Monday, July 24, 2017

The Things You Learn Via Uber

I've learned a few things from my recent experience as an Uber driver.  What I've learned is kind of "big picture" stuff.  The author of this article learned some more immediate lessons:
What my Uber driver taught me about college and America

Today's Weight

197.8 lbs.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Memorization and Creativity

I'm tired of hearing that memorizing certain things (multiplication facts, the quadratic formula, the Pythagorean Theorem) impedes "creativity" in students.  If this were true, back in the 90s--when "rote memorization" was expunged from California's math standards--we'd have had the most creative students on the planet!

I'm on an email list populated by people who seem to share a more traditional view of math education.  One of the members of that list is Wayne Bishop of CSU Los Angeles, who gave me permission to repost his words here:

A persuasive indictment of US education, especially STEM preparedness.  It is particularly ironic in that our professional mathematics education community continues to insist that its aversion to memorization of anything stimulates creativity in mathematics as opposed to bringing along far too many children - especially children from low socioeconomic, low education communities - being DOA by algebra if not long before.
Believing that melanin in the skin presents a genetic predisposition to do poorly in math is not doing anyone any favors, either.

Unprepared For Advanced Placement

I don't think unprepared students should take AP classes.

I've said that many times before on this blog, and I'm not changing my mind today.  It just doesn't make sense to.  I guess I've been called worse than "elitist", but whatever.  My position is the logical one, emotional wailing notwithstanding.

The "A" in AP means "advanced".  Why put non-advanced students in such a class?  To "expose" them to material?  We in education aren't supposed to be in the business of "exposing" students to material, we're in the business of teaching students the material.  Putting unprepared students into any class will create the following issues to varying degrees:  the student will struggle unnecessarily and not learn as much as they could in a course more suited to their level, and/or the course content will be watered down (for the student's GPA benefit as well as the teacher's sanity).

This isn't to say that no unprepared student can never succeed in an AP class, let's not make up silly arguments here.  It shouldn't be difficult to understand, though, that a student that is "unprepared" will not, in general, do as well as a student who is "prepared".  That's kind of built into the definitions of the two words.

Yet, the "AP for all" push continues unabated, with expected results:
High school students are flocking to Advanced Placement classes in an attempt to earn credits for college, boost their grade-point average and look good on university applications.

But are all students ready for the college-level coursework?

Students at the eight schools in the Sacramento region that fared worst on AP tests failed to score high enough to earn college credit on at least 75 percent of exams in 2015-16. That includes 3,375 tests taken at Florin, Valley, Highlands, Foothill, Natomas, Rosemont, Inderkum and Grant high schools.

Almost half of the scores at those schools were 1s – the lowest score possible.

Officials speaking for the lowest-performing schools said test results shouldn’t be the only measure of AP success. They said the classes expose students to college-level material and show them what is expected after they graduate.

“You want kids taking advanced classes,” said Jim Sanders, spokesman for Natomas Unified School District, which includes Natomas and Inderkum high schools. “It helps better prepare them for college and career.”

Even if passage rates are low at some campuses, AP courses still allow a handful of high-achievers to obtain college credit, said Lori Grace, an assistant superintendent at Twin Rivers Unified, where three of its four high schools – Highlands, Foothill and Grant – had passage rates of 25 percent or lower. Grace said that schools are enrolling more students in AP courses each year.
The high school I attended is on that list of 8 schools.  When I went there, there were no AP classes.  We had three levels of English for each grade (the top was called "college prep"), and math classes up to trigonometry.  My senior year, six of us were ready to take Calculus.  We had to go to the local community college to take it.

Too many students take AP classes just for the GPA bump.  I don't understand the reasoning, though, as many colleges ask for "unweighted" GPA's.  In fact, our district's transcripts list more than a couple different GPA's, so what's the point?  Colleges and universities aren't fooled by your 4.3 weighted GPA.  They know exactly how many A's and B's you received, and in what courses.

I've kind of rambled away from my thesis, which is this:  the students at the schools listed above weren't done any favors by taking AP courses.  The schools could have used those AP class periods to shore up obvious student math weaknesses instead of offering AP courses for which students clearly weren't prepared.

