Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Algebra, puberty, and Arne's delusional vision

I'm not an esthete mathematician, but I'm no dummy either. I managed to wrangle a slot in Dr. Piranian's class at  Michigan back in the '70's, no mean feat. (I also managed to annoy him when I dropped out--I thought that 2 or 3 hours a day on a problem were more than enough for anyone--he disagreed.)

But here's my dirty little secret--when a few of us tiny hotshots were hit with algebra in 6th grade, I could not even begin to grasp it. It was as foreign to me as the pheromones that would alter my life just two years later. (I wanted to be a priest--Robin cured me.)

Pre-algebra brain

Algebra did not make sense to me until girls, mysteriously, started smelling good.  Before that, I could no more will myself to solve a quadratic equation than throw a 105 mph fastball.

There's a correlation--brain development matters, and does, indeed, happen to correspond to the hairiness of one's genital area.

Algebra brain, just a few short years later

Hate to be so damn coarse about this, but I'm a retired pediatrician with a better grasp of neurodevelopment than most folks, and certainly more than our current Education Czar Arseny Duncan.


Back in the 1940's, a Russian "scientist" Trofim Lysenko held erroneous belief in Lamarckian inheritance and led the political silencing of true scientists who dared point out his flawed (and dangerous) reasoning.

And here we are, decades later, letting our own Lysenko pseudoscientist Arne Duncan propagate propagandist nonsense that will lead to years and years of harm. Not everybody is developmentally ready to tackle algebra in 8th grade.

It's the 21st century, and here we are clicking our ruby heels together three times hoping for miracles, in a land where more of us reject evolution than accept it. Arne, do you truly believe the nonsense you preach?

If you do, you're a dangerous fool, and if you do not, a corrupt one. Either way, you have no business at the helm.

Mr. Obama, are you blinded by political loyalty?


Sue VanHattum said...

I worked 4 hours a night on those problems in the fall semester, and got a B-. I was disgusted, and did not work nearly as hard the next semester.

We had 40 people in our class (only 5 women).

iwhosawtheface said...

Glad you led with "Algebra"... the rest was a blue. All I care about is the quadratic equation, man. More algebra! less sex!

iwhosawtheface said...

Uhhh, that should have been "blur".

Barbara said...

My mother was a math genius during a time when few women were even considered able to think, much less solve. I did not inherit that gene, and not only failed algebra in junior high school (9th grade back then) I did miserably in Math for Teachers in college. If it weren't for my language ability, I probably would not have gotten into college, much less grad school. So for some it doesn't matter when the subject is introduced pre or post puberty.

That said, perhaps Mr. Duncan is actually in agreement with you, basing his ideas of early algebra on the recent rise in precocious puberty. (she says with tongue firmly planted in cheek).

Regardless, I thought your post lent new meaning to my battle cry of "developmentally appropriate practice" and made me smile.

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

We had 5 students in ours, I think all male, but I do not recall. Two of us dropped out. I loved the class, but I did not plan on spending all my hours working on problems, not so long as there were squirrels around.

Dear iwhosawtheface,

That explains a lot....

Dear Barbara,

I love the connection! I may steal that line....