Intelligent Design

MATH: Back to right answers?

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Debra J. Saunders reports that, in an apparent stunning reversal of decades of misdirection, educrats have now decided that junior students should just learn the correct answers in math class.

For example, 9 x 9 = 81. Period.

That’s not worth arguing about, any more than the alphabet is. You learn it so you can learn other things. Some of those other things, incidentally, are very much worth arguing about.

But the student must acquire basic skills before he or she knows enough to comprehend, let alone take part in, an argument.

The story is that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, in an apparent policy switch, now thinks that Grade Fours should know multiplication and division tables.

In keeping with the NCTM’s emphasis on children writing about math, developers of a California assessment test told graders to give more credit to students who got the wrong answer to a math question (but wrote a better essay) than students who gave the right answer without the right prose. California elementary schools scarfed up MathLand, a trendy program that pooh-poohed exercises with “predetermined numerical results.”

Saunders isn’t sure just how serious the current teachers’ lobby really is about rejecting fuzzy math in favor of correct math, nor am I. But I hope parents and taxpayers help out by frogmarching the lobby down the correct path, on which they have now begun. It bodes well for education.

That, by the way, is one reason why I have never been enthusiastic about the initiatives taken by various American school boards to warn students away from Darwinian evolution. Yes, yes, Darwinism’s a dead duck. It is promoted principally for ideological purposes, and anti-religious ones at that. In the form of social Darwinism, it has some stinky associates and in the form of persecution of non-Darwinian scientists, it has a stinky history. So I completely understand why the school boards and parents are concerned, and I wish them well.

But , all that said, I maintain my objections for the following reason: We do no favor to students who cut classes to smoke in the can when we act as though they can easily understand problems with Darwinism. These are the same kids who need a calculator to add up a shopping bill, don’t know whether Canada is north or south of the United States, can’t name the three branches of the US government, and are not disciplined for being rude to teachers. I could go on, but why bother?

I’m old-fashioned, so I believe students should earn the right to dissent from their teachers’ views. The principle way they should earn it is by being good students. They should learn the material they wish to dissent from. Incidentally, this idea is not unique to me. I remember Phillip E. Johnson, the widely hated “godfather” of the ID guys, making exactly that point at a conference in Los Angeles in 2004 – and the pro-ID audience agreed with it. That is, students should definitely be taught Darwinian theory, and if they learn it, they earn the right to disagree with it in an intellectually principled way.

12 Replies to “MATH: Back to right answers?

  1. 1
    jerry says:

    Denyse,

    I am not sure what you are advocating. The problem with Darwinism is that it is so incredibly easy to understand and validate in your surroundings. I do not think it takes much to understand it which is why it is so widely accepted and even marginal students probably grasp the basic idea that the stronger survive.

    What is not so widely understood is that there is no scientific evidence to support this theory in other than trivial biological ways. Not that these trivial biological events don’t have major repercussions such as Social Darwinism and eugenics have shown. But these ideas are based on the most simple and straightforward biological processes.

    So what do you do to counter an erroneous but apparently obvious simple idea? I think the only idea is to teach the shortcomings and the failures of Darwinism along side basic theory. Also all ideas of evolution should be excluded from students till high school. At present some want it taught in kindergarten.

  2. 2
    Hawks says:

    jerry,

    “Not that these trivial biological events don’t have major repercussions such as Social Darwinism and eugenics have shown. But these ideas are based on the most simple and straightforward biological processes.”

    Trivial? Perhaps. But people still misunderstand it when they keep on claiming that it depends the survival of the strongest.

  3. 3
    SuricouRaven says:

    I should just clear something up on the math issue – the debate is over which of two forms of education to use.

    One method teaches the tables. 9 x 9 is 81. It just is. Dont ask why. If you get the answer wrong, no marks. Pupils educated in this way are very capable at ordinary, everyday math. They can solve problems quickly and reliably, but they dont know how they do it.

    The other teaches procedural calculations. Move the digits around, carry a one, add this… now the students have a lot more to learn, but they understand how it works. This is the one that will sometimes give a mark for a wrong answer – if the answer is wrong due to a simple error, but the method used to find it it is correct.

    Students going into a field with higher math need the latter education – its not enough to memorise, they need to be able to extend what they know. But for students going into fields with only simple math, the first method and a calculator is quite enough – and a lot easier. It is, awkwardly, often hard to know what a pupil will be studying in future. Particually for younger pupils.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    SuricorRaven,

    When I was a kid, everyone in my class knew the 9 x tables by heart at the end of 2nd grade and by the end of 3rd grade we all knew the 12 x tables and we could divide these number too. In those days there was candy in the stores for 3¢ or 4¢ or like today there were 9 kids on the baseball team and there were lots of things in dozens. We knew what it meant when we went to the store and bought candy or baseball cards. We were equipped for most of the basic math by the time we were 9 years old. Later on we learned the other basics such as long division, fractions, decimals, carrying numbers etc but we could go into a store at 7 or 8 years old and were sure what things cost.

