Morning Ed: Education {2017.10.18.W}

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Ed6 [medieval and racial enthusiasts]: I don’t know much about that debate other than what Jane the Actuary recounts, but as usual, I’ll still offer some thoughts.

    If white supremacists use medieval imagery or other medieval tropes, it’s probably (I imagine) to evoke some sort of imagined past, probably one focused on the supposed proto-democratic institutions of the the German tribes or the Angles and Saxons, or one focused on the romanticized militarism of the knights Templar. Or whatever. Perhaps white supremacists expand their use of medieval tropes by identifying the romantic-seeming notions of feudalism. (By “romanticized” and “romantic,” I mean something more like “hearkens wistfully to a bygone time” and not “romantic love story.”)

    What role should medievalists play in counteracting that notion? In part, that’s a question of how and in what ways academics should use their position to fight the power. Good luck with that. If denunciations stray too far from the purpose of the class, anyone not tempted by white supremacism will just be part of the choir and anyone tempted to white supremacism will probably use such denunciations as further proof about “liberal” college professors. And to be sure maybe a small number will be swayed by the professors’ denunciations.

    But in part, it’s also a question of disabusing students of their own romanticized notions of what life was like in the middle ages. Some hints: It wasn’t very fun. It was dirty. It was violent. It was poverty. The cultures of knights were cultures of protection rackets. Practices such as weregilds, older versions of the jury, and honor cultures–they served a function in their societies, but they were just as likely to be a compromise way to address endemic feuds between families and clans.Report

    • The post Where Do the “White Middle Ages” Come From? goes into some detail to answer its title question.

      In brief, the European interest in tis Middle Ages developed at the same time, and as a support for the development of Enlightenment thinkers about race and supposed racial characteristics. So the origin of Middle Ages studies carries this legacy and it has permeated the popular cultural understanding of the period ever since.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      In one of the Vorkosigian novels by Bujold, one of the main characters notes (Vor being, basically, aristocrats):

      “I know girls who pine for it. They like to play dress-up and pretend being Vor ladies of old, rescued from menace by romantic Vor youths. For some reason they never play ‘dying in childbirth’, or ‘vomiting your guts out from the red dysentery’, or ‘weaving till you go blind and crippled from arthritis and dye poisoning’, or ‘infanticide’. Well, they do die romantically of disease sometimes, but somehow it’s always an illness that makes you interestingly pale and everyone sorry and doesn’t involve losing bowel control.”


      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

        Bujold took a lot of digs at princess fantasies in the Vor books, but that was one of the best.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I recommended those to my mom, a huge fantasy and sci-fi fan. She hated them. I almost disowned her.

          Thankfully, I realized her interests were in world-building, and not characterizations. I admit, the background of the Vor novels exist solely for characters to interact. It’s pretty light on world building.

          So I recommended PC Hodgell’s God Stalk to her and she forgave me. Still, my faith in her literary taste has been deeply wounded….:)Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I think that a lot of the issues we see about romance and sex in modern Western society is a result of people trying to have it both ways, the fantasy of enforced gentility of the pre-Sexual Revolution era when men were men and women and women and the freedom of modernity. You really can’t have it both ways though.Report

          • veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

            You can with a nice dose of bdsm.Report

            • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

              @veronica-d I was all ready to be “hey, don’t tell @LeeEsq…” and then I read his comment you were responding to.

              And I was all “Fair point.”

              (As a total aside, all about me, this is why I always read every comment *in context*…)Report

              • veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

                In my case, when I started dating my current kinda-primary, I told her I was 100% cool with playing a “male” gender role, in particular in the bedroom, but also to some degree in our relationship structure. We’re still women. We still seek a kind of equality. We’re certainly “modern.” But roles can be nice when freely chosen. They give structure. Plus, the libido wants what the libido wants.Report

              • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

                @veronica-d I’m not advocating this as an approach – I wouldn’t even say it myself these days except in telling a story about a particular time and place (I’m less invested in making people angry than I used to be) – but when I was in my late teens, living in Montreal, I used to really piss off a lot of people all over the political spectrum by insisting that I was perfectly fine with relationships where the people filled traditional gender roles because they thought they were ordained by God. “Hey, if your kink is okay, your kink is *okay*. Who am I to complain?” Generally speaking, those people were more peeved about this characterization than anyone else, except a couple of the hard-core 24/7 submissives I knew (I didn’t tend to talk to 24/7 doms much). ‘Course a few more of those 24/7 submissives thought it was hilarious, so :D.