And we all know why the schools offer such courses, and why there's a push to allow anyone to take AP classes even in schools with a viable AP-capable population--because AP enrollment is seen as a feather in a school or district's cap.  Much like a diploma, though, the value of that feather is degraded by low standards and poor performance.

Read more here:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

She's Got A Lot of Nerve

If I had sex with a 16-year-old student, it's a certainty I'd get more than 180 days in jail:
A former teacher of the year who cheated on her firefighter husband with a 16-year-old student is now suing the teen for defamation -- from behind bars.

Tara Stumph, 36, who taught at Arroyo Grande High School in California is serving 180 days in San Luis Obispo County Jail for having sex with a 16-year-old student, according to The Tribune of San Luis Obispo.

But Stumph is now suing the student, claiming he damaged her reputation. Stumph’s counterclaim said the young man defamed the former teacher “to various classmates, family and other members of the community.”
She doesn't even have to register as a sex offender.  She should be counting her blessings rather than filing a lawsuit.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Being a Union "Free Rider"

The 7th Circuit has an interesting view of this particular union canard:
The US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Wisconsin’s right-to-work law is constitutional. The court referenced its own 2014 Sweeney decision, which was an unsuccessful challenge to Indiana’s right-to-work law.

There is a paragraph in the Sweeney ruling that deserves your attention, since it addresses union complaints about non-members being “free riders” – that is, receiving benefits from union representation for which they do not pay.
[W]e believe the union is justly compensated by federal law’s grant to the Union the right to bargain exclusively with the employer. The reason the Union must represent all employees is that the Union alone gets a seat at the negotiation table…. It seems disingenuous not to recognize that the Union’s position as a sole representative comes with a set of powers and benefits as well as responsibilities and duties. And no information before us persuades us that the Union is not fully and adequately compensated by its rights as the sole and exclusive member at the negotiating table.
Unions will grudgingly accept free riders if they can maintain exclusivity.

The Right Way To Deal With Protesters Who Disrupt Speakers

Your right to "peaceably assemble" and to protest is not permission to deny speakers their rights to speak, or listeners their rights to hear the speakers.  At least one school not only recognizes this fundamental fact, but is acting on it:
Claremont McKenna College this week announced disciplinary measures, including lengthy suspensions, against seven students who were part of a mob that blocked an audience from hearing a pro-police speech by Heather Mac Donald last April.

The crowd, spurred on by Black Lives Matter, forced Mac Donald to give her speech via livestream, even as protesters tried to drown her out. It was an outrageous infringement of Mac Donald’s right to free speech — and the right of other students to hear her. It was also another despicable example of what passes for acceptable political protest on far too many campuses.

Claremont McKenna hit three students with full-year suspensions, two with one-semester suspensions and two with conduct probation. It gave deans at other Claremont campuses evidence of violations by their students and urged them to act. Four non-students were suspended from on-campus privileges.
Wouldn't it be great if our public universities--I'm talking to you, UC Berkeley--would do the same?

The prominent leader of a militant left-wing group was arrested earlier this week on charges stemming from a violent brawl last year between white nationalist groups and counter-protesters.

Yvette Felarca, 47, was taken into custody in Los Angeles on Tuesday on charges of inciting and participating in a riot, and assault likely to cause great bodily injury, the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday. The charges come after an eight-month investigation.

Felarca, whose name in public records appears as Yvonne Capistrano Felarca, has been identified as the leader and spokesperson for the anti-fascist group By Any Means Necessary.

She is among several people arrested this week in connection to the wild skirmish that broke out at the state Capitol in June 2016 when more than 300 counter-protesters confronted about 30 members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which has been called a white nationalist group.

Felarca, who is a middle school teacher in Berkeley, attended the Capitol protest and gave television interviews after the melee. She was captured on video hitting a member of the TWP and calling a man a Nazi before punching him in the stomach repeatedly while shouting for him to “get the f*** off our streets.”  (Boldface mine--Darren)

25 19th Century Moments That Changed America

Yes, it's from Time, but don't let that distract you from what is otherwise a very interesting article.

