Post by Lewis Post by Peter Moylan Post by Lewis Post by Peter Moylan Post by occam
"The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan
Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry
conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I
cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the
quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.”
If he can't answer that, he has no business being involved in education.
I can tell you exactly how many times I've used the quadratic
equation "in anger" since I left school. Zero.
Sure, some people get more direct use from it than others, but that's
only part of the story. In the post you responded to it's true that I
focused on the good to society of the study, and incidentally on the
benefit to me. That was in direct response to Rochelle's statement. I
could have defended it on several other grounds, but that's not how the
topic came up.
Elementary mathematics is part of our culture, and it's important to
have a well-rounded education. Apart from anything else, it challenges
Elementary math is addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.
It is not Algebra, Trig, quadratics, or Calculus.
We started learning geometry in Std 5 and algebra in Std 6 and we all had a
go at trigonometry in Std 8. That was it, though. Higher maths at school
meant co-oridinate geometry and calculas for the Science Stream.
It was arithmetic that was the most useless, for we had Pendelbury as the text
and so had fun trying to multiply tons and pounds with shillings and pence and
farthings too. Now if there is any outdated skill in maths, that's it.
I am talking about the years from 1965-1969.
Post by Lewis Post by Peter Moylan
I cannot accept a purely utilitarian approach to education. We shouldn't
scrap some area of learning merely on the grounds that it is unlikely to
be profitable to us.
It is not just that, it is highly LIKELY to be entirely useless. For
nearly everyone, algebra is not part of their day-to-day life, nor is it
any part of their life at all.
Not unless they have anything to do with compound interest, which means
geometric progression, which means some algebra to begin with. Loans,
mortgages, etc. may make more sense if the basic maths formula is well known.
Also, people talk in terms of growth rates. These days the Indians are chuffed
because the growth rate is higher than China. With some knowledge of algebra,
a bright guy would say that to reach the same GNP with the same 1-2% growth
differential would take say 3-4 generations assuming that this difference
remains. One could make a further projection and say that instead of 100 years
it could be 20 if there was say a 10% differential.
What goes for nations, also goes for individuals. One could take the Al Bundy
line, or have a goal and follow it. Some algebra helps here relating to work
and savings investments.
Post by Lewis
And I say this as the sort of math dweeb that thinks up "fun" little
math puzzles in my head just so I can solve them in my head. that
doesn't make it useful, and I didn't need classes for what I do anyway.
Post by Peter Moylan Post by Lewis
No, the risk is that people with no interest in math and no affinity
to it are being pushed into classes (and degrees) they are not
suited for, and then you end up with really crappy engineers.
Well, I could claim that in my school days I was pushed into subjects
like history and geography and English and art, subjects that I didn't
have much affinity for. Would I be better off if those subjects had been
deleted from the syllabus?
If your history class required you to memorize a hundred dates in
history and concentrated on stupid divisions like "US History" as a
separate subject from "World History" and did things like talk about the
30 years war without mentioning the rest of the planet, then yes, that
class was almost certainly a waste of time. *ALL* of my history classes
in school were complete and utter wastes of time and I can honestly say
that in all the history classes I ever took I never learned a single
new thing. this is the norm for anyone with even a passing interest in
history. As far as I can tell, History classes are designed with the
sole intent of making sure students have any interest in History driven
out of them at the earliest possible age.
But at least you know that there was such a thing as the past and the maybe
story of that is history.
One can live without knowing history or geography but then the living standards
would be very low.
For example, in the tribal belt where my India home exists, the locals would
ask where I came from. When I said "Australia" they asked how far was it away
from Jamshedpur, the nearest town. For them, the world beyond Jamshedpur need
not exist. They are right in their way - for umpteen generations they have
managed this way. It so happens that their children are not that content and
so, seek to know a lot more.
Post by Lewis
If your geography class required you to learn about the grain production
of a country more than 1/4th of the world away from you, then yes, it
was a waste of time.
Oh I don't know. When I came to US in 1987 I saw some blacks in uniform who
beamed at me. Now, what I had read in the Geography book "Lands and Life" was
that US blacks (Sambo of the cotton fields) worked on cotton plantations and
ate margarine. Things have looked up for them, I thought. See, one can place
markers in progress when one studies apparently useless things. There is
nothing really useless about any education - somehow they manage to make
some use for the student, often in unexpected ways.
Post by Lewis
SOME history, in context, is good to know. A basic understanding of
geography and maps is also good to know. A basic foundation in
elementary math. Sure.
Do you need to know the date the Magna Carta was signed? Not unless
you're going on a quiz show. Should you know withing a hundred years and
maybe know the circumstances that led to it? That could be a god thing
to know. Knowing that Caesar was assassinated by Brutus and Cassius comes
up enough in Western Culture that you should probably know it. Knowing
the Caesar defeated Pompey the Younger on 17 March 45 BCE is useless
knowledge (again, unless you're on a quiz show).
No, dates are very useful for they manage to place things in sequence, provide
causality, create grounds for comparisons of events in other lands, etc.
Post by Lewis
English is poorly (and often improperly and incorrectly) taught in
general, and tends to lean on old-fashioned ideas that only exist inside
of schools with little regard for how the language actually works.
English classes should focus far more on communication skills and far
less on idiocy like trying to tell student 'decimate' means reduce by
1/10th when everyone, including the teacher, knows what it actually
means, and it's not that.
Post by Peter Moylan Post by Lewis
Memorizing the quadratic equation is neither thinking nor reasoning.
I think you are rather thinking of memorising the formula for the roots
of the equation. That, I agree, is petty detail. What is important about
the topic is understanding the general behaviour of quadratic functions,
How is that at all important to anyone outside of engineering? When does
that come up in your daily live?
Post by Peter Moylan
and how they appear in nature. The formula for the roots can easily be
re-derived if one has need of it. The mental exercise of deriving it is
more important to one's personal growth than the end result.
How do you figure that unless you define personal growth as "knowing how
to solve quadratics"
Math beyond the most basic algebra (and I really do mean the most basic
x+4=10; x=10-4; x=6 level of algebra) is a waste of time for most students.
The students it is not a waste of time for will be happy to take their
classes without people who hate math and have no affinity for it
dragging the class back.
If fewer students were force-fed math subjects they never use in life
(and know damn well they will never use), fewer students would hate math
and be completely resistant to the small bit of math that is actually
useful. That is, teach less required math would improve the overall math
knowledge of the population.
We all need help with our feelings. Otherwise, we bottle them up, and
before you know it powerful laxatives are involved.