Saturday, April 18, 2015

Right To Work


“There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
-Thomas Jefferson

Friday, April 17, 2015

Infinity: Why I'm Pursuing The Master's Degree That I Am

Yesterday one of my students, one who almost never engages me in conversation, asked me a question right before class was over:  he wanted to know how "infinity" could have different sizes.

My degree was in applied math, not theory.  I did calculus, differential equations, partial differential equations, separable differential equation, numerical solutions to differential equations, some math modeling (probably with differential equations), etc.  Math history, number theory, set theory, graph theory--those weren't the classes I took in college.

Interestingly, they're covered in varying degrees in the courses I'm taking for my master's degree.  Yes, I could have gone to National University and in 10 months picked up a Master's in Education with an Emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction and gotten a mambo-sized pay raise, but instead I chose to pursue a degree that would make me a better math teacher rather than just a better-paid one.  I can't fault people who did go the National (or similar) route, as they just played by the system's rules, I just want more.

And it's working.  I'm a much better statistics teacher than I was because now I have both a broader and a deeper understanding of what I teach, I can answer the "why" questions and tempt students with a taste of what university math could have in store for them.

So when this student asked me about infinity, I was able to answer his question somewhat.  I told him I'd like to review my notes and to check with me tomorrow, which was today.  Last night I consulted my notes and wrote up 2 pages of commentary and examples to show how the size of the infinity that encompasses the set of natural numbers (1, 2, 3, ...) is the same size as that of the integers or even the rational numbers, but the infinity of the set of real numbers (or even just the numbers between 0 and 1) is larger than the infinity of the natural numbers.  When my instruction was done today, he and I got together and went through the integers and rational numbers but didn't have time to go through the real numbers.  I told him if he couldn't figure out my examples by Monday, we'll meet again then and go through it.

A year ago I wouldn't have been able to answer his question, now I can.  That makes me a better math teacher.  That's why I'm getting the degree I am.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

California's Drought and Its Crazy Governor

This is from The New York Times so you liberals have to believe it:
When Gov. Jerry Brown of California imposed mandatory cutbacks in water use earlier this month in response to a severe drought, he warned that the state was facing an uncertain future. “This is the new normal,” he said, “and we’ll have to learn to cope with it.”

The drought, now in its fourth year, is by many measures the worst since the state began keeping records of temperature and precipitation in the 1800s. And with a population now close to 39 million and a thirsty, $50 billion agricultural industry, California has been affected more by this drought than by any previous one.

But scientists say that in the more ancient past, California and the Southwest occasionally had even worse droughts — so-called megadroughts — that lasted decades. At least in parts of California, in two cases in the last 1,200 years, these dry spells lingered for up to two centuries.

The new normal, scientists say, may in fact be an old one.

Few experts say California is now in the grip of a megadrought, which is loosely defined as one that lasts two decades or longer. But the situation in the state can be seen as part of a larger and longer dry spell that has affected much of the West, Southwest and Plains, although not uniformly. “The California drought is kind of the latest worst place,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona.
What the NYT didn't report is that Brown is on record saying the drought is caused by anthropogenic global warming, a unicorn that doesn't even exist. Additionally, he wants households to cut back on water usage by 25% and recently signed legislation that will impose pretty strong penalties on those who don't do Crazy Ole Uncle Jerry's bidding; that, however, ignores the fact that household water usage in this state runs somewhere between 4 and 10% of all water use.  Agriculture and industry use the lion's share.  That means that even if households cut 25% of water use--we let our lawns die, don't flush toilets after each use, take 5 minute showers, don't fill swimming pools, and in so many other ways act like we're living in the third world--we'd save somewhere between 1 and 2.5% of all the water in California.

I know that in a democracy we get the government we deserve, but come on.

There Is A Rape Culture In The World, But It's Not On US University Campuses

Let's have some direct talk about the foolishness of so-called rape culture:
Gender relations on campus have never been more tenuous, as evidenced by our current obsession with what we’ve carelessly labeled a ‘rape culture.’ Yet among all the rhetoric, no one has thought to ask the obvious: How did we land in such a messy and litigious sexual environment? Do we honestly believe the average college male poses a grave threat to the average college female? That would mean the previous generation of mothers just happened to produce a giant crop of rapists. Either that or something in the water caused men to turn on women en masse.

