College Math Teaching

February 24, 2014

Why don’t you people use NUMBERS instead of letters?

Filed under: editorial, media — Tags: — collegemathteaching @ 4:17 pm

Yes, some people have asked me this: “why all of the letters? Why don’t you use NUMBERS?”.

If I am in a patient mood I might say something like: “ok, suppose you want to be able to program a computer to compute a tax on an order? Well, you’d need the item ordered, the price of the item ordered, how many of each item ordered and the applicable tax, right?

Well, there is a “slot” in the order form for each of those, and the “letters” we use stand for such slots.”

Usually, these questions come from those who haven’t had the benefit of an education.

I expect better from our political leaders, and from time to time I am disappointed in them:

Ignoring pleas from business leaders, the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 along party lines Thursday to bar Arizona from implementing the Common Core standards the state adopted four years ago.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who championed SB 1310, said he believes the concept of some nationally recognized standards started out as a “pretty admirable pursuit by the private sector and governors.”

“It got hijacked by Washington, by the federal government,” said Melvin, a candidate for governor, and “as a conservative Reagan Republican I’m suspect about the U.S. Department of Education in general, but also any standards that are coming out of that department.”

Melvin’s comments led Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, to ask him whether he’s actually read the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.

“I’ve been exposed to them,” Melvin responded.

Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.” And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

No, this isn’t satire. I wish that it were.

Note while there ARE legitimate criticisms of Common Core; using “letters for numbers” isn’t one of them.

Note: the above link was brought to my attention by someone on Facebook.

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