numbers, they don’t look like “ours” at all. But then again, I’ve never seen any Hindou numbers…

    Nope, according to my Hindi language tutors, Sanskrit also borrowed numbers from Arabic script.

  44. anteprepro says

    That may be exactly why the Liberal Media® paraphrase.

    I suspect that factors in. Which is stupid. Any criticism of right-wingers is evidence enough that The Media is librul. Hell, they barely even that as a justification. So being slightly more insulting to a dim-witted Republican politician by quoting more of his actual words wouldn’t really rock the boat on that issue. Such a headache.

  45. Artor says

    You know, math with letters in it can be used to plan bombs for destroying military buildings. Math is terrurizm!!!

  46. Dunc says

    (Here in Scotland, at least when I was at school, “maths” and “arithmetic” were separate subjects, with separate exams.)

    *blink* what

    Seriously???

    Mathematics is the cover term (and is a subject in most countries). Some of the things it covers are arithmetic, geometry, algebra, calculus, stochastics…

    Yes, seriously. Only at an introductory level, mind you, long before you get anywhere near calculus… (This would be equivalent to about grade 8 in the US, I think.) It meant that the people who were no good at algebra or trigonometry, and who were never going to pursue anything worthy of the name “mathemetics”, nevertheless still learnt how to calculate percentages and balance a chequebook, and could still get a basic qualification proving that they could add up. Given the appalling levels of basic innumeracy I see all the time, that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

  47. stevem says

    re @27:

    (Here in Scotland, at least when I was at school, “maths” and “arithmetic” were separate subjects, with separate exams.)

    Ahhh, so I’m not the only one hung up on distinguishing “math(s)” from “arithmetic”. NO ONE in the Murica seems to make the distinction. When asked to add a series of numbers, too many people will say, “I’m no good at math.” Math is not just the 4 functions on your cheap calculaton thingy. Math(s) is so much more. And I thought I was simply OCD about it; you’re saying all of Scotland is with me. Pip, pip, hooray! [I still don’t get the whole “math” vs. “maths” squabble… I just dismiss it as similar to the “aluminum” vs “aluminium” squabble]

    But WTF is the complaint about using Letters in Math instead of Numbers? Is that what makes it “fuzzy”? That it won’t be as specific as numbers? That to describe a parabola as {y=a*x^2+b*x+c} is too vague? That the only parabolas are ones with specific values for a,b,c ? Does he really think that kids will be totally confused by using symbols instead of numbers in equations? He’s correct, in the reverse direction; my mind is totally blown by his incomprehension, that he thinks he can just befuddle the world into abandoning actual potential for specifics only. Also blown away that such an attitude holds an elected office of authority. I am blown away that such a person was voted for by what I had hoped were rational people.
    He is like saying art class should only use pencils, that colors are “too fuzzy” (“almost pornographic”). But then again, art class is too liburul, too fuzzy; graphics or photographs only, painting is too #*^&

  48. Dunc says

    But I suppose it is harder to just outright lie if you are quoting someone

    You can do a lot with a well-placed ellipsis.

  49. anteprepro says

    You can do a lot with a well-placed ellipsis.

    I’m sure we could find a creationist to teach us how to come up with completely ridiculous lies using actual quotes. It’s their actual area of expertise!

  50. says

    Thanks #38 Anteprepro. It was very entertaining to to see an actual human face say that about maths. But you didn’t have to be so ugly about showing it. Be nice.

  51. Alex says

    Noted creationist commenter anterepro remarked earlier today on the popular christian blog pharyngula that “[…] we could find a creationist to teach us […], It’s their actual area of expertise!”

  52. chrislawson says

    rturpin:

    You know, in this digital age, you can also use these things called search engines to find original sources. If you want to know exactly what Melvin said, you can watch him on video as recorded by the Arizona State Senate.

    The link is here: http://azleg.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=13&clip_id=13521

    And if you want a verbatim quote, this is what Melvin says at 4:02: that he’s troubled by “‘fuzzy math’, the substitution of letters over numbers, it’s hard to say these things with a straight face.” That’s right. Not only did Melvin complain about substituting letters for numbers, he thought the very idea was laughably stupid.

    He also complains that the reading materials include an EPA directive and he has “a problem with that.”