C’mon. Sex on campus isn’t new—what’s new is the nature of that sex...

There is no rape culture on campus. (Note I didn’t say no one’s ever been raped on campus.) What there is is an awful lot of gray between the sheets. And this phenomenon exists because, for one thing, two people are drunk—which is a problem in itself—and because women are under the impression their libidos are the same as men’s. They are not. When women have sex, it isn’t recreational. It’s significant. That is why women sometimes lie about having been raped. They’re distraught over the previous night’s (or previous year’s) events.
Yes, women lie about rape. (If this upsets you to hear, you have an undeniable bias against men. Your knee-jerk reaction is that men are inherently bad and women are inherently good.) They lie because not many women are able to have sex for fun and walk away unscathed. That’s why they’re almost always drunk when the sexual liaison occurs.

That isn’t victim blaming, nor does it make men blameless. It just means the real phenomenon that exists on campus is that men, who are more sexually charged by nature, are responding to women’s advances and getting burned.
As I say so often when it comes to these liberal memes, you have to wonder why some people choose to believe that something like "rape culture" exists.  What (good) do they get out of such a sick belief?

Are We Getting Our Money's Worth?

California has 11-12% of the US population but look at the tax money collected here:
California is not only the nation’s most populous state but the 800-pound gorilla of taxation, a new Census Bureau report reveals.

During the 2013-14 fiscal year that ended last June, California collected $138.1 billion in taxes of all kinds, 16 percent of all state taxes collected in the nation and more than the next two states, New York and Texas, combined...

The report covered just state taxes, not those levied by cities, counties, school districts and other local governments, such as California’s approximately $50 billion in local property taxes.
Among the worst roads in the country.  Low performing schools.  Excessive regulation.  One-third of all welfare in the country.

Do you see any connections?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Majoring In Ideology

Aggrieved Victims Studies have been around for awhile, now we have "sustainability":
And now there is a new fad rampaging across the college landscape—sustainability. For the last ten years, this mania has been gathering momentum because, like identity studies, sustainability pushes the hot buttons for leftist academics: environmentalism, anti-capitalism, salvation through liberal activism, and the chance to hector all those wrong-thinking people. It’s almost irresistible.

How far the sustainability movement has spread into American higher education is the subject of a deeply researched study by the National Association of Scholars, Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism. “In less than a decade,” write authors Peter Wood (president of NAS) and Rachelle Peterson (Research Associate at NAS), “the campus sustainability movement has gone from a minor thread of campus activism to a master narrative of what ‘liberal education’ should seek to accomplish for students and for society as a whole"...

Traditionally, academic disciplines conveyed a body of knowledge to students: chemistry, biology, history, literature, foreign languages, philosophy, economics and so on. But (and again like identity studies), there is no body of knowledge regarding “sustainability.” It’s just a farrago of beliefs, attitudes, and grievances centering around the general notion that most humans aren’t living the right way and unless we make drastic changes, we’re doomed.

Wood and Peterson argue that sustainability is not really an academic discipline; rather, it’s an “ideology that unites environmental activism, anti-capitalism, and a progressive vision of social justice.” Like a religion (hence the reference to fundamentalism), sustainability never questions its tenets. It posits them and even has “pledges” for students and school officials to adhere to. And the courses that go into the sustainability curriculum are far more like preaching than teaching.

Consider, for example the “Ethics of Eating” course at Cornell, a school that has gone head over heels for sustainability. Students are required to “either defend your eating habits or change them.” It’s advocacy, not intellectual study. There is nothing wrong in trying to convince people to become vegans, but doing so has no connection with the functions of a higher education institution.

Imagine the outcry if a college sponsored a course where students were expected to defend their religion or change it...

Sustainotopians (as the authors call them) don’t want doubts about their creed seeping in. As the report documents, when students dare to question the beliefs that undergird sustainability, they’re often treated in an uncivil, unscholarly fashion. That’s what happens when true believers take charge of education; a “you’re with us or you’re against us” mindset shoves aside reflective inquiry and discussion.

It’s bad enough that there are openly doctrinaire sustainability courses, but at least students can avoid them. Frequently, however, sustainability precepts are smuggled into other courses, where, Wood and Peterson write, “the unsuspecting student meets it not as a tenet to be discussed, but as a baseline assumption on which all subsequent scholarship and dialogue rests"...

