Tuesday, March 10, 2015

English Majors of the Math World

As you know I largely loathe and despise English teachers.  It is nothing short of child abuse that we force millions of children every year to essentially sit in a prison, 9 months a year, and learn a language they already know.

Yes, I know grades K-4 are necessary to learn to read and write. 
Yes, I know things like penmanship, reading and writing are necessary to become effective communicators in the real world.

But the mental abuse (post 4th grade) of forcing children to learn obsolete, unnecessary, and idiotic things like "dangling participles," "dipthongs," and diagramming sentences is mere make-slavery-work-child-labor to employ (largely) 20 something girls too lazy to do math and instead chose to become English teachers.

But before we get too riled up about the all-too-common liberal arts teachers, we need to focus on math teachers.

Oh yes.

For while they may (and for all practical points and purposes do) deliver a real and needed education to the children, there is one subsegment of math that is as obsolete as learning the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

Integers
Whole Numbers
Rational Numbers
Irrational Numbers
Natural Numbers
and any other vocabulary terms anal retentive math purists foisted on otherwise unsuspecting and innocent child math geniuses

Not once, in all of my math studies, was it necessary for me to know what the hell those aforementioned things are/were.

Multivariable regression was used to program models that would predict GDP growth.
Correlation coefficients and other statistical measures used to test relationships with different economic and financial phenomena.
I've even used trig to measure the side of a roof for a shed I was building.

But never, EVER have I or anybody else ever had to know what an integer was or what a "natural" number was.

The truth is the only thing these "things" serve is to lower the test scores of math geniuses and give math teachers who can't do math something to belabor their children over for a week's worth of material and lesson plans.  No doubt there's going to be some idiot "professional educator" that's going to parrot the reason why we teach such unneeded poppy cock, and I'm sure some mathematician is going to explain the "importance" of differentiating between and integer and a "whole number."  But in the end we all know it's an unnecessary hoop we make children, math textbook publishers, and teachers jump through, wasting calories of energy that could be used studying and teaching math that actually matters and has real world applications.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite. The mathematical branch you criticize provides the basis for deductive reasoning and proof. That is, the ability to look at your multivariable regression analysis and correlation coefficients and tell you why they're crap, like global warming.

Pax Empyrean said...

These concepts are rather more important when it comes to things like writing software.

Not everyone will use them, but that holds true for most math. They aren't a total waste of time, though.

John Baker said...

As a programmer I could really get behind your plan to abolish teaching the differences between Whole Numbers, Integers, Rational, and Irrational numbers. This would greatly simplify my job! No longer would I have to worry about the fact the computer arithmetic differs in fundamental ways from school arithmetic. Programmers everywhere will rejoice to learn that as there are no important differences between Integers and Rationals we are free to use both as array indexes. As for multivariable regression models: let’s not worry about whether the underlying integrations make sense or are valid. Let’s just crunch numbers: any type will do, as Hillary Clinton is fond of saying “what difference does it make?”

John Baker said...

As a programmer I could really get behind your plan to abolish teaching the differences between Whole Numbers, Integers, Rational, and Irrational numbers. This would greatly simplify my job! No longer would I have to worry about the fact the computer arithmetic differs in fundamental ways from school arithmetic. Programmers everywhere will rejoice to learn that as there are no important differences between Integers and Rationals we are free to use both as array indexes. As for multivariable regression models: let’s not worry about whether the underlying integrations make sense or are valid. Let’s just crunch numbers: any type will do, as Hillary Clinton is fond of saying “what difference does it make?”

Mariusz Fer said...

You are wrong. As computer programmer with strong math background i can tell you that teaching kids those concept can improve reasoning about types and realtions of there of.

Same goeas for mathematical functions and etc.

Anonymous said...

Usually I would agree with you and I am someone who would like nothing better than to get rid of the public education system. However, I disagree with your rant against learning the proper way to write english and the vast possibilities of math. Should the schools stop teaching spelling because we have spell check now? It is precisely this type of attitude that the average person on the street comes across slightly better educated than trained circus animals.

Captain Capitalism said...

OK, programming fine. But wait until you're in computer programming class. Not when the kid is 8.

Doug Cranmer said...

I really have to disagree here, at least for the students who eventually end up in STEM fields. Integers, rationals, irrationals, transcendentals and imaginary numbers are used throughout applied physics and math, and engineering. Implementing an algorithm that uses real world measurements in fixed point binary arithmetic is requires a true understanding of integers and abstract fields. Think of every modern convenience you use on a daily basis. Encryption, check. Even basic circuit design requires complex numbers. Your fancy devices are all based on device physics which is quantum mechanical in nature. So again, complex numbers. Oh, and quanta, integers, and we're back home again. Respectfully, I think you're off here. For almost any STEM career.

CurbYourOptimism said...