    When asked to identify which of the Core Curriculum materials are “borderline pornographic” (in his words) he can’t cite an example.

    When asked why he’s torpedoing the work of hundreds of teachers, against expert advice and against the wishes of the business community in Arizona, he explains that he’s “talked to people” around the state but doesn’t name any of them or give any explanation of what these unnamed critics had against the curriculum.

    When asked why everyone else is in favour of the curriculum, he says the states are turning away from it (despite the fact that 45 states have signed up) and only offers that he’s heard that Indiana might pull out.

  53. anteprepro says

    Alex:

    Noted creationist commenter anterepro remarked earlier today on the popular christian blog pharyngula that “[…] we could find a creationist to teach us […], It’s their actual area of expertise!”

    I approve this message.

    ramaus:

    But you didn’t have to be so ugly about showing it.

    Don’t insult ugliness like that.

    christlawson:

    He also complains that the reading materials include an EPA directive and he has “a problem with that.”

    Holy. Shit.

  54. chrislawson says

    I see anteprepro got in before me with the video link. For those of you wondering why a journalist would paraphrase, it’s called good writing. If you do nothing but quote long blocks of transcript, it reads terribly. Of course it means the ethical journalist has to make an effort to paraphrase without distorting the meaning of the original statement, but it’s clear that this report is 100% fair and accurate in describing Melvin’s puffed-up ignorance and obstructionism. And we can tell because we have the original record — and not just a transcript, but the full unedited video of the senate session.

  55. gussnarp says

    @SallyStrange #51 – I’ve a feeling your Hindu tutors may have been wrong. Wikipedia says:

    The numeral system came to be known to both the Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, whose book On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals written about 825 in Arabic, and the Arab mathematician Al-Kindi, who wrote four volumes, “On the Use of the Indian Numerals” (Ketab fi Isti’mal al-‘Adad al-Hindi) about 830

    It seems like the people responsible for bringing the numbers to the Muslim and later Western world thought they were getting them from India.

    I’m not finding a more definitive source off hand, though you can always browse to Wikipedia’s source link, it’s not the best I’ve seen. But I have read a pretty compelling discussion of this, including the linguistics of it (there are similarities in the words for the numerals in both Germanic and Romance languages that they share with Hindi or Sanskrit, I don’t recall which), in the past. Nonetheless, it seems to be accepted that Muslim scholars took the numerals from Indian sources and not vice versa.

  56. Akira MacKenzie says

    All of my life, I have had a deep love of science. As a child, I would haunt the 500-600 section of my school and local libraries reading anything that piqued my interest. While I had some interest in biology, particularly genetics, but my greatest interests have always been astronomy and physics. Anything involving space fascinated me and I really wanted to make it my career.

    There was only one problem I absolutely suck at math. Anything more complex than basic algebra and my brain shuts down, so I imagine that the necessary study of calculus and other advanced maths would leave me utterly flummoxed. I don’t know if it’s the way I was taught, or if my brain doesn’t work that way. Oh, I can understand scientific concepts well enough, but ask me to formulate them? You might was well ask me to flap my arms and fly to work.

    So here I sit, staring down the barrel of 40, working a $14/hr job in a job that gives me no joy, all because of my inability to grasp math. I envy people like PZ and other scientists because they have the skills necessary to do what I would love to do, while the best I can hope for is to watch the occasional episode of Nova.

  57. busterggi says

    Two thoughts –

    1st (hah, mixed!) – where does this leave Professor X and his students?

    2nd – As the numbers we use are Arabic/Hindu/Sanskri non-Christian in origin does this mean we need to go back to the numbers the early Christians used, i.e.: Roman numerals???

  58. David Marjanović says

    Nope, according to my Hindi language tutors, Sanskrit also borrowed numbers from Arabic script.

    What… no.

    there are similarities in the words for the numerals in both Germanic and Romance languages that they share with Hindi or Sanskrit, I don’t recall which

    Both, seeing as Hindi is descended from Vedic Sanskrit; but that’s completely beside the point. Don’t confuse languages with their writing systems! The numerals are related in almost all Indo-European languages, but Proto-Indo-European was spoken at least 2000 years before any Indo-European language was ever written, 3500 years before Latin was written, and so on.

    the numbers the early Christians used, i.e.: Roman numerals

    And Greek letters.