A Poster Child For Getting Rid of Remedial Courses at Universities

Remediation belongs at our community colleges.  Allowing unprepared students into universities overburdens the system, places more debt on those most likely to be unable to repay that debt, and helps hide the importance of K-12 education (or the lack thereof):
After graduating from high school in Brooklyn with a 2.6 grade point average, Reynold Essor enrolled at SUNY Adirondack, a public two-year community college in upstate New York with “a comfortable residence hall, leafy grounds, a restaurant run by students, and even a zipline,” writes Pratt.

Failing the placement exam landed Essor in the remedial track. “He spent two semesters taking, and then retaking, three required remedial courses,” writes Pratt. “He used financial aid, including a federal Pell Grant, to cover the costs.” He’s earned no college credit.

Essor blames his high school education. “I passed without learning,” he said.

“Students spend an estimated $7 billion annually on remedial college classes,” writes Pratt. “Yet only half of enrolled students complete remedial courses, and about one in seven completes a credential within six years.”
He blames his high school education?  Nice way to shuffle the blame. Come on, you had a 2.6 GPA, and you thought that made you ready for college?  When you were told you needed three remedial courses, you still didn't realize that you're not ready?

Young Reynold needs to accept the lion's share of the responsibility here.  He didn't work hard, was allowed to cruise (that is the fault of his school, but he didn't have to cruise), and he didn't heed the warning signs.  Reynold is having difficulty passing remediation courses at a community college which, as I've stated, is the correct place for remediation.  He's got two choices: 
  1. buckle down and get to work, or
  2. do something else for awhile and come back to college when he's ready.
Now, having said all this, can anyone explain to me why we should have remedial courses at universities?

Musk's Musky Math Ideas

Elon Musk doesn't think math teachers are teaching correctly:
Speaking at the ISSR&D Conference in Washington D.C. Wednesday, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla (TSLA) was asked about the education system. Musk explained that he believes schools aren't doing enough to help children grasp why they're learning each subject. 

"You just sort of get dumped into math. Why are you learning that? It seems like, 'Why am I being asked to do these strange problems?'" Musk said. "Our brain has evolved to discard information that it thinks has irrelevance." 

Musk suggested learning be focused around solving a specific problem, such as building a satellite or taking apart an engine. Then students will encounter and master subjects such as math and physics on the path to solving their problem. Understanding how to use a wrench or screwdriver will have a clear purpose. 
It would be easy to trash Musk's argument--by, for example, pointing out that there isn't a lot of K-12 math in building (or launching, or tracking, or maneuvering) a satellite--but instead I'll be a little more respectful.

Musk's idea isn't new.  What he's suggesting is called "problem-based learning", an old (Dewey promoted it a hundred years ago) pedagogical style which I describe as "inefficient at best".  Barry Garelick of the Traditional Math blog wrote a brief post about Musk's PBL suggestion, and then wrote a follow-up post highlighting some of the comments from that post.  One of those comments hit the nail on the head--in problem-based learning, so much of the time is spent on the "problem" that the kernel of math that's supposed to be gleaned from the "problem" is lost in the shuffle.  Very little math gets learning in a class period, and that which does get learned is mostly a by-product.  "Exactly!" scream the proponents of problem-based learning.  But no.

Remember when manipulatives were the big thing in math?  Many (many!) moons ago I found one that I really liked--Hands-On Equations.  Used to teach students how to solve algebraic equations, it involved dice, pawns, and the idea of "legal moves" (e.g., it's "legal" to add a pawn to both sides) to provide a physical representation of algebraic operations.  Gradually, through 26 lessons, the program transitions students from solving problems with the manipulatives to solving them using standard algebra.  Sounds great!  My students loved it, I loved it, everyone had fun, the kids were engaged--anyone walking in to my class would think that this, this was a place where learning was taking place.  You could have checked every box on an evaluator's clipboard.

Cut to the end of those 26 lessons, though, and students did no better on a test than had previous classes who did not use Hands-on Equations.  No better at all.  Despite the program's built-in transition from manipulative to algebra.  Students saw that transition as just part of the program, part of the game.  They didn't make the leap from the "game" to the math.  They learned the game well, they didn't learn the math.  They spent a lot of time learning a little math.