                Stuff like bathroom bills has done a whole lot to erode the cheerful veneer to my still-extant live and let live attitude on these matters, of course… though the anti-prop-8 mormon polygamists (the chill kind, not the creepy cult kind) did remind me that I did used to be cheerful about it once.

                Nowadays I will happily settle for people being kind to one another (legislatively and otherwise), even if it means I keep my snark on a leash most of the time.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

                @maribou — Oh I’m all for people who want a trad relationships to have one, as long as it is freely chosen. That said, a controlling abusive jerk is a controlling abusive jerk. But then, I don’t care which scripture an abuser pretends to follow. After all, social justice space has plenty of abusive controlling people.

                The question is, is a person trapped in their situation? Abusers make it hard to leave, and if threats of hellfire prove inadequate to control, is violence far behind? If god said your partner is your property…Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    Ed1: I would say that we are also more lenient on boys being anti-intellectual and this includes people on the left. For the past year or so, I have been seeing a meme on the facebook that features a middle-aged dude doing some expert craftsmenship. The text of the picture says “Not everyone is meant to be a lawyer or a doctor, teach kids to work with their hands.” Now it is true that not everyone is meant to be a lawyer or doctor but I find it interesting that the image in these memes is always a middle-aged dude doing carpentry type of work. They don’t ever feature a woman doing ceramics or carpentry. Maybe I was an uncommonly bookish boy but it seems that the we just sort of expect a lot of boys to be restless in the classroom and to lack the discipline to sit down.

    Ed2: I don’t have a fear of math. I just hate this current emphasis on STEM uber allies. I’ve seen some people on the net talk about STEAM (which still takes out the humanities) but these are just individuals. I’ve yet to see politicians or the other influencers of academic policy talk about STEAM. I also don’t think politicians mean STEAM. They probably just mean Technology and Engineering but that doesn’t sound good. The emphasis on STEM is not about producing a country filled with people with intellectual interests, it is about producing a country filled with people who can come up with the latest unicorn tech company or work for the unicorn tech companies. It should also be noted that lots of anti-democratic and authoritarian countries focus their education systems on STEM, STEM, and more STEM.

    Ed3: The problem is that school-quality is the least political of all the factors mentioned in the article (though the ways we try and fix school quality are highly ideological). The others go to deeply-held beliefs and require potential revisions.

    Ed5: Here is my dark theory and it relates to Ed2. We are wealthy enough as a nation/world to produce a lot of kids who are really into intellectual pursuits. We are wealthy enough as a nation/world to have ways for these kids to achieve advanced educations in their fields of choice/passion. However, we are not wealthy enough as a nation/world (or intellectual enough) to actually provide ways for these kids to earn livings in academics. The question is then what do we do. Do we have an aggressively utilitarian form of education that stresses the point is to make a living, not to learn. If you took all the academic kids and turned them into MBAs, would it decrease the value of an MBA.

    My girlfriend is an immigrant and so are most of her friends. A lot of them are still surprised that: 1. You can major in theatre in American colleges and universities; and 2. That my parents let me major in drama and then amble my way to law school with a quasi-Bohemian and not very career growth oriented 20s.

    I guess a lot of parents take a lot more proactive steps in making sure their kids are set up for upper-middle class professional life and that it is kind of shocking to see the “you will get their eventually” philosophy in action.

    I’m still sort of amazed at 18 year olds who declare that they want to major in accounting and finance. Partially because how can an 18 year old have their shit together so much and also because there is still a large part of me that looks at finance and accounting and thinks “how boring.”