The report concludes with ten recommendations for educational institutions that don’t want to make a Faustian bargain with the sustainability crusaders....
Well worth the time to read.

Get Rid Of The High School Exit Exam?

Ah, the exit exam.  Why not just fold it into the other standardized testing we do, and hence maybe make it so that students have some reason to put effort into these tests?
Thirteen years after ushering in what was then considered a cutting-edge readiness tool, California is set to join a handful of states that have decided the high school exit exam isn’t useful.

Legislation that would suspend the California High School Exit Exam beginning with the class of 2017 is set for its first public hearing this week.

A number of other states have recently taken the same action largely because of a growing recognition that there’s little data supporting the validity of some exit exams and yet thousands of students each year are denied a diploma based on scores from the assessments.
I'll be honest, I'm not sure that anyone deserves a diploma who couldn't pass California's test.

If You're Looking For "The Patriarchy", You're Looking For An Excuse

Let's beat this horse until it's dead, dead, dead:

Women earn just 77 or 78 cents to the dollar that men earn.

That line is thrown around so often it must be true, right? As with most outrageous statistics, the shock disappears when you do even a bit of research into its background.

I first heard the claim when I was about 10 years old. My friend's mom told us, apropos of nothing, that men earn more than women simply for being men. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but looking back I see how absurd such a suggestion was. For that to be true, there would be no point to hiring men at all. Employers could just hire all women and cut salary costs by 25 percent...

I don't know how many times this myth has to be busted before people stop repeating it, but here we go again.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler has a great takedown of the myth, giving "two Pinocchios" to those who continue to push it as a means of telling women they're perpetual victims of discrimination. One important factor that Kessler points out is that women often choose lower-paying fields. He includes two lists, the first showing that nine of the 10 highest-paying fields are dominated by men (the second highest-paying profession, pharmaceutical sciences, has slightly more women than men). The second list shows that nine of the 10 lowest-paying fields are dominated by women (theology and religious vocations has vastly more men than women).

Proponents of the wage-gap myth like to claim that the patriarchy pushes women into those less lucrative careers. That's a sad commentary on their way of thinking — their notion that women are simply too dumb or weak to think for themselves and choose the career they actually want. I think the numbers show that women are choosing the careers they prefer but those careers just aren't as lucrative as those chosen by men. There's nothing wrong with that. Do what makes you happy.

You have to wonder what kind of person wants to believe this myth is true, and why they want it to be true.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Many More Hits Can They Take?

Salvo after salvo gets fired:
Bain v. CTA is the latest lawsuit to challenge teacher union hegemony.

For the third time in three years, a lawsuit has been filed in California that challenges the way the teachers unions do business. In May 2012, eight California public school children filed Vergara et al v. the State of California et al in an attempt to “strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers.” Realizing that some their most cherished work rules were in jeopardy, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) chose to join the case as defendants in May 2013.

But three days before they signed on to Vergara, the unions were targeted again. On April 29, 2013, the Center for Individual Rights filed suit on behalf of ten California teachers against CTA and the National Education Association (NEA). The Friedrichs case challenges the constitutionality of California’s agency shop law, which forces public school educators to pay dues to a teachers union whether they want to or not.

Now in April 2015, the teachers unions are facing yet another rebellion by some of its members. Bain et al v. CTA et al, a lawsuit brought by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based activist outfit founded by Michelle Rhee, was filed on behalf of four public school teachers in federal court in California. It challenges a union rule concerning members who refuse to pay the political portion of their dues. Contrary to what many believe, teachers are not forced to join a union as a condition of employment in California, but they are forced to pay dues. Most pay the full share, typically over $1,000 a year, but some opt out of paying the political or “non-chargeable” part, which brings their yearly outlay down to about $600. However, to become “agency fee payers,” those teachers must resign from the union and relinquish most perks they had by being full dues-paying members. And this is at the heart of Bain. As EdSource’s John Fensterwald writes,

Although paying this portion is optional, the teachers charge that the unions punish those who choose not to pay it by kicking them out of the union and denying them additional economic benefits, such as better disability and life insurance policies. The unions provide those benefits only to members. This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech. About one in 10 teachers in California have opted out of paying the portion of dues supporting politicking and lobbying.