  59. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I still don’t get the whole “math” vs. “maths” squabble… I just dismiss it as similar to the “aluminum” vs “aluminium” squabble

    I don’t understand them either, since it’s my understanding that unlike the typical British spelling variants, they actually reflect the way the words are pronounced there.

  60. atheistblog says

    Only in US. All the developed and even in most developing countries, politicians don’t get to decide what should be in the school books, scholars, educators and professionals decides in those countries not elected officials, in the name of democracy all hell blown out in US.
    If only US doesn’t have money and natural resources, it will be like one of those backward country or if the 3% of the voters change mind it will be like Arabia.
    When US Universities has world class standard, gosh how ignorant US schools and kids are, the kids are so ignorant about the rest of world, they don’t learn anything about rest of the world in US while they have military bases around, rest of the world, and always occupied somewhere in the world.
    There is no independent election commission, there is no independent education body, what a bollocks US democracy is.

  61. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    ….
    I wish I could pretend this didn’t happen.

  62. monad says

    It should still be ok to do algebra if you stick to whole numbers, right? As I understand it, Diophantus of Alexandria would have been a pale European, for all the same reasons as St. Nicholas of Myra and Jesus of Nazareth.

  63. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    What else is “borderline pornographic” to him.

    The grocery store. Those bushes on his neighbor’s lawn. Splinters.

  64. esmith4102 says

    The bottom layer of the right-wing party is rapidly filling. Unless these incompetents can invent a way to fill finite space with an infinite number of nut-jobs, what are we to do? They’ll soon be out of space!

    Hope Ted Cruz has enough room in his basement.

  65. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Damn you Kevin – I go to clear the snow off my heat pump, get some breakfast and you beat me to my punch line. No fair.

    We’d better hope that the dimwit repubs (but I repeat myself…) don’t know enough maths to have heard of AlGoreithms or we’ll never hear the last of it. I mean – proof he’s a moooooslim conspirator out to wrest Murrica from the rightful clutches of the NRA (Numbingly Rich Assholes).

  66. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @UnknownEric the Apostate

    …Splinters.

    Trigger warning, please!

    My mind went *very* uncomfortable places with that!

    :-P

  67. says

    From the source of all knowledge wiki

    “The Hindu-Arabic numerals were invented by Hindu mathematicians in India thus called “Indian numerals” by Persian mathematician Khowarizmi. They were later called “Arabic” numerals by Europeans, because they were introduced in the West by Arabized Berbers of North Africa.”

  68. woozy says

    Al Melvin didn’t give any specifics of “borderline pornographic” but later a Diane Douglas addressing her concern (she agrees with Al Melvin) and points out “Dreaming in Cuban” (Christina Garcia) as having explicit sexual intercourse description and “The Bluest Eye” (Toni Morrison) has “explicit description of what a pedophile thinks”. It was specifically noted that common core doesn’t have an actual recommended reading list but rather a list of samples of literature common core considers appropriate.

    No one really challenged Melvin on the “letters substituting for numbers” which seems like an isolated unthinking gaffe. I wish someone had pushed him more. I think he *isn’t* talking about algebra. Perusing sample complaints I’m finding a lot of knee-jerk anti-common-cores and latching onto this idea that kindergardeners and first graders are in a “concrete” state of comprehension and are utterly incapable of any abstract thought and, apparently and common core relies on abstract reasoning which the antis simply latch onto as something to complain. (In the Arizona Senate video jump to 4:16:00 for a sample of someone insisting eight-year olds are simply incapable of abstract thought. Apparently asking six year olds to evaluate which sentences the feel very sure of and which sentences the only feel a little sure of is just too much for their concrete little minds.) So I imagine common core might use occasional letters as numbers for explaining basic concepts. For example, Commutative law of addition can be stated as “A + B = B + A and this is true for any two numbers you can come up with” or that Additive Law of Exponents as “a^b * a^c = a ^(b + c)”.

    I really do hope someone points out the idiocy of his gaffe.

  69. nich says

    And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

    I’m with you, kooky person! As an atheist, I am tired of being force fed Christianity every time I help my kid with addition!

    kathleenmcnamara@6:

    Make them something else, like colored blanks, or a little doodle of a teddy bear, or whatever, and it will click.

    Or upside down crosses and swastikas! The souls of your children belong to us! Mwahaha!