    A lot of people are amazed at how much I know about history, literature, and art. They also can tell me stuff like “If you took all that energy and interest and turned it to finance, you would be very rich!!!!”Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The emphasis on STEM is not about producing a country filled with people with intellectual interests, it is about producing a country filled with people who can come up with the latest unicorn tech company or work for the unicorn tech companies.

      While I can agree that an overwhelming emphasis on STEM is probably not the best approach, America has serious problems with Math literacy, so from that point alone we should support STEM efforts. As to why governments would boost STEM over other academics, one only has to look at economics. New tech will drive economic growth much more aggressively and reliably than whatever kinds of business a liberal arts education permits, especially in an ever increasingly technological society.

      This is not to discount the value of liberal arts education (and I am fully supportive of liberal arts breadth and depth requirements for STEM students), since those education paths can greatly improve the economic impact of whatever new tech the STEM people come up with. But a couple of guys with BAs in History are a lot less likely[1] to give birth to a multi-million dollar company than a couple of guys with BSs in a STEM field.

      [1] Not that it can’t happen, only that it’s less likely. Alternatively, if the History majors get professional degrees (e.g. JDs), or other education or experience, the ability to birth a successful company goes up. But a History degree by itself does not prepare a person to generate large amounts of economic activity. PS My wife has a BA in History, and there is a reason she got the MS in Library Science, and has spent a decade learning the business ropes at the Lazy B.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I still think tales of the underemployed English major are wildly off-base. Most people with arts and humanities degrees do end up in jobs besides food server, bartender, or barista. They usually take your wifes path or something similar to it. Now a lot of them might also end up in paths that are not necessarily profit makers and this might or might not cause resentiment. A friend who studied art in college became an art therapist and now works for a non-profit. Not exactly capitalism but far from a waiter too.

        Not everyone can be an entrepreneur and we can’t have big businesses without support staff/employee. There would be no unicorns if everyone was on a “eat what you kill” kind of salary scheme or a independent yeoperson but our educational philosophy rejects this.

        I agree with you on the technological side but my inner romantic still doesn’t like it and still resents the engineers who constantly sneer about arts kids being unintelligent.Report

    • Most of the policy people are focused on the wrong thing. The “scary” thing isn’t (for example) that China has so many more STEM students/graduates than the US. The scary thing is that China puts them to work as engineers and researchers and technical assistants after they graduate. And not as financial engineers designing the latest high-frequency trading pattern analysis algorithms. If companies in the US are hiring enough engineers and researchers at sane pay levels, the education system will produce enough STEM graduates.

      The US policy people that simply say we have to produce more graduates are pushing on a string, which seldom accomplishes anything useful.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “I would say that we are also more lenient on boys being anti-intellectual and this includes people on the left.”

      Only insofar as we’re more lenient on boys for everything traditionally masculine (which includes working outside the home), and girls are expected to settle for second-best or invisibility. (Or in the case of non-college-readiness, service jobs or homemaking.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

        How long did we tell women that they shouldn’t… COULDN’T… work?Report

        • Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

          @kazzy Depends on who “we” is, right? I’ve actually had shade thrown directly at me (in my younger days) for not having kids and not staying home. It was so rare as to be startling, usually from older folks back where I grew up, occasionally from my mother-in-law’s friends (who got a tongue-lashing from my mother-in-law when it happened), but not non-existent. I know my mom’s decision to go back to work with 3 small kids was frowned upon by many (even the ones who knew my dad was chronically unemployed and her other option was to accept social welfare and a lowered standard of living for all of us).

          OTOH (and not suggesting that you, Kazzy, thought so), I also didn’t mean to imply that homemaking / child-rearing isn’t work. It sure as shooting is. I just think the reason all those ads feature middle-aged men doesn’t have much to do with lowered expectations for *boys*.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:


            Oh yes, I agree. I was less than clear.

            I understood Saul’s argument to be that we give men lattitude to be “anti-intellectual” but not woman.

            I think that’s a gross misinterpretation of the phenomenon. Women are excluded for many reasons but its not because we exclusively demand intellectualism from them.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

        Only insofar as we’re more lenient on boys for everything traditionally masculine (which includes working outside the home), and girls are expected to settle for second-best or invisibility. (Or in the case of non-college-readiness, service jobs or homemaking.)

        I found myself thinking that, especially reading the part: The fact that boys are struggling around the world means that too many schools are designed with a bias for girls. Too many teachers prefer compliance over competition, quiet diligence over risk-taking, and on average that leads to schools that are more comfortable for girls than for boys in every time zone.

        I seriously disagree with almost every implication of that. There is nothing in biology that makes women more ‘compliant’ or ‘diligent’, or men more ‘competitive’, or ‘risk-taking’.(1) Almost none of that is biology, and certainly none of it is biology before the hormones show up. (And the hormonal effects should be reduced by sex segregation.)

        Some of that is merely based off what we teach the different genders, and the rest is, frankly, the bullshit we let little boys get away with while policing little girls. Oh, you mean that years of adults telling little girls to sit there politely while little boys are allowed to run around yelling might, in fact, result in little girls sitting politely at school and little boys trying to run around yelling at school? I am totally in shock.

        The article weirdly seems to understand this, but think the solution is…we should operate schools in such a way that we don’t need little boys to behave.

        Instead…perhaps outside of school, we should try policing little boys a bit more and little girls a bit less…or at least more often (As in, ever.) and less often, respectively. And then we’d end up with basically the same sort of pupils from both, and then perhaps we should attempt to build a learning environment for them that actually allows some level of creativity and freedom while still having structure.

        Or we can just diagnosis a bunch of the boys, who’ve never had to sit still in their entire life for more than an hour without a TV in front of them, and thus fail to do that for three hours straight every day, with ADHD, I guess. That works too. (Please note, before anyone assumes I am one of those ‘ADHD deniers’ or whatever you want to call them…I had ADHD as a kid, the actual thing. It is real. Doesn’t mean I can’t think it’s way over-diagnosed.)

        1) Perhaps they have confused ‘gender’ with ‘Hufflepuff’ and ‘Gryffindor’.Report

  3. Oscar Gordon says:

    Ed2: Preach it! Seriously, mathematical literacy is just as important as language (reading & writing) literacy. Not everyone needs to understand Calculus, but algebra and statistics should be the minimum. Also, if you look at pedagogy, historically you’ll see lots of effort put into helping kids figure out how to learn to read and write, and that kids learn these skills in different ways. But math has always been taught one way, and one way only. It’s only very recently that schools are trying different approaches to teaching math, and it isn’t universal yet.

    Ed8: Probably true, but I bet one or two faculty who encourage extreme behavior have a considerable magnifying effect.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Oscar Gordon:
      Also, if you look at pedagogy, historically you’ll see lots of effort put into helping kids figure out how to learn to read and write, and that kids learn these skills in different ways.But math has always been taught one way, and one way only.It’s only very recently that schools are trying different approaches to teaching math, and it isn’t universal yet.

      Right, but the linked article seems to go almost out of its way to avoid covering that part of the issue. Instead, its premise is that with drills and more drills – though also with more positive reinforcement during the cycle – people can get better at math despite their preconceptions. It’s “the Secret” or “Gorilla Mindset” except with math.Report

    • But math has always been taught one way, and one way only.

      Hey, what about New Math? You may not be old enough to remember parents screaming because they couldn’t help their first- and second-graders with their math homework.

      Let’s be honest. For a very long time, the goal of the schools for most students was to teach them basic algorithms: enough to be four-function calculators, enough familiarity with ratios to do practical things like rise-over-run for plumbing, and so on. Long division was taught one way because there were hundreds of years of experience demonstrating that that notational approach, once mastered, resulted in fewer errors than anything else. When New Math came along and said, “No, let’s teach them the underpinnings, like set theory,” there was a revolt.

      The need for human four-function calculators is gone. (For that matter, the need for humans who can do symbolic differentiation and integration is also gone. Mathematica is better at it than you or I ever were.) That leaves a big hole in what to teach for a period each school day between filling in the number line and, say, basic probability and statistics.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:


        Which is why, once I recognized (i.e. had explained to me) what Common Core math was trying to do, I got behind it.

        I don’t need to work out the answer by hand any more. What I do need to be able to do is understand what information I need to extract from a data set and what mathematical tools will allow me to do so (and how to utilize those tools). In the same vein, understanding how mathematical tools allow me to extract useful information from data lets me identify if the information I have been presented with is actually useful, or if I drill down further, I can examine whether or not the data itself was acquired and treated properly, or if I am faced with a GIGO problem.Report

      • fillyjonk in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I don’t remember which iteration of New Math was in play circa 1978-1979, but I still feel a simmering resentment at being kept in from recess several days until I could demonstrate I could do long division in the goofy “grouping by tens and then ones” way rather than the perfectly-logical traditional way my mother had taught me the summer before.

        What made me so outraged was twofold:
        1. I could get the correct answer, why did anyone give a flip how I got there?
        2. The New Math way took about twice as long to do and involved more writing* and it felt like “Why am I doing this when I can do the way Mom taught me and get the right answer?”

        The teacher I had that year was generally good but she had a blind spot a mile wide when it came to that sort of thing. (In fifth grade, the math teacher said on the first day, “I’m close to retirement and I don’t care any more, I’m not teaching you New Math” and I almost got up and cheered because FINALLY the way I learned something was being respected)

        * In retrospect, I probably had something like dysgraphia but no one ever diagnosed it. I hated writing, it HURT to write, and my handwriting was horrible. In fact, I was kept out of a gifted-and-talented program I might have been admitted to because one of my regular teachers said “she needs to spend that time working on her handwriting.”

        My handwriting is still terrible so I type everything.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to fillyjonk says:

          This is something I will be watching for as Bug progresses through Math. I want teachers to introduce kids to multiple ways to approach a problem. I don’t want the teachers to insist that the kids become proficient in them all. If they can, great, but if one method clicks and the others don’t, don’t waste time trying to get other methods to click.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to fillyjonk says:

          My handwriting is still terrible so I type everything.

          My wife has been known to describe my cursive as, “It gives the appearance of great neatness.” My response tends towards “It has the right number of humps, the right number of ascenders and descenders, there are the correct number of dots for i’s and j’s. Here, look at ‘aluminum’. A, l, a tidy squiggle with thirteen uniformly spaced humps, and a dot over one of the humps. What more could anyone want?”Report

  4. InMD says:

    Ed2- Americans have an unusual fear of math because we’re bad at teaching it and the stakes of failure at any point in our education system are ever higher.

    Ed6- The call to condemn as usual is misdirected and its absurd to ask academics to virtue signal for no reason other than showing solidarity with a particular perspective about the current political climate. The way to disabuse anyone of fantastical ideas about medieval Europe is with facts about these societies, none of which bore much resemblance to popular imagination. Neo-Nazis and other fringe movements already traffic in fantasy anyway and I doubt many of them have much of a presence on college campuses where these denunciations would occur.

    I’ve seen this kind of thing come up in the heavy metal world where certain subgenres of power metal and folk metal have become popular in Neo-Nazi circles even though there’s nothing inherently racist about the music. Just because some noxious group likes a particular thing doesn’t obligate others who enjoy or study that particular thing to disavow them. I’ll never understand how all this Mcarthyite guilt by association crap has gotten so popular in our society.Report

  5. Pinky says:

    Ed6: Fulton Brown gets the better of Kim in this exchange. Medieval Europe was not preoccupied by race, nor was it an era of racial purity. I don’t know that anyone who has studied the era believes those things. If you want to challenge those ideas, simply teach Medieval Europe as it was. Not degrading it, not framing it in modern thinking, but explaining how its people thought.

    For my part, I’m not familiar with this myth-making about the Middle Ages among the white racists. I know there was a whole Nazi / Nordic thing, but that’s it. The philosophical alt-right has doubts about democracy. The funny thing is that, paradoxically, their presence in the past election has given me some concerns about democracy too.Report

    • InMD in reply to Pinky says:

      Medieval Europe was not preoccupied by race, nor was it an era of racial purity

      One of the more pernicious, ahistorical, and stupid aspects of our cultural moment is the tendency to view everything through the lense of racial politics in modern America.Report

      • Pinky in reply to InMD says:

        The pinnacle of achievement in studying history is being able to think as the people you’re studying. Budding lawyers have to learn to think like a lawyer, and poets like a poet, but a historian can aspire to something beyond simply thinking as a member of his profession. The trick is to learn to shift paradigms. There’s so much plaque stuck on the modern mind when it comes to race that it takes a serious effort to remove it.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky says:

      In medieval Europe preoccupation over religious differences left no room for race.Report

  6. Kolohe says:

    Ed2 – I haven’t seen We Need to Copy Japapnese Pedagogical Practices advocacy in a long time. A long time. And I can’t think of of a way that would make more people hate Math class even more than to follow this advice.Report

  7. aaron david says:

    Ed2 – One of the problems with math ed in the US is that it is taught by people who think “math is soooo cooool.” Math isn’t hard, but it isn’t interesting either. I love literature, history, the arts to a certain degree. Not everyone does though. But because there is so much variety of these topics – poetry, heavy metal, slasher films, SF and on and on and on, there are much greater means of entry into these fields. I could be wrong, but I’m not seeing it with math. There is only one way in, then building blocks to get further. And if you miss a step, you are kinda hosed if the teacher doesn’t doesn’ have the time to go back and work directly with you.

    Or doesn’t want to.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to aaron david says:

      The fun / interesting payoff for being good at math is much farther into the future than it is for reading.

      I also think that this is one of the reasons for booms in CS majors coinciding with shrinking math departments. They both use the same type of brain that gets excited over the same type of thing, but the fun payoff for CS is really early with minimal effort while those same types of rewards in a math program require more discipline and come in more spread out bursts. You can have a blast doing basic programming stuff in your early teens well before you’re doing anything actually interesting in math beyond laying the foundation.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        That is all well and true, but it speaks to one other part of the problem.

        One has to find programming, and its rewards, interesting.

        @veronica-d @oscar-gordon @troublesome-frog @stillwater

        All of your comments get back to one part of my post, the “sooo coool” bit, and when rewards arrive. If during instruction, there are no rewards that are perceived as such by a student, and the substitue rewards (programming) are not perceived as such, then there is a big disconnect. All of you are expressing an opinion, one that I don’t share.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to aaron david says:


          Listen, I get where you are coming from. Math was pure drudgery to me in grade and high school. If I hadn’t developed such a love of physics (we had no computer for me to learn coding on – poor family and all that), I would have never stuck with trying to learn math beyond what was required to get a diploma.

          But I want you to recognize that your point, that the reward is too far away, is not intrinsic to the subject, but a result of the pedagogy. The reward can be immediate, but the curriculum has to be designed so that it is, and when all you need is for a student to be a four function calculator, the pedagogy can be crap.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to aaron david says:

          All of you are expressing an opinion, one that I don’t share.

          Folks aren’t expressing opinions here but facts. Including you. Oscar, TFrog, VD all find math interesting. You and Saul don’t. The opinion part is a) whether it’s wise to encourage kids to pursue mathematics and b) how to make it more interesting to them during their early education. Those seem like worthwhile topics to debate. Unless, as your comments sorta imply, certain people’s interests – like your love of literature and apathy re: math – are more-or-less hardwired into their brains. But that seems like a pretty strong claim to make in response to a change in emphasis in our basic educational framework.Report

          • Unless… certain people’s interests – like your love of literature and apathy re: math – are more-or-less hardwired into their brains.

            Personally, I suspect that to some degree this is true. Quoting my sister, speaking about me, “Well, yes, it’s probably a mental illness. But it’s a useful mental illness, so we’re not trying to fix him.” Or my graduate school roommate, apologizing for my behavior at the dorm dinner table, “He’s just got a math problem he hasn’t solved stuck in his head. He’ll figure it out over the next couple of days and be all better.”Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to aaron david says:

      I disagree, math is very interesting, but only when given context. Learning Algebra for it’s own sake is boring as hell. Learning Algebra because it helps you solve problems is exciting.

