The algebra conundrum: Why is it seen as so difficult?

Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers has commented on one of the periodic issues that occurs in mathematics education and that is what mathematics should form part of the general education of everyone. This time the discussion is over whether algebra should be a requirement for a basic general education. Those who argue for its removal say that it is not a skill that most people need in everyday life and that in addition, students seem to find it very hard and fail in large numbers.
[Read more…]

The Trump administration opens new war on affirmative action

The Trump Justice Department is investigating a complaint by some Asian American groups that Harvard University discriminates against Asian students by requiring them to have higher scores than all other ethnic groups in order to gain admission. This complaint is backed by some of the same groups that have sued universities in the past, claiming that their admission policies discriminated against white people
[Read more…]

The complicated issue of faculty-student romantic relationships

I have written before about the problematic nature of romantic relationships between college faculty and students. The college campus is a place of great ambiguity when it comes to these kinds of relationships. Since college students are adults who also have more freedom than secondary school students, it lacks the clear boundaries that one finds in secondary schools. Since the college classroom is not a workplace, it lacks some of the rules that have become the norm there.
[Read more…]

How undocumented students go to college

In the heated debate about mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, some anti-immigrant groups are demanding that they not be given any services at all, including education. Some student groups in colleges are calling for them to be made ‘sanctuary colleges’, similar to proposed ‘sanctuary cities’, that will protect such students from being thrown out of the country.
[Read more…]

The dirty little secret of preferential treatment in US higher education

Affirmative action in public higher education in the US is a lightning rod for criticism, repeatedly targeted for legal challenges. The issue is whether colleges can consider a person’s race and ethnicity as a factor in granting admission and to what extent it can be done. In the US, of all places, this should not be such a major issue. Unlike in those countries where it is only scores on some kind of national exam that are considered (as was the case when I took my university entrance exams in Sri Lanka back in medieval times), here the goal of colleges, especially elite ones that have considerable choice over whom to admit, is to shape a student body that meets the goals of the institution and for many colleges that involves having students with diverse backgrounds. At my institution, there were many discussions about how to attract more potential arts and humanities majors, more women into engineering, and so on so as to create a more lively and varied intellectual climate.
[Read more…]

‘Shined’ versus ‘shone’

As part of my long-running series on the quirks of the English language, I have been struck by the frequency of the use of the word ‘shined’ in the US in situations where I would have used the word ‘shone’. For example, one frequently hears the sentence “He shined a bright light on topic X” whereas I would have said “He shone a bright light on topic X”.
[Read more…]

Origin of bellwether

During elections, the word ‘bellwether’ often crops up and is assigned to a state or county or other region or to this or that indicator as people decide where to focus their attentions on. Given the many factors at play, people try to identify things that have in the past been good indicators of the larger mood. Most people know the meaning of this word as signifying a leader or indicator of trends. But where does this strange word come from?
[Read more…]