  70. eamick says

    There is no test for competence before any old yahoo can get elected to congress.

    Al Melvin is a state legislator, fortunately, so the damage he can cause is limited. I still feel sorry for the people of Arizona, except perhaps for the boneheads who voted for him.

  71. says

    I have nothing against the concept of Common Core, but as usual the devil is in the details. The devil is not, however, in the use of letters in math. As for near pornographic literature, sounds like fun to me.

  72. ChasCPeterson says

    staring down the barrel of 40

    *eyeroll*
    get over your hyperdramatic self. Life goes on, srsly.

    Nope, according to my Hindi language tutors…

    gotta love the argument from anonymous, questionable, and irrelevant authority.

  73. nich says

    Or you could totally just make the letters into “near-pornographic” symbols and watch his head explode:

    “What the…solve for boobs when 15 = 2 + boobs…what the heck? That’s near pornographic…and fuzzy math…and…and…oh my god!” BOOM!

  74. ledasmom says

    Isn’t “near-pornographic literature” also known as “how you get the students to read it”? I mean, I would like to claim that at that age I enjoyed reading Shakespeare just for the language, but frankly the naughty stuff was a great attraction.

  75. nich says

    I’m also guessing Senator Fuzzy Porno would let schools teach a course on the Bible: “Mr. Melvin, why is God so mad that Mr. Onan spilled his seeds?”

  76. stevem says

    re Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) @72

    … the “aluminum” vs “aluminium” squabble

    I don’t understand them either, since it’s my understanding that unlike the typical British spelling variants, they actually reflect the way the words are pronounced there.

    <tangent> As I understand it; the British claim there is a “standard” naming convention for metals in the periodic table. All must end with ‘-ium’, only the lackwitted shorten it to ‘-um’. “Tantalum” is older than “the standard”, so it’s misspelling is “grandfathered”.
    </tangent>

  77. Akira MacKenzie says

    ChasCPeterson @ 85

    *eyeroll*
    get over your hyperdramatic self. Life goes on, srsly.

    You have a point, and it probably wouldn’t matter all that much to me if the rest of humanity (particularly that segment of humanity I’m directly related to) didn’t give me a constant run down off all things I’ve not accomplished by the time I reach a certain age level.

    Being reminded that I’m 39-going-on-40 and I have not moved out my fathers house/gotten laid/gotten married/own a house/had children/have a salaried career/etc. does hurt a little bit.

  78. carovee says

    The repubs went bonkers the second common core was adopted in my state, too. They are using opposition to common core as a way to grab control over the state curriculum so we too can fight over teaching revisionist history and creationism in our public schools, just like Texas.

  79. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    carovee:

    Just a pet peeve of mine — all history is revisionist. We look at available evidence, view it through the lens of today, and attempt to figure out what happened and why. As more information becomes available, our view of the past changes. The ’cause’ of the Great War has gone through multiple revisions — Germany’s fault, England’s fault, accident, Russia’s fault, etc.

    What is often referred to as revisionist history is better termed politically motivated history. Such as the GOP’s attempts to rewrite the history of the creation of the United States as a Christian Nation.

  80. Ichthyic says

    As I understand it; the British claim there is a “standard” naming convention for metals in the periodic table. All must end with ‘-ium’, only the lackwitted shorten it to ‘-um’. “Tantalum” is older than “the standard”, so it’s misspelling is “grandfathered”.

    the British claim is incorrect. Aluminum is also older than the standard.

    http://chemistry.about.com/b/2013/05/10/aluminum-or-aluminium.htm

  81. says

    @35, gussnarp

    The furor over Common Core really fascinates me. When I first heard about it I was somewhat bothered by the fact the standards for reading more non-fiction over fiction, as I (still to some extent) harbored a concern that this would lead to a less than adequate grounding in literature.

    <somewhat off-topic>Could you please explain to me why it’s important for students to have a “grounding in literature”? That’s not the same thing as “being literate” or “enjoying reading”.

    Everything I experienced in school leads me to believe that “literature”, as a subject, is not a fit topic for public schools. Before you argue against a strawman: I’m emphatically not saying “nobody needs literature to become a good consumer/factory worker/unquestioning patriot/whatever, so it should be cut from the curriculum”. (Any argument about education which involves removing material because “they won’t need this to succeed” is deeply suspect if not outright wrong.)