And that is what's wrong with Musk's idea.  He made the classic rookie mistake; I won't be hard on him because it's such a common mistake.  But people who are really smart, or very talented in a certain area, can see "connections" between the many things they know.  That excites them, it's so cool!  If they can share those connections, everyone else will be excited about the topic, too, and will learn!  In the post-Sputnik days of "new math", the smart people got together and decided that if everyone learned basic set theory and different bases, our country's "math deficit" would be instantly erased!  Today the silver bullet is matrices.

What they get wrong, though, is the confusion between cause and effect.  Being excited and understanding the material and seeing connections doesn't cause learning, it's the result of learning.  There is no way set theory and bases are going to help someone who doesn't already understand math, and the same goes for matrices.  You have to teach fundamentals.  No one starts playing piano with a Bach concerto; they start with notes, and chords, and Chopsticks.  So it is with math.

Now I hope that some won't (intentionally) misunderstand what I'm saying.  I'm not saying that math should be taught as an abstraction; on the contrary, it's the language of science and the universe, and that's part of the reason we learn it at all.  There's no way I would advocate divorcing math from the sciences, from engineering, from games.  Math is learned best when it is taught with applications and examples.  But the examples are there to highlight the math, not to subsume it.

Additionally, high school math takes us up to what was learned and developed in the 1600's (calculus).  That's why "Train A" and "Train B" problems exist; there's no real-world need to solve such problems, they just subtract a little abstraction to make the problem easier to understand.  Seriously, outside of some statistics (i.e., social science problems), what real-world problems are ordinary K-12 students going to solve using the math we teach them?  Darned few!  But we can help them understand real-world things, often with the help of physics, especially where driving, a real-world activity if ever there was one, is involved--doubling speed quadruples energy, speed going around a curve, how long it takes to stop if you lock up the brakes, how police determine your speed from the skid mark your car left on the road, etc.

So to close, I give Musk credit for having his heart in the right place.  He's just a little off in the time scale--problem-based learning can only occur after the elementary learning has already taken place.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Candle In The Wind

Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?  or "Occupy" protesters?  Oh, you hear about them once in awhile, or you read a paragraph on p. A13 of the local paper, but that's about it.

I guess they outlived their usefulness to the Left, so the Left has moved on.  Use 'em up, spit 'em out.

Due Process Is A Foundation of Western Law

Do you believe that even accused murderers should have due process?  Do you believe in the legal presumption of "innocent until proven guilty"?  I certainly do.  And even in those instances where our legal system lets the guilty go free, I've always been of the mind that I'd rather a hundred guilty people go free than to deprive one innocent person of his/her freedom.

That isn't a belief that comes naturally, I was taught that belief.  In school.  Because that's what Americans used to believe, and school was one place where societal values were transmitted to the next generation.

It's not that way anymore.  Perhaps too many people think that our system of laws is natural, that they can (be cool and) rebel against it knowing that it will always be there to protect them.  This is not the case.  The rest of the world is evidence enough that our legal system is not the natural order of things.  Force is the natural order of things.

That introduction brings me to lefties and their current view of rapists--in their eyes, every man is a potential rapist, and any man accused of rape is a priori guilty.  Not only is he guilty, but because he's guilty he's not allowed to prove his innocence.  If you think I'm exaggerating, you're not very familiar with the Star Chambers instituted on American campuses in part because of the Obama Administration Department of Education's "Dear Colleague" letter.

Hopefully the current administration will restore some sanity to what is clearly an un-American nightmare:
A good way to tell if the Left currently believes one of their beloved policies will disappear is how viciously they write about the potential change. In this case, they’re trying to smear people who believe those accused of heinous crimes should be able to defend themselves as somehow supporting the heinous crime. That is where we are in society.

On college campuses, students (mostly male, but sometimes female) can be accused of sexual assault and receive no effective due process, no promise of a fair trial in which they are allowed to defend themselves and present evidence to exonerate themselves. This is a basic tenet of a just society. Yet activists who support these policies insist America’s college campuses are more dangerous than war-torn countries in Africa regarding rape and sexual assault. They say this issue is so pervasive, we need to cut down on constitutional protections for those accused of these terrible crimes when the accusation happens on a college campus, because they’re most definitely guilty.
Due process is a foundation of our legal system.  No one will like the results if we toss it aside, especially for partisan political purposes.