Again, as a computer programmer some of the terms are important whereas others aren't. Knowing what an integer is is VERY important. Knowing the difference between rational vs irrational numbers and real vs imaginary is important for other fields. As for "whole numbers", "natural numbers", "counting numbers", etc, there isn't an agreed on standard for that (http://www.mathsisfun.com/whole-numbers.html). I'd toss them out and explain what they generally mean when someone mentions them, but it's not that important. You can identify them using the standard terms "positive integer" and "non-negative integer".

James Wolfe said...

Those things aren't dumb. What's dumb are the stupid ways that common core has come up with to do simple things like addition and subtraction. Drawing complicated graphs where you move an arrow backwards and forwards, leap frogging by 10's and hundreds to get to the answer is stupid as hell. As a parent who is an IT professional, a software engineer, when my kids come home with math problems with instructions that read like rocket assembly diagrams I have to ask myself what the hell are they teaching my kids? What the heck is wrong with teaching math the way we learned it? Put one number over the other, add or subtract the columns, carry the one? If you can't figure that out drawing arrows all over a piece of paper isn't going to help you.

As a software engineer, integers and decimals are very important, as well as booleans. You must understand them to do simple logic and math. Division by zero is bad. Very bad. As is trying to refer to numbers that don't exist. BOOM! I tell my kids that most of what they learn in school they will never use. And most of what they are taught by liberal professors is pure political BS. Never believe what anyone tells you, no matter how high or lofty they may be, find out the truth for yourself.

grey enlightenment said...

no one is agreeing with you cap. lol

Grammar is important

"Let's eat, dad" vs "let's eat dad" is the difference between with eating with dad and cannibalism lol

Mariusz Fer said...

"OK, programming fine. But wait until you're in computer programming class. Not when the kid is 8."

Yes and no.
Some mathematical intuition must be learned when brain is still young. I have seen ppl trying to learn this concept later and hard for them.

So not everybody will use it, but for those few kids who will it will make huge diffrence. And ofc we can't know up front if kid will use it in distant future.

For grammar it's the same. Grammar is very fucking important in programming. Math too. Attention to details.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jackass at 10:12 - what computer programmer ever learned programming in a class?!?

Taylor said...

Cappy cap, we need to learn those things for engineering too. I don't care if its 8 years old or 12 years old, it matters to know non-terminating decimals can be expressed exactly symbolically and treated in similar ways (for most intents and purposes, identically) to whole numbers and rational fractions.



Let me add that I 100% agree that these concepts should not form the PRIMARY focus of any grade or long extent of time. They're a good topic to cover as time goes on so that any high school student will know if that radical he's confronted with is an integer or an irrational number.

Ok and I also have not profited by knowing that natural numbers do not include the negatives.

Anonymous said...

The differences between positive whole numbers, negative whole numbers, and consequently, (by way of the division operation), fractions and decimals are a direct result of experiences and are barely abstract. Regardless of the particular terminology, there are necessary skills that arise from the concept of exact vs. approximate, as well as from the need to estimate via rounding. None of the above are specific to programming - most are widely applicable. That is, except to those whose existence depends on the largesse of those who do understand basic mathematics.

Most of the time your observations are reasonable, but this one is too much a reach.

Anonymous said...


It's generally true that the engineers in charge of hiring have little regard for mathematicians (i.e. people with graduate degrees in mathematics).

The mathematicians, in turn, see engineers cavalierly applying formulas they don't really understand and regard "engineering math" with a sense of derision. This willy-nilly application of formulas is often called "plug-n-chug".

Cappy might rethink shortening his degree recommendations from STEM to STE because even applied or industrial mathematicians are seen (unfairly) as nothing more than practitioners of abstract gobbledygoopy to the vast majority of engineering types that guard the way to gainful employment.

There really is little appreciation for a nuanced understanding of the fundamental concepts that underlie the applicability of the mathematical models used in various fields. Just MATLAB it and hope for the best.
In my limited experience, mathematical erudition is something that will only get you hired as a teacher.


In generations past it might have made sense to study abstract/advanced mathematics but I don't think that has panned out in modern times. Older Millennials, like me, sought math degrees because we had an older brother or cousin with one who got hired during the tech boom of the mid/late 90's. We were told that employers (particularly in engineering/computer science/software development) valued math people for their analytical skills.
Fast forward to 2008+. Even when augmented with significant programming/technology skills, I tend to think a recent maths graduate would struggle for that first job.(Caveat: This was my experience. It may not be true others.)

If you are on the M of STEM be prepared to be an Academician (or, infinitely worse, an Actuary)

Besides, graduate level programs in advanced mathematics will be among the first fall prey to the surge in online learning. Khan Academy and others
are doing a pretty good job of replicating the lower levels (undergraduate) of the Ivory Tower.

Pretty soon, you'll be able
to get a world class education in graduate level mathematics for the price of a gym membership.