    The goal we really should have is for students to read so easily — and with such good comprehension —and with so many pleasant associations, that they actually do it for pleasure. If you can get a kid hooked on reading, then it’s fairly likely that eventually they’ll end up reading “great literature” just to see what all the fuss is about — but if, instead, you convince them that “reading” means taking a book they aren’t really capable of fully understanding yet, and then analyzing it in a bunch of tedious ways which make it endlessly boring, then — unsurprisingly — it means that as soon as they are no longer required to read for school, they won’t.

    I know three people who, back in high school, decided that they were going to get a jump on Great Literature and plow through as many Great and Worthy Novels as possible at full speed. I have spoken with them since — not one of them remembers anything worth remembering about any of the novels they read, and they all dismiss all those authors as being worthless, boring, unexpressive, and stodgy, with nothing worthwhile to say. And, of course, they are now convinced that they have already read those books, so there’s no point in going back to reread. And those were highly intelligent and motivated students, not a bunch of low-performing dropouts.

    As another anecdotal point, I only read 2 Dickens works as a student, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, but the curriculum included a lot of Shakespeare (even the year which was nominally focussed on “American literature” involved one of his plays!). As a result, as an adult I can’t read (or watch) Shakespeare with any enjoyment, and I can’t reread Great Expectations without remembering how awful it was to plow through it on a timetable with the really lousy teacher I had — but when I finally started reading some of Dickens’ other works, because they were available for free as e-books, I discovered that they’re actually fun and interesting (if extremely weak on female characters and full of now-discredited ideas) (with the exception of Pickwick Papers, which is the most revoltingly jocose book I have ever tried to read except for A. M. Smith’s German Professors books, which seem to be an imitation of it). And, what’s more, I’m reasonably certain that, if I had tried to read any of it in high school, or even in college, I wouldn’t have had the necessary mindset to appreciate it, and I’ve heard other people say similar things. A relative of mine was actually a PhD-bearing adjunct literature professor for a while (before deciding that the torments of academia weren’t worth trying to live through for tenure), and he actually says that there was no way he could have appreciated Crime and Punishment before he was fifty.

    What this has led me to believe is that what kids should be reading is, from an academic standpoint, trash. Seriously: throwaway YA fiction, sci-fi, lurid murder mysteries, romance novels, whatever it takes to make them think of reading as interesting and fun. Leave the “cultural awareness” stuff, the checklists of characters and plots to be recognized by reference, for later; it’s far more valuable to have kids who will keep reading as adults than to have kids who will never pick up a book again but who identify lines from selected “important” sonnets.</off-topic>

  82. U Frood says

    Ick,
    I remember how incredibly BORED I was in elementary school Math class. Really had no interest in Math until they started sticking the letters in. Then you get to Algebra and it just starts getting interesting.

  83. gussnarp says

    @The Vicar #97: I grokked your block quoting. And I think your point has merit. I’ve considered this fairly often myself. There’s so much I didn’t bother to read simply because it was assigned to me and I preferred to spend my time reading fantasy and sci fi. In fact, it wasn’t until I found a class in college called Sci Fi Lit that I began to really get literature. That class improved my understanding of the wider cannon of classic literature later on, and there’s plenty that I read young because I could that I didn’t really get and don’t remember well.

    You’re really dead on that what the goal ought to be with young kids is to have them read as much as possible, so they should be reading whatever gets them to read.

    That’s still a potential problem with Common Core: what I think they end up with is a bunch of poorly written, stodgy non-fiction pieces that bore the pants off them. But I also don’t think that problem’s as bad as I used to think it was.

    And in a last gasp defense of my initial point: there’s some literature that young people usually enjoy and relate to and literature they don’t so much, in general. And a lot of it is just being culturally competent, knowing the stories that everyone expects you to know. The mileage on that depends a lot on the kid and the teacher and the selection of materials. In the end, balance is probably the key.

  84. woozy says

    Vicar, I think you’ve hit on one aspect of education in general is the assumption that we actually succeed rather than fail when we teach. Education should *NEVER* leave a student with a sense that they never want to do anything that they learned in school. But then in actuality we really teach very *badly*.

