Monday, December 23, 2013

Favorite comments of '13, cont: Anonymous

On Devlin's Lament: the "symbol barrier"


Anonymous said...

What a sad commentary. As someone who both does math and plays music, I must say that Devlin appears to have sold his soul to the devil (who is a pointy-haired mushy woo-woo 'education expert').No, Devlin, you really do have to master scales to be a good musician. If you do not master scales, you will never be a very good pianist, or violinist, only a hack. This is why my violin teacher says, and this is what every real musician I know says, and they are experts, not Devlin.

And likewise, you really do have to master symbols, and arithmetic, to be good at math.

What fascinates me most about this foolish argument is how across the board it is - how it is applied to every single educational discipline with abandon. With reading: you don't have to master phonics, try whole language instead. With language: you don't have to master grammar, develop your (ten-year-old) voice instead. With math: who needs arithmetic. And now with music, don't bother doing scales, just express your feelings banging on the piano. The inmates have truly taken over the asylum.

This is all a recipe for becoming an incompetent, illiterate, innumerate, self-centered boor. And it's laid out by a cabal of "experts" who are so mysteriously taken with the woo-woo that they seem to be conspiring to pull the ladder of mastery up after them.

I speak four languages fluently. I spent time mastering the grammar in each one. Yes, I lived abroad too, but the truth is that most returned peace corps volunteers do not master the language - all they remember years later is street slang - because they didn't combine study with practice. I did the work.I aced the GRE math section (750) - because I can do arithmetic (yes, with symbols) in my head. I am learning to play the violin at 45, along with my 8 year old son - because we do scales for a half hour every day, before we work on my new piece. There is no mystery, no special secret. It's just work.

I was at the bakery the other day, and bought a sourdough boule and a sfilatino. The clerk punched it in and was surprised to see the $7.25 waiting in my hand. She was amazed by the mastery of math I showed at being able to add $5.50 and $1.75 correctly.

Ignorance and innumeracy is nothing new, judging by her age. The problem is that now the "blue ribbon panels" are giving in, and deciding to join rather than beating them. New rule: nobody whose degree is in education (the softest, most cheat-infested major at any university), and has not achieved mastery of a real subject (say, math, engineering, or foreign language), can be considered an expert in education, and the majority participation of such people on a "blue ribbon panel" disqualifies their findings.

BTW, some of the few math games I think might convey some of the spirit of numeracy rather than just throwing intermittent sums in the middle of goofy games, are Factor Samurai and Dragon Box.

1 comment:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

750 on the GRE math is not "acing" it—that's only 77th percentile. Considering that GRE math only tests high-school level math, and that half the takers of the GRE were humanities majors who had essentially no math after high school, it's not a very impressive score.