No, lefties, I'm not "pro-rape" just because I support due process.  I'm not "pro-rape" just because I don't believe in your characterization of "rape culture".  I'm not "pro-rape" just because I don't believe your fatuous "20% of women will be raped in college" claim.  In fact, I'm so not pro-rape that I want rape accusations dealt with by laws and courts, not by university administrators.  Rapists should be locked up, not expelled--as should those who falsely accuse others of rape.  And I want those who falsely accuse others of rape to have due process as well.

The views I hold used to be such universal beliefs that no American would twice about them.  That they're under such assault, and by other Americans, shows how far we as a society have fallen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lefties, You're Not Going To Like The New Rules You're Instituting

You want more Donald Trump?  This is how you get more Donald Trump:
Professor Eric Canin will be returning to California State University, Fullerton to teach classes despite allegedly assaulting a College Republican on campus.

The incident took place in February, when members of the College Republicans were peacefully counter-protesting an anti-Trump rally on campus. Canin approached members of the club, calling them “uneducated” based on their political stance before allegedly shoving at least one student in anger.
If conservatives responded in kind there would be less such violence.  The left is making the rules, and when conservatives ditch the high road and start playing by these new rules, the lefties will be most unhappy.

Of course, the faculty union supported the professor, saying he's been "unfairly vilified" by the College Republicans for, what, having the temerity to be assaulted by him???

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In What Other Industry Would We Tolerate This?

Back in the days before radio, the captain of a ship, while not God, what pretty much His representative here on Earth.  Someone had to make the decisions.  And while the captain is still the boss, and certainly is responsible for safety on a ship, I can't see that his word should be law in every instance.  This is just as true for airline captains.

In emergency situations, you should follow crew instructions--they're best trained to handle such emergencies.  But in every single instance?  We have to follow every instruction someone gives because they work for a business?  In what other industry would we tolerate that?

And in what other industry would we allow employees to treat customers this way, and with complete and total impunity?
Ann Coulter vs. Delta Air Lines is the latest battle over airline customer service to play out on social media.

The conservative pundit began to fire off angry tweets about the carrier this past weekend after she was asked to move from a pre-selected seat with extra leg room on a Delta flight from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida. Delta (DAL) said Sunday it would refund Coulter $30 for the preferred seat she purchased, but criticized her "derogatory and slanderous comments" as "unnecessary and unacceptable."

So, can an airline really just move you out of a seat that you booked and paid for?

Long story short: They sure can.
Contracts of carriage are so biased towards airlines; if they made more use of the power they're granted, people might just rebel enough to get the rules changed.  Maybe.  But why are they given such overarching power anyway?  They're given this power by government--why do we allow it?

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Wrong Starting Point For Discussion

I doubt there's a person involved in education who hasn't heard that "students (or parents) are our customers", and thus we have to satisfy or accommodate their whims.  I'm glad not everyone feels that way!
HARVARD LAW STUDENTS COMPLAIN THAT HARVARD LAW FACULTY HAVE TOO MUCH INFLUENCE ON HARVARD LAW SCHOOL. As one of my lawprofs at Yale said, students aren’t the consumers of legal education, they’re its product — and nobody asks a Buick on the assembly line whether it wants to have AC installed.  link
This is true in K-12 education as well.

Lack of Discipline

This morning's weight:  198.4

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Reward

For years, whenever my son and I would go into a Brookstone store, we'd try out the massage chairs.  I mean, who wouldn't?  And they always felt so good.  And for the last couple years I promised myself one when I finished my graduate degree.

Today, after driving for Uber for a couple hours, I decided to pop into Costco.  And what did I see there?  A display of massage chairs!

They had three different models; I slid into the least expensive one.  After about 5 minutes in it I decided that I didn't want to spend that much money on that particular chair.  It wasn't...awesome.

So I tried out the mid-priced model.  I really liked this one.  The salesman trickled information to me, but that cost.... I asked, "what about the floor model?"  When he said he didn't have one I replied that I was in one!  He couldn't sell me that one, about a brown one (the one I was in was black) that had previously been a model?  Well, brown works better for me, and the price was reasonable.

So I bought it.  It'll be delivered in a couple weeks.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Asserting the Superiority of Western Values

Lefties squealed in mock horror when President Trump asserted the superiority of Western values in Poland.  Here's a(n awesome) defense of such values from 2007: