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Monday, October 21, 2013

Tales From The Classroom

("Tales from the Classroom" is a new feature posted occasionally here at this blog.  All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge.  The following tale relates the story of something that occurred in September 2013)

Student A decided to help her classmate Student B. Both students, graduates from high school last June, attend a community college, the credits from which are accepted at all universities in the state of Virginia. Student A and Student B are enrolled in a precalculus course.

Upon helping Student B for a few minutes, Student A discerned that Student B's mathematics skills were woefully inadequate for embarking upon a study of precalculus.

Student A (frowning with dismay): What math courses did you take in high school?

Student B (cheerfully): I had a hard time with Algebra I.  Next, I tried Algebra II, but I failed.  I took a class in function and did okay with that.  I'm taking calculus now because I heard that calculus was easier.

A few weeks later, the day of the midterm exam...

Student B (euphorically): I'm going to get an A on this exam.  My fourth grade sister tutored me over the weekend.

A community-college adviser's signature was necessary for each student's admission to classes, and many courses have prerequisites.  Nevertheless, the precalculus class in which Student A and Student B are enrolled contains many students clearly incompetent to undertake the study of mathematics at that level — nearly half the class mired in this predicament.  Concepts which stump the students include exponents (what they are called and how to work with them) and substituting a value for a variable.

The professor, seasoned but not close to retirement, is at a loss as to what to do.  If he fails half the class, he likely loses his job and all benefits connected thereto.  If he doesn't fulfill the requirements for the course, none of the students in the class will have the tools they need for their later studies in mathematics.

Thus we see the state of American education today.


  1. My girls and I have hit the white board many times over the years over math... once it was over biology when my eldest daughter had trouble with the Punnett Square. I showed her how easy it could be and she went and taught a bunch of her friends.

    My big bugaboo is when teachers make subjects harder than they really are and scare kids away.

  2. It is not unusual for high school teachers and instructors in community colleges to receive this warning: either increase your pass rate, or start looking for another job. There is not one aspect of our public education system worth keeping. Not one thing.

  3. You bring back painful memories. Math was my Waterloo. Did I really need to know if train A let at x time going a certain time going east and train B left going west ... When would the meet if going different speeds. A bit off your point, but do we all need to be able to do all of this? College required a number of credits in math and it was a brutal experience. For my Masters Statistics were required. Never used it.

  4. Stop worrying, my friend. They should just keep passing the ignorants to the next level. It doen't matter anymore. These young people will all end up being part-time hamburger flippers anyway.

    Sorry, but I'm not feeling very optimistic today.

  5. Ain't it AWFUL?

    Time to lie down in the middle of an interstate and wait eagerly to be crushed to death, right? Either that or go jump off the nearest suspension bridge or tall building.

    Life is a game no one can win. No ever gets out of it alive, do they?

    Therefore we can draw only one conclusion.


    A cursory inspection of history reveals that all our efforts and achievements have been in vain -- a great waste of time.

    Its long past time for humanity to become EXTINCT.

    We STINK.

  6. Funny thing about calculus. It is fussy and difficult, but hard work will pull one through. The funny part are the many boys who barely made it in high school that go on into engineering and shine. A definite phenomenon that none of my teacher friends can explain. Could it just be the practicality and the challenge?

  7. It all depends in whether you are left-brained or right-brained, BB.

    Humanity is either practically and scientifically bent, or they are artistic, intuitive, creative, romantic and visionary.

    Certain protean figures -- I think we call them "polymaths" today -- seem to have it all -- NOTHING seems beyond the scope of their intelligence.

    HOWEVER, such men of genius qualify as "freaks", and often find it all-but -impossible to adjust to the realities of day-to-day existence wih lesser beings.

    Why we tend to ascribe "masculinity" to the practical, scientific sort and "femininity" to the other is a mystery -- and probably a notion based on ignorance and superstition, yet it seems by and large to be true, although true artists are usually anything but effeminate.

  8. The weird thing is, math seems to be getting more difficult at school. Concepts are introduced sooner, more technical terms are used, and the word problems require more steps. Like in this fcat sample for 6th grade:


    Now my memory isn't perfect, but I don't remember this level of complexity until high school. For example using "3x" is an algebraic denotation I didn't encounter until 9th grade algebra. In 6 -8th grade we were still practicing on a more basic level. Yes the concepts were the same--rates, means, averages, fractions, decimals, perentages, basic geometry, etc, but somehow their expressions are more convoluted now. Does your (more comprehensive) experience jive with my memory? (I graduated high school in '89.)

    So ironically, even though math curricula are more rigorous now, the schools are churning out clueless specimens like student B above. It looks as though the more difficult curricula don't work, because it doesn't teach to the child's level. Thus, he never gets the basic understanding needed before mastering the higher level classes.

    Student B's situation is worse than not understanding math. She doesn't seem to get that she doesn't get math. Ignorance of her own ignorance.

    What a mess.

  9. FT, prior to retirement years ago, I usually tested about 50-50 on the left-right
    brain thing. Probably why before college, I toyed with priesthood, history, art,
    architecture, geology and paleontology. (and ended up a chemist). So I retook a test and find: 60-left and 40-right and for what it's worth:
    " Left Brain Right Brain 60% 40%
    You are more left-brained than right-brained. Your left brain controls the right side of your body. In addition to being known as left-brained, you are also known as a critical thinker who uses logic and sense to collect information. You are able to retain this information through the use of numbers, words, and symbols. You usually only see parts of the "whole" picture, but this is what guides you step-by-step in a logical manner to your conclusion. Concise words, numerical and written formulas and technological systems are often forms of expression for you. Some occupations usually held by a left-brained person include a lab scientist, banker, judge, lawyer, mathematician, librarian, and skating judge."
    (I say 'for what it's worth' because though I was a good lab chemist and tech
    manager and would like being a librarian, I KNOW I would be a terrible banker,
    judge, lawyer and skating judge!) You can take the test and see what you think.

  10. Mathematics has never been my strength -- never mind that everyone on my mother's side enjoyed that particular strength.

    However, I realized that mathematics was not my strength. Therefore, I hired a private tutor for the one advanced math class I was required to take in college. I certainly never "chirped" in the inane way the Student B did.

    In math, as in certain other areas, not being able to meet the minimum standard to take a particular level is a drag on everyone in the class. Everyone! Including the teacher. Down the line, such weak or incompetent students will drag down those levels too.

    Just think of the results when that principle applies to medicine! We'll have surgeons lacking in basic anatomical knowledge operating on people.

  11. On a different subject. The Bible reads in Proverbs 15: 15 “A simple man believes every word he hears; a clever man understands the need of proof.” [NEB]. Likewise, It’s a good idea not to take at face value the claim that the word Islam means “peace.” For example, the ENCARTA WORLD ENGLISH DICTIONARY copyright 1999 defines Islam as “submission” based on the word “aslama” meaning “he surrendered.” Given the definition it’s an odd phenomenon that after about fourteen hundred years starting on September 12, 2001 the meaning changed from “submission” to “peace.” It’s very well known that if the police are questioning someone and he changes his story something is wrong. Nevertheless, when it comes to Islam no one gets suspicious of the change. The jihadists brag that they will win the war against the West by using the Western ignorance and naive gullible mindset on the subject of Islam against us. It seems that they do have some basis in that claim since so many Westerners are beguiled by the Muslim disinformation campaign.

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  13. @Bunkerville --- When would the meet if going different speeds. A bit off your point, but do we all need to be able to do all of this?
    Do we need to be able to manage discrete mathematics?
    I think so but it might not be true in your insulated world.

    1. I'm ok. I don't mix my candy at different prices so I don't care what the heck I pay per lb mixed. I just use my ten fingers anyway.

  14. This is very sad but I've heard other horror stories, so I'm not surprised. If the student couldn't do Algebra I, why would they think they could get through Algebra II and certainly not Calculus.

    Are these the same type people who created the Obamacare website???

    Right Truth


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