April 03, 2010

The real problem with modern America

The guy I stole this from stole it from somebody else. I first encountered an abbreviated version in 1989 or so on the Usenet Newsgroup alt.alt.alt.alt.alt, so it's been around awhile. It was true then, and it is just as true now:

Teaching Math through the decades

Last week a I purchased lunch at a local fast food joint for $4.58. I handed the cashier a $5 bill and started digging for some change. I pulled out 8 cents and gave it to her. She stood there with $5 and 8 cents. She looked bewildered, holding the nickel and 3 pennies in one hand while staring dumbfounded at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she burst into tears. The incident got me thinking about how our kids were learning math in school (or not).

Teaching Math In 1950: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5ths of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5ths of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1970: A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M." The set "C," the cost of production, contains 20 fewer points than set "M." Represent the set "C" as a subset of set "M." Answer this question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits?

Teaching Math In 1980: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math In 1990: By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees. (There are no wrong answers)

Teaching Math In 2000: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production including taxes, B.L.M. land-use lease fees, E.P.A. report filing fees, and O.S.H.A. inspection fees is $200. How does the I.R.S. determine that his taxable profit margin is $180?

Teaching Math in 2008: El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es ...

This is, of course, intended as a joke. Unfortunately, it is not funny to me because it illustrates all too well the basic problem we have in the modern United States: diluted education brought about through an increased emphasis on globalization.

There is a class of Americans who are disgustingly wealthy. They have more money then their families will be able to exhaust even if the next two dozen generations do not work. I envy these people greatly. There are individuals amongst them who give me no end of headache with the consequences their deep sense of guilt over their good fortune to be born into wealth produces when they become politically active.

I really hate rich people. And yet, every rich person I know personally I love dearly. These two emotions are not mutually exclusive. They are part and parcel of who I am, and also symptomatic of everything our nation is doing wrong. Too many people who are so wealthy they have no worries are terribly worried about what I think and as a result, they use their wealth to fund politicians and political agendas designed to make me like them so they can feel less guilty.

It won't work. It does not matter how much they convince the government to do, it will never be enough. What we really need is for all these elitists to stop feeling they are responsible for the welfare of all us lesser beings. They aren't. They are not responsible for what I think, how I feel, whether I have food in my cupboard, or whether I go broke after having a heart attack and being forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in health care. It is not their responsibility to see to it that my life improves. It is my responsibility and mine alone.

And, like it or not, the same goes for you and your life, regardless of what kind of economic situation you were born into.

When I was a young man I believed we needed more social safety nets. I am not a young man anymore. Now I look out at obese people with wide-screen televisions, 300-channel satellite packages, warm homes, and running water, who spend their days writing to their political representatives begging for the government to do something about their lack of a job, the poor quality of all those television channels, or their kids being picked on at school, and all I can summon up in response is a profound nausea.

Schools should not be teaching morality. School textbooks should not be trying to introduce political sensitivity into every subject they teach. School teachers need to stop worrying about their own political agenda and start worrying about developing in their students the real skills they will need to function in a world of computers, hybrid automobiles, and space tourism. We need to stop preparing students who will become politically conscious adults with a burden for the poor and go back to preparing students to become engineers, rocket service technicians, flight line mechanics, and automotive diagnosticians.

Our children do not need an overactive conscience. Our children need real-world skills in mathematics, history, reading, composition, and critical thinking.