Not a master

I’m a hesitant libertarian; I believe in rulers and political power, following 2 Samuel 23.  However, this quote from Michael Huemer strikes me as right.  If kings have authority, it is because God gives it to them.  It isn’t an absolute authority, and the king as a man is subject to God’s censure like any other man.  Rulers are sinful people too. You can’t get around that by distributing the authority among 50, 450, or 300 million people.  If the government does what is wicked in God’s sight, then the people who used the power of government to do what is wicked will be subject to God’s judgment.

I’m not a master of theological math, but my guess is that a democracy doesn’t get around God’s wrath by dividing it by 300 million voters.  It seems more likely that he will multiply that responsibility to each of us, rather than divide.

Analytical Envy

Great quote here about Economists trying to be cool like physicists:

The success of mathematical physics led the social scientist to be jealous of its power without quite understanding the intellectual attitudes that had contributed to this power.  The use of mathematical formulae had accompanied the development of the natural sciences….Very few econometricians are aware that if they are to imitate the procedure of modern physics and not its mere appearance, a mathematical economist must begin with a critical account of these quantitative notions and the means adopted for collecting and measuring them.

Apparently, the hard sciences were a real kick in the gut to every major branch of study – from economics to literature to psychology to art.  It’s as though math was so impressive that they all developed inferiority complexes and went off on quests to prove they were just as good.  So economics went all Keynesian and literature went all deconstruction and reader response.  But across the board, every major field of study that didn’t have something hard to measure either faked it, fudged it, or abandoned all pretense of logic.  What I don’t get is how people forgot that numbers aren’t the only way of thinking.  Rhetoric and inductive logic predate calculus by thousands of years.  These things don’t wear out with time; they just go out of fashion.

On the importance of Genre analysis in mathematics curricula

This Common Core thing is really interesting. A bunch of people are debating how to change education for the better in America, which is all to the good, since John Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System and the American education system, was about as effective at one as he was at the other. Surely anything would be an improvement on a system designed by a man who couldn’t decide if he was an engineer of children’s minds, or just a plain old communist. And it’s also a pleasure to watch from an amused distance, knowing that my kids will endure no such thing, and that the results of any foolish ideas their teachers do come up with will be evident to their parents immediately.

So I’m all in favor of nationalized testing. Unless, of course they’re testing for something stupid. In which case, stupid tests should be no inhibition to a good education. I’m all in favor of teaching kids to think, instead of mindlessly repeating rote information.  Rote information is boring, in the true sense of the word, and boring is a bad motivator.  Of course, being an engineer in a cubicle is also boring, especially compared to bomb disposal, so there’s something to be said for skill, which takes practice.

But, when it comes to comparing our education systems historically, maybe A Christmas Story is not the best basis of comparison.  Ms. Watson makes the caveat that she knows “that a screenshot from a Christmas movie isn’t a fair representation of the curricular scope covered in the 1950s,” but it still creeps me out a bit.  I have never seen the movie.  I never hope to see that movie, because every impression I’ve ever gotten is that its humor is derived entirely from people behaving like nincompoops.  I wasn’t there for 4th grade in the 50s, but my guess is that 3-digit addition may have been another attempt by the director at being funny.

Something missing

A Classical Education designer talks about the classical approach to math and science.  It seems like he’s missing something, though, because his theories on teaching it better sound an awful lot like what I’ve heard about the Common Core Curriculum – prioritizing the idea over the execution. I think it’s because he forgets the magic word – Trivium!

Or it may just be that he’s forgetting that most of science is actually history, the same way that most of music composition is actually piano practice.

Emasculate the course

Andrei Toom:

To survive against competition every university and every college has to pretend that it gives something modern, advanced and immediately marketable. But is it possible to give advanced courses to students who are ignorant in elementary mathematics? Of course not. What to do? Very simple! Emasculate the course by excluding everything non-trivial, reduce the students’ task to applying ready-made recipes without understanding—and you will survive and succeed. Your pretensions that you teach something advanced will allow the students to pretend that they are educated, and this will allow the firms and departments that hire them to pretend that they hire educated people. But at some point this chain of pretensions will have to break.

Toom is talking here about his frustrations in teaching “Business Calculus” to college students, but the curious thing is that his remarks could just as easily be said about teaching grammar to middle school students.

Other articles by Andrei Toom can be found here.

A Pleasure

One of the most powerful college experiences I ever had happened while I was alone in my room, doing homework. I had just come out of a class on poetry in which the basic rules for the sonnet were introduced, and we were told to try our hands at it. As I was packing up my things, I wrote down a single line of pentameter:

She stood and broke her alabaster box

I had some thought of rhyming “box” with “fox,” and I went back to my room to play around with it. Five hours later, I had finished Memorandum.

I’ve always been pleased with that poem, but the effect on me of writing was profound far beyond the pleasure of a nice bit of verse. The sensation of executing something flawlessly after hours of profound mental exertion was cataclysmic on my psyche. (Rather unlike the previous sentence.) I really don’t know how to explain the rush I got.

The only other times I have experienced a similar sensation have been times of intense prayer, when the very heavens have been opened, or during powerful worship services where God clearly and profoundly made his glory known. And here I had gotten nearly the same sensation from writing a poem. It made me think this was exactly the sort of thing that the character Eric Liddell talked about in Chariots of Fire. “When I run I feel His pleasure.” It is the certain pleasure that comes from functioning in accordance with the nature God has given you.

Judge then, my increasing dismay, as over the next two years I slowly realized how infinitesimal were my chances of successfully embarking on a career as poet. Judge my consternation as I have come to terms with how difficult it is to establish a career as a writer of anything. Judge my surprise at my experiences of the last few weeks: Continue reading “A Pleasure”