    It’s important that kids have a “grounding in literature” for the same reasons it’s important to have a “grounding in art” and a “sense of history”. Literature is human expression and, well, intelligent people need to be aware of it. Simple. Teaching them this, though, shouldn’t beat any sense of importance and communication out of their dull brains forever and forever.

    That said, I’m not sure “essay writing” (in other words, critical thinking) should necessarily be in the prevue of “English class”. In high school it never would have occurred to me that an article or any other form of non-fiction wrinting would have anything whatsoever to do with the english class essay or the history paper both of which I found imponderably difficult and almost incomprehensible. In fact I think I was several years out of *college* before I realized that with my innate love to argue and debate that I ought to have *enjoyed* essays and have been *good* at them rather than to have considered them to be my weakness.

  85. gussnarp says

    @The Vicar – related: I had a friend who was a Shakespeare scholar who said the worst thing anyone ever did for Shakespeare was to require high school students to read it.

  86. Dhorvath, OM says

    The only essay I enjoyed that I wrote for English class was one where I critiqued the yearly requirement to read a Shakespeare play. My essay was lazy, sloppy, and probably didn’t deserve the mark that I got, but my teacher did accept and mark it…

  87. says

    Is there any possible way that Al Melvin does not mean algebra? Grasping at straws here –

    Yes. It’s possible he means chemistry or physics. In those fields, it’s particularly important that people use only numbers, and not letters.

  88. says

    @101, woozy

    It’s important that kids have a “grounding in literature” for the same reasons it’s important to have a “grounding in art” and a “sense of history”. Literature is human expression and, well, intelligent people need to be aware of it. Simple. Teaching them this, though, shouldn’t beat any sense of importance and communication out of their dull brains forever and forever.

    I’ll leave the “grounding in art” point alone, but as long as I’m being perversely argumentative on a tangential subject, let me commit some heresy (we’re atheists, we love heresy, right?):

    History is a great subject. We need to teach people more of it. But the “big picture” school, which is prevalent in educational practice and has been so for at least long enough for me to have been taught according to its precepts, is wrong. History is the one subject where learning long lists of boring facts and memorizing things by rote is actually useful. You know those polls which come out every so often, showing that an appreciable portion of American students think the Civil War happened after World War I and that George Washington met Jesus and just in general sound like a bunch of dunces? That’s because they aren’t exposed to enough actual facts.

    Beyond that, though, there’s a more serious point. Ideally, we want our students to be critical thinkers. Even the right-wingers who hate the idea of critical thinking because they associate it with liberalism (with a certain amount of reason, because anyone who is even a mediocre critical thinker can see that modern right wing thought is built out of feces), even those people still desire the practical outcomes which are produced by critical thinking. And you don’t get critical thinking by eliding facts to give “the big picture”; you just produce a different kind of dogmatism. It’s not really any better for society to have people who, for example, love the programs which make up the social safety net because that’s what they were taught to do than it is to have people who hate the social safety net because that’s what they were taught to do. In the long term, we need people who can govern, which means making new policies which are good, rather than merely defending the same old policies. You can’t do that unless you have a grounding in facts, and have learned to see how previous policy — good, bad, effective, ineffective, whatever — arose from the conditions which existed.

    Come to think of it, what we ought to do is to eliminate English class as it is currently taught. For one period of every day, once they have been taught how, kids should have to read. No interruptions, just sit with a book and read it. The essay-writing (which was never, after all, being assigned because anyone wanted to read the results — there is no urgent worldwide shortage of five-paragraph discussions of symbolism in Romeo and Juliet; the point of essay-writing has always been to teach students how to present an argument and evidence in a coherent, or at least readable, way) into History class. Have them write history reports, and speculate on what would have happened if things had turned out differently (with supporting arguments, naturally), and discuss the difference between different types of historical evidence. (And have the history teachers judge the content, then turn the essays over to the English teachers for grammar and spelling, to be graded while the kids are reading.)

  89. says

    One of my choicest memories from a HS class in plane geometry is of the guy who, when asked to detail a geometric proof on the chalkboard assigned the letters “G,” “I,” “R” and “L” to the vertices of a rectangle and “B,” “O” and “Y” to those of a triangle, and then went through numerous gyrations while the entire class went into hysterics, and the clueless teacher failed to comprehend what was going on.

  90. neko says

    This guy is not a representative for Tucson, which is generally quite progressive. He represents the district just north of here.

  91. ck says

    @sugarfrosted,

    But it does involve sets, which Andrew Schlafly has revealed to be a liberal conspiracy to overthrow Christianity.

  92. chrislawson says

    Ogvorbis:

    I don’t have a problem with politically motivated history. I do have a problem with dishonest history.

  93. ck says

    And the theory of relativity leads to immorality…

    If they keep this up, all satirists will be out of a job.

  94. says

    @113, ck:

    And the theory of relativity leads to immorality…

    That sort of claim would be nothing new.

    As I recall, Galileo (who, for some reason, my fingers want to type as “Gaglileo” today) observed a supernova and published an account of the phenomenon, and this was hugely objectionable to Christians because it was held that the heavens, being the domain of God, were perfect and unchanging.

    He also — and it occurs to me that I may be mixing him up with some other figure of the same approximate time frame, but I’m too tired to go look it up — used to smugly show off a phosphorescent rock, which gave Christian philosophers a hard time because they assumed that light was not a substance but rather an attribute, and if attributes could be absorbed and rereleased then it might be possible to store the holiness of the Virgin Mary in something unholy, and then where would you be?

    (There was also, at some point, someone who accused one of the early astronomers, I think again Galileo, of having fudged his telescope to put in a fake moon around Jupiter somehow, without having it show up anywhere else.)

  95. mildlymagnificent says

    When I first heard about it I was somewhat bothered by the fact the standards for reading more non-fiction over fiction, as I (still to some extent) harbored a concern that this would lead to a less than adequate grounding in literature.

    I don’t know anything about the US Common Core stuff, but if something like this turned up here, I’d know where it came from. From people like me. Trying to teach reading to reluctant 8 yr olds, boys in particular, was made desperately worse by the intransigent insistence of most “experts” that all reading materials **must**, without exception, be narratives. Preferably ‘inclusive’ stories where women/ minority ethnic groups/ indigenous people/ disabled people all got a fair go.

    The things that interested most of the boys I tutored, even those who had no reading problems, were facts they could relate to, mostly about exciting or scary things – spiders, snakes, sharks, flags (? but it was true of practically all of them), volcanoes, storms/ lightning, dinosaurs, insects, birds of prey and other purely factual stuff. I often got material from non-standard books and the kids loved them. They were bored beyond belief with stories about farms or beaches or picnics or other schoolkids. Most importantly, they could comprehend them and do their own, reasonably competent, writing based on them. (Though I had to impose a rule on the older ones that explosions, murder, mayhem and other violence were off the table. Otherwise many of them would have written nothing but.) High school kids with little to no reading skills could progress quite quickly if you got them into things like “Horrible Histories”.

    I could teach “reading through writing” to quite young students quite straightforwardly with just a picture of their choice – from the very limited selection I offered – and a vocabulary/correct spelling list derived from their thoughts about it. Walk away and they could write as well as anyone. All they needed was the right grain of sand to begin building their pearls of imagination and creativity.

    (Teaching them to self-check and correct the result was another thing entirely. But at least there was something to work with.)

    As for that maths versus arithmetic thing. That’s probably a relic of the kind of high school I went to. Girls were split into academic and “commercial” streams – graded on the IQ test we did at entry. Boys were split into academic and “technical” streams. Those of us in the “upper” classes of the academic streams did maths as it is generally understood. Students in commercial and technical streams did arithmetic, as the basis for bookkeeping and for entry to trade apprenticeships.

  96. Dhorvath, OM says

    I could teach “reading through writing” to quite young students quite straightforwardly with just a picture of their choice – from the very limited selection I offered – and a vocabulary/correct spelling list derived from their thoughts about it. Walk away and they could write as well as anyone. All they needed was the right grain of sand to begin building their pearls of imagination and creativity.

    Oh, that sounds like fun.

  97. says

    Oh dear…MildlyMagnificent’s comment’s got all the warning ripples of a “feminisation of classrooms” rant.
    However, today’s schools or at least the one’s in my domain, Reception, key stage 1 and all, are in fact rife with facts, Dinosaurs, Space Aliens, “useful machines”, and now Penguins after some curriculum shenanigans ousted “The Owl who was Afraid of The Dark” as a topic.
    If these worksheets aren’t all matriarchal lies, then it looks like some of the older ones will be doing the not entirely mayhem free, “Warhorse”.