In addition to losing various types of insurance, the affected teachers also give up the right to vote for their union rep or their contract, the chance to sit on certain school committees, legal representation in cases of employment disputes, death and dismemberment compensation, disaster relief, representation at dismissal hearings and many other benefits.

The question becomes, “Why should a teacher lose a whole array of perks just because they refuse to pay the third or so (it varies by district) of their union dues that go to political causes?
Why, indeed?

Another Sicko

Is it just me, or do others also believe that you cannot simultaneously support this type of living arrangement and believe that so-called rape culture exists in our universities?
Police say a student at the University of California at Berkeley has been arrested and charged with using his cell phone to secretly record a fellow student in a dormitory bathroom.

UC Berkeley Police said Monday 20-year-old Alfredo Mendez has been charged by Alameda County prosecutors with invading a person's privacy, a misdemeanor.

Police say the 20-year-old student was arrested Thursday following a complaint by a UC Berkeley female student who saw him using his cell phone to record inside a co-ed restroom she was using.

The 19-year-old student told police she noticed a cell phone "extended underneath the stall partition with the camera facing up."

Police say she exited the stall and waited for the suspect to leave the adjacent stall. When the male suspect exited, the victim recognized the suspect as a resident on their floor.   link

Monday, April 13, 2015

Math Is Harrrrrrrrrrd

It must be hard for Obamacare supporters:
If you are masochistic enough to read the “reporting” of the legacy media on Obamacare, you will have noticed a spate of recent stories with titles like the following from CNBC: “Health spending post-Obamacare seen $2.5 trillion lower.” This headline is not only awkwardly worded. It is, like the article over which it appears, misleading. It misrepresents a new study from the left-leaning Urban Institute concerning projected health care spending in a way that suggests the nation has saved enormous amounts of money thanks to the “Affordable Care Act.”

This is absurd, of course, but it highlights an underappreciated element of the health care reform debate—the adversarial relationship that exists between Obamacare’s partisans in the press and basic statistics. This running gun battle between math and the media manifests itself in two ways, depending on the limitations of individual journalists: Most just can’t handle the numbers, and are thus easily taken in by specious studies and grifters like Jonathan Gruber. A far smaller group can manage the math but must ignore its implications in order to support “reform.”
Lies, damned lies, and statistics?

Clearly The Best Use of Pentagon Money

What is our military now, a uniformed version of the late great Antioch College?
An issue that could “dramatically affect” the mission of the United States Armed Forces is telling soldiers when it is okay to kiss a girl.

The Air Force is the latest branch to employ the services of Mike Domitrz, a speaker and author known for his “May I Kiss You?” training session, to teach servicemembers about consent and sexual assault prevention.

On Thursday the Air Force awarded Domitrz’s company, the Date Safe Project, $10,000 for three training sessions.

Domitrz’s 60 to 90 minute sessions offer a “unique combination of humor and dramatic story telling,” the Air Force said in an attachment detailing the contract terms.

“The ‘May I Kiss You’ presentation minimizes defensiveness and promotes an open discussion of an often silent topic,” the Air Force said.  link
I'm offended by the sexism inherent in the claim that someone would only want to kiss a girl. And I'm offended at the demeaning term "girl".

Yes, there's a lot about this that offends me and my common sense.

It Was The Standardized Test That Got Him In Trouble

My guess is that even using the teacher's not-so-secure password wouldn't get the adult felony charge were it not for the state test on the teacher's computer:
A Florida eighth-grader has been arrested on a felony charge after playing a prank on a teacher he didn't like, officials said Sunday.

Authorities say 14-year-old Domanik Green broke into a school computer at the Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday and changed the background of the teacher’s computer to one that displayed an image of two men kissing, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco told reporters Thursday there was nothing amusing about what Green did. He said the boy hacked into a computer containing the 2014 standardized test Florida administers to students in all its public schools.

“Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done,” he said.
Looks like it was last year's test.  What's it doing on the teacher's computer?  Lots of interesting questions here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Teaching Math in the 21st Century

Barry Garelick has written a book with that title, an excerpt of which can be downloaded here.  Here's the opening:
This book takes place in the 21st century and a school district in California. Like many
districts in the U.S., it is married to the groupthink-inspired conception known as 21st
century learning. Those who have fallen under the spell of this idea believe that
today’s students live in the digital world where any information can be Googled, and
facts are not as important as “learning how to learn”. It is a brave new world in which
students must collaborate, be creative, work as a team and construct new meanings.
Teaching subjects such as math, history, science and English (now called Language
Arts) as separate disciplines is an outmoded concept; they should be blended into an
integrated discipline.

In the world of 21st century learning, one prevailing belief is that procedures don’t
stick; they are forgotten. Habits, however, are forever. Students are to be taught
“learning skills”, “critical and higher order thinking” and “habits of mind” in order to
prepare for jobs that have not yet been created.

In short, it is an educational orientation that I and others like me 1) do not believe in
and 2) find ourselves immersed in. It was the underlying belief system in which I had
to work during two long-term sub assignments which are the subject of the book you
are about to read.
I think I'm going to like this book.

Update, 4/18/15:  The Amazon link.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How To Make This Happen?

Gisela Aviles is a 49-year-old real estate agent in Corona. Henry Yoshikawa is a 71-year-old former administrator for a tiny school district in Placer County. And Arianna Rivera is a 23-year-old bank teller in East Los Angeles.

Although strikingly different, they are among an overwhelming majority of California voters who shared remarkably similar views about teachers in a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. They agree that teachers receive tenure much too quickly. And they believe that performance should matter more than seniority when teachers are laid off.

They also favor making it easier to fire instructors — although, at the same time, they think highly of teachers and want more resources for public schools that serve disadvantaged children. link
How do you make such changes when the capitol is so beholden to the teachers union, which is against such changes?  Students Matter certainly has a role to play.

The Gods of Irony Smile Upon Us

Five of our school's math teachers decided not to attend the last 3 hours of the unconscious bias training a few weeks ago, so this past Thursday we met for an hour to review the statistics standards that are imbedded in the Common Core Integrated Math 1, 2, and 3 courses that our district is switching to next year.  Believe it or not, standard deviation is mentioned in the Integrated 1 standards--freshman math!  To be honest, we're not sure exactly what level of detail we're supposed to address in these standards, but it's best anyway if teachers know significantly more about a subject than merely what they're supposed to teach, so we spent our first hour (two more to go!) reviewing introductory statistics.

One of the foundational concepts in inferential statistics is the difference between a population and a sample.  If you want to learn something about a population, you take a sample from it and infer about the population from that sample.  The formulas for calculating the standard deviations of a population and a sample are slightly different; if we were to use the "population" formula for a "sample", that sample would always underestimate the true standard deviation.  Therefore the formula has to be tweaked a little bit, the value inflated, so that the sample standard deviation becomes a good predictor of the population standard deviation.

This tweaking makes the sample standard deviation what is known as an unbiased estimator for the population standard deviation.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Delicate Flowers of Michigan

Have you heard?

The University of Michigan was supposed to show the movie American Sniper, but some of the tender little dears thought the movie too violent, too anti-Muslim, too conservative!  The decision was made, the movie would not be shown.  In its place, the children's movie Paddington would be shown.

The movie is back on, so you might think more rational heads had prevailed.  Not so much.  There was a compromise:
Now comes news that, no, no, the university—generally regarded as one an outstanding academic institution—will now show American Sniper as planned. Via Foxnews.com:
University Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper called the decision to cancel the Friday night showing a "mistake" in a statement.
"The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters," Harper said. "The movie will be shown at the originally scheduled time and location."
And for all the students who wanted to see Paddington? They too will be made whole:
Harper added that the university will also screen the family-friendly film "Paddington" as an alternative.
Ohio State fans should bring teddy bears to the next game against Michigan. They deserve it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What Were They Doing?

My research paper is on John Napier and the invention of logarithms.  I know that his motivation for inventing logs was to simplify some of the trigonometric calculations being done in astronomy, but while everyone says that, I can find no example of such a problem.  What kinds of problems were astronomers solving?  What calculations were they doing circa 1595?  And how the hell did they even do trigonometry the way they did, where the "sine" of a 60 degree angle on a circle of radius=100 is entirely different from the "sine" of a 60 degree angle on a circle of radius=1000?

It seems silly to try to write a paper on a topic and not be able to have a single example problem, but that is the quandary in which I find myself.