Saturday, January 26, 2008

Half-wit Professor Proclaims 'Down With Fractions'

More evidence that being educated and being smart are not equivalent.

But if your kids are taught math according to the principles of renowned University of Pennsylvania math professor Dennis DeTurck, they won't be able to do these things without an electronic gizmo to think for them. DeTurck, also dean of the college of arts and sciences at Penn, wants to get rid of fractions. He also wants to banish division, square roots, and multiplication.

That's right, say good-bye to real math. It's a liberal's outcome-based education wet dream. And it's gaining acceptance as Profesor DeTurck gets ready to release a new book attacking traditional math taught in schools. Just as our students are failing even more versus the rest of the world in math and the inextricably-linked science, we need to make them more dumb and ignorant in those disciplines? Yes, if Dr. DeTurck gets his way. They can do it on a calculator on their cellphone, apparently.

Why teach PE in schools, while we're at it? Machines can do any labor we need done. Why teach grammar or spelling when there are grammar and spelling checks in our word processors?

We can be like those disembodied brains in that Star Trek episode, betting quataloos on what the next stupid idea from an academic will be.

Update, 1/27/08: University of Rochester math professor Ralph Raimi had this to say in an email, and has given me permission to post it here:

How can fractions be as obsolete as Roman numerals, and important for high-level mathematics too? Isn't Dean DeTurck losing it? It's said that old deans never die; they just lose their faculties.


Ellen K said...

This is the part that made math almost impossible for my kids. Part of the TAKS test in elementary math is estimation. My kids hated estimating when they could find the real answer. So I suppose now we will have a whole generation that will simply write checks to the next whole dollar to avoid having to deal with pesky cents. I am sure the government will love it.

Dr Pezz said...

Seems like an idiotic idea (not teaching fractions), but this may be one of my favorite posts ever simply because of the Trek and quataloos references. A fellow Trekker enjoys this type of thing. :)

Darren said...

In that regard you are, Dr. Pezz, a most discerning guest here at Right On The Left Coast. =)

Ellen K said...

First a reference to "Lost in Space" now one to "Star Trek". It's only a matter of time until we are all quoting "The Martian Chronicles" and speculating on the parallels of the dilemma of Spice on Arrakis and petroleum in the Middle East "Fear is the mindkiller, it is the little death.....argh".

Fritz J. said...

Sorry, but you must not refer to him as a half-wit. In his world the correct term is .5-wit. Jeez, I'm reminded of my aunt when describing her daughter and son in law. Her term, "Educated idiots," which referred to the fact that both had college degrees but had not yet lived long enough to develop much of what is called "common sense."

In a more serious vein, that idea strikes me as very wrong. Math is a logical science and I fail to see how you can advance in it without understanding and being able to use the underlying concepts. But then maybe in Prof. DeTurck's world he thinks students should go to medical school before taking biology, or learn grammar before learning reading.

I graduated from high school in 1961 and my sister was five years behind me. When she was in about the fifth or sixth grades the school switched to what they called "The New Math." Neither of my parents could help her with any homework so it fell to me to do so. It was not that my parents could not do the actual math involved in the problems, but the problems were not asking for correct answers and if you solved the problem correctly (by normal mathematical processes)you got the wrong answer according to the book. In the end I spent more time helping her than I did on my own homework because I had to learn how to solve the problem in a manner that produced a wrong answer. I don't remember any specific examples, but they would go something like this. Mary solves the problem this way, and Jimmy solves the problem this way, but we solve it this way and all three ways produced an answer that was incorrect by normal mathematical processes. To use a crude analogy, if the problem had been 2+3+5=? and you answered 10, you were wrong. After a few hours of trying to figure out what the book was asking for, my parents threw up their hands and made me help her. It made my parents angry enough to where they went to the school and asked what was going on. The principal managed to calm them down by explaining that it was not the school's idea, but had been mandated by the State Board of Education. Apparently the State Board of Education got more than a little flack over it (I know my parents and some of their friends supplied part of that flack) because they discontinued using that series of texts after two years and went back to more normal texts and methods. I've often wondered if that accounted for her not doing as well in math in high school as I did because she certainly is fully as intelligent as I am, not that either of us are geniuses by any stretch.

I'm not wedded to the idea that nothing can be improved upon, but this does not strike me as an improvement.

Ellen K said...

I was one of the guinea pigs of new math. We had glitzy materials courtesy of the LSU math department. And I went from being a little girl who understood math to a student that thought math was all smoke and mirrors. I will never forget failing a seventh grade math class because although I got the right answers, I did them the wrong way. From then on, I could do any practical and concrete math application, but would simply shut down on higher level math. And it happened to a lot of us. My son experience similar issues with Whole Language. His sibs were taught using conventional phonics and read well above grade level. When my youngest came along teachers were actually forbidden to use any of the tried and true methods of explaining how to read. So he lingered for two more years until they figured out it wasn't working. Since then he struggled through school, and is in college by his own will rather than from any help given him early on. I know of many students who were similarly impacted by this stupid program and they are in college and high school right now. And we wonder why they hate to read....

Anonymous said...

Isn't it difficult to do many algebraic manipulations without understanding fractions? Long division is a big help in factoring polynomials ... and if you can't factor polynomials, you can pretty much forget calculus.

Does this seem like another math reform that shuts the door on any serious technical field before the child is out of 8th grade?

-Mark Roulo

loonyhiker said...

As a teacher of special ed students with mental disabilities, the concept of estimating is way beyond their developmental ability. My students can do the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and simple division in order to solve real life problems. They needed to know how to add up the costs of things and manage a checkbook. How can they do things like this if we do away with basic math?