    How did they do it. By strict memorization. We used flash cards every day in class and then got to practice it in the stores on the way home. Some were faster than others but we all got it by 9 years old, some much sooner. I don’t know if they use flash cards anymore but it would be stupid not to.

    Of course today there is nothing that cost 3¢ or 4 ¢ anymore so the kids have to deal in larger amounts.

    But I am not sure what this has to do with teaching Darwinism in the schools.

  5. 5
    David vun Kannon says:

    What I here you advocating is that science classes should teach facts, such as plate tectonics and how stratigraphy relates to age, and how certain fossilized bones are associated with specific layers and what the K-T boundary is – in geology, while in biology it would be the species concept, the history of efforts to classify species, how different systems of classification partition living and extinct species, and the logical leap that what humans see as relatedness should be interpreted as descent across time and space. Related to the last point is that physics (quantum theory and relativity) teaches us that the world is fundamentally different than our human ituition about it.

    There is also the need to teach science as a human process of a struggle of ideas.

    However, in history there is a need to teach the history of ideas, especially ideas that arose in the 19th century such as Marxism, Freudianism, and Darwinism. I think it would be great for history classes to take up the history of science and ideas.

  6. 6
    Carlos says:

    But one can’t teach facts without theories. Without theories, facts are meaningless.

  7. 7
    EdH says:

    Without theories, facts are meaningless.

    Carlos, 9X9=81. That is a fact. What theory do I need to know before that fact is meaningful?

  8. 8
    Carlos says:

    (7)

    I’m prepared to concede the point about mathematical facts. Although there is a very interesting way of demonstrating basic arithmetic claims, I’m not going to insist that second-graders read Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica. What makes for good philosophy doesn’t make for good pedagogy, and perhaps there’s an important lesson in that.

    But when it comes to empirical facts, it’s a different story. Consider an empirical claim such as “the earth goes around the sun” — nice and safe, not contested by too many people. Well, one doesn’t see this happen. One has to infer it on the basis of observations. And in the course of doing so one presupposes the validity of certain theories. For example, the theory of optics, which explains why we’re justified in trusting our telescopes.

    But more to the point, it’s only when viewed through the lens of theory that facts become interesting. Merely listing all the facts that there are is boring. Theories tell us what facts are significant and which are insignificant. That’s the sense in which I meant “meaningful” above.

    What’s an insignificant fact when viewed through one theoretical lens is an extremely significant fact when viewed through a different theoretical lens. For example, the fact that organisms appear to be designed. Evolutionary theory denies that this is a significant or interesting fact, and would rather look at all the ways in which molecular, organismal, and ecological processes can generate the appearance of design. Intelligent design theory takes the fact of the appearance of design as evidence for thinking that organisms really are designed — that things are as they seem to be.

  9. 9
    jerry says:

    Carlos,

    Your said “Evolutionary theory denies that this is a significant or interesting fact, and would rather look at all the ways in which molecular, organismal, and ecological processes can generate the appearance of design.”

    It would be nice to look at how some of these molecular, organismal, or ecological processes generated the appearance of design to see how evolutionary theory was built. No speculation please, just actual “facts.” I just went through a course on Evolution at Berkeley and they didn’t present any. They presented a ton of facts but few that would be relevant to your statement. By the way there are a few but since we know the reasons for them; they are not under dispute (e.g. self organization of phospholipids into a water sealed bubble simulating a cell membrane.)

    There is a lot of design in life but that is because there is a blueprint for this design along with operating instructions on how to make each piece. I don’t think anyone would quarrel with the facts of the genome and how this structure unfolds over time an exquisitively designed creature. Life is designed. The question is, where did the instruction set come from.

  10. 10
    filmGrain says:

    Some of you may remember a brilliant song by Tom Lehrer titled “New Math” (Tom Lehrer is also the mathematician/satirist who set the period table to music, using a famous song by Gilbert and Sullivan). Below is a link to a videotaped concert by Tom Lehrer, singing original songs entirely on the subject of math (with one exception: a brilliant satire on the cult of scientism and the attempt to make sociology into a “hard” science).

    http://images.google.com/imgre.....en%26lr%3D

  11. 11
    Hawks says:

    Carlos,

    “For example, the fact that organisms appear to be designed. Evolutionary theory denies that this is a significant or interesting fact, and would rather look at all the ways in which molecular, organismal, and ecological processes can generate the appearance of design. Intelligent design theory takes the fact of the appearance of design as evidence for thinking that organisms really are designed — that things are as they seem to be. ”

    Evolutionary theory does not, as you yourself also point out, deny that things LOOK designed. But, as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover…

  12. 12
    jerry says:

    Hawks,

    I agree. The Evolutionary Theory book has an elaborate cover but is empty inside except for the fairytales they constantly tell.

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