    You want a legitimate rant here, dads need time off work to read to their kids and there should be more male primary school teachers.

    Meanwhile, if that lot can handle “The Holy Trinity” I’m pretty sure they can handle x being a variable. I call bullshit.

  98. says

    Oh snap! I feel like an idiot. Thanks for the correction, David – I was remembering the opposite of what my teachers were trying to teach me (i.e. they were trying to teach the Sanskrit numbers while also pointing out that most modern Hindi speakers are pretty comfortable with the Arabic numbers that we use in English.

    As for Chas: My tutors were from the Landour Language School, located just outside the city of Musoorie in Uttaranchal, India. The only teachers whose names I remember are Dinkur, Rakesh and Madhu. Given the former’s age, he’s probably retired by now, but the other two have probably moved on. It was 15 years ago, after all.

    Dunno why that’s even relevant; if I had presented my original erroneous statement along with a recitation of their qualifications, I would still have been wrong. Also, fuck you too. Why do you even bother socializing, even online?

  99. mildlymagnificent says

    Oh dear…MildlyMagnificent’s comment’s got all the warning ripples of a “feminisation of classrooms” rant.

    Well, no.

    Glad to know you’ve got reasonable reading materials for your students. I’m easing myself out of remedial tuition, only a couple of students at home for the time being, so I’ve not been scouring the shelves of the educational supplies shop looking for material suitable for any particular students for almost five years now. I’d like to think that the selections available are more like your description but I’m not betting any items of clothing on it.

    What I do have is a deep and abiding hatred of faddish ideas arising from inadequately tested and evidenced notions in educational theory and theories about child development which are implemented ruthlessly in far too specific prescription and proscription of what constitutes “good practice”, good teaching approaches, good teaching materials. It ain’t just silly left brain/right brain or VAK ideas and implementation that need a good scrubbing or complete elimination. VAK is still getting some oxygen here, so I’m not all that hopeful.

    (I realise my perspective is a bit side-on to ordinary classrooms because I’ve only ever done intensive remedial work with school age children and technical training with adults. But if conventional teaching fails for four or more years with children who can pick up the necessary skills in a matter of months with good instruction and guidance – happens more often with maths than with reading or other language skills, but it does happen there as well – then it seems that perfectly able children are being badly let down in ordinary classrooms.)

    You want a legitimate rant here, dads need time off work to read to their kids and there should be more male primary school teachers.

    I don’t know about time off work being needed for reading to kids – my husband loved releasing his inner child/ wannabe actor combination in exaggerated reading voices when doing bedtime reading with our kids. Though I’d like to see more men getting a few hours off work during school days to listen to children reading. I’d agree about more male primary school teachers but I think that’s a losing argument for the time being. The general paranoia about any man getting anywhere near primary age or younger kids is ludicrous, so I don’t blame all the men who are avoiding all the hassles and baseless accusations that they’d face if they put themselves in that position.

  100. mildlymagnificent says

    I’ve tutored students that had trouble with algebra specifically because of the letters. Make them something else, like colored blanks, or a little doodle of a teddy bear, or whatever, and it will click.

    From my experience, I’d stick with little blocks of colour and nothing else. You can never, ever, predict which students will come up with really odd interpretations that didn’t get in the way for an introduction to a topic that can completely stymie them at the next step. Specifically for algebra, addition is fine with doodles of teddy bears or fish or other objects, most students will manage that perfectly. Introduce multiplication or division with those symbols and some of them will quite honestly tell you that you can’t divide teddy bears by saucepans. Whereas they’re quite used to the idea of colours mixing and coming up with different colours, tints and shades even if they don’t really understand how that works. (I might be over-thinking this. When I teach fractions with students who find equivalent fractions always just a bit beyond their reach, I tell them you can’t add hats and bicycle wheels because the answer doesn’t mean anything, you have to convert them so that you’re adding or subtracting “the same kind of thing”.)

  101. randay says

    Tomfrog@8 — Look up the Windows table of characters. At least one, Tahoma has hindou/arabic numbers:

    ٠١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩٪ meaning 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 100.

    ________

    Melvin would probably believe in imaginary numbers until he learns that they are represented by “i”.