      Of course, this takes us into the whole, “That’s why we have story problems” territory, which, quite honestly, is hysterical. Story problems as presented in Math texts are often poorly worded and lack sufficient information to make the exercise anything more than annoying drudgery.

      My Calc1 professor was brilliant at giving context to math. We’d go over the math for math sake stuff during lecture (how to work a derivative or an integral, etc.), but before each lesson set (a lesson set was about 2 weeks), he’d hand out a project. It was a single real world example problem to solve that had multiple parts to it, each related to the topics covered in class, as well as requiring math skills we should have learned by this point (Algebra, Trig, etc.). By the end of the lesson set, you would know everything you needed to finish the project, and if you were smart, after each lecture, you’d read over the project again and see where what you learned today moved you further along toward completion. He also wasn’t opposed to having the solution from a previous project feed into a future project.

      The man must have spent many hours working out the details of these projects so that they’d be useful to his students, and man did they make Calc 1 one of my favorite math classes.Report

    • veronica d in reply to aaron david says:

      @aaron-david — What do you mean math isn’t interesting? That’s a strange thing to say, as math is profoundly fascinating.Report

      • aaron david in reply to veronica d says:

        Not even a little bit, too me. Emphasis on the me. I have a good friend whose brother has a doctorate in Math and is a professor now. My friend, much like me, has zero interest in it. He is a luthier. My dad, with a doctorate in genetics, never found math interesting either. While you find it fascinating, that is not a universal feeling. Witness Saul above.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to aaron david says:

          Ahh. This makes sense of your earlier claim. Initially you said “math … isn’t interesting” as if that were just an objective fact. What you really meant to say is that you, and lots of other people find it uninteresting. Which is pretty obviously true.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to aaron david says:

          As I said above, I think a lot of that has to do with how it was taught to our generation, especially in primary school (see Brother Cain’s comment).Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:

          There was allegedly a luthier in the East Village who could fix any instrument but would require you read his manifesto in exchange.

          Someone I went to law school with had a dad who was a luthier of legendary reputation and a bit of a East Bay legend. His guitars sold for 5 figures. She was rather straight-laced compared to her hippie parents.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d says:

        I’m on Aaron’s side here but this might just be that old issue of the “two cultures” coming up again. A friend from undergrad has a science PhD and is also a world-class musician. But I’ve never really been able to get into the STEM fields. My parents tried. They would send me to science camp and have science-themed birthday parties but I was an art kid and I always preferred social studies/history, literature, and arts classes.

        I’ve had people say to me that they think I have the hallmarks of being a good scientist because of my curiosity and this might be true but my dreams of academia were always about being a professor in seminar discussing history or literature or theatre. Not being in a lab.

        My favorite aspects of practicing law involve legal research but what I like is the malleability and play aspects. My interactions with engineers is that they generally find lawyers maddening because we don’t work in absolutes but shades of gray and like this.Report

        • veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          @saul-degraw — Do you find that true of the engineers here? certainly I have met the “rigid thinking” types before. I suspect that lack life experience.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d says:

            Not completely. I’m obviously a lot more arts mad than many people and have trouble with passive entertainment. I’m not the kind of person that can use the TV as background noise or for semi-paying attention. This causes me some grief in interpersonal relationships. I suppose the intensity is something I have in common with engineers. But it just runs in different directions. They my features as bugs and I see their features as bugs. I see their bugs as features and see my bugs as features.

            So I wonder how much of the clash comes down to this, intense interests running in opposite directions.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to aaron david says:

      Math isn’t hard, but it isn’t interesting either.

      Arithmetic (the third R) might easy and uninteresting, but mathematics is hard and very interesting.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to aaron david says:

      The teaching of math bellow the university level is divorced from any real world application. Its entirely abstract. I don’t remember any lessons about how algebra, trigonometry, or calculus gets used in the real world. It could be different now or it could be different at other schools but somehow I doubt it. Teaching math might go easier if it students learn some of the practical applications of what they are learning.Report

    • FortyTwo in reply to aaron david says:

      Math is interesting to me.Report

  8. Oscar Gordon says:

    Speaking of math literacy being important outside of the sciences.Report