Editing Fail

Forget bloggers and the economy; this is why newspapers are going under left and right. Go on; try to count the grammatical errors. (Try not to be distracted by the incredibly scuzzy Uncle Sam figure or the strange logical errors.)

If the reader has to have a good understanding of a topic to comprehend a news outlet’s garbled reporting, the outlet isn’t reporting – it’s just selling advertising and tangible proof of the failure of our educational institutions.

Edit: This image originally appeared on the NY Post website at http://www.nypost.com/seven/04192009/photos/web_tax.jpg, but is no longer available at that link as of July 2014, per the comments below.

In Praise of Logic

Sometime in the last few generations, logic started getting short shrift. I don’t mean logic as a concept; plenty of people can, and do, invoke “logic” as a defense for completely absurd arguments. No, I mean LOGIC, the formal subject of study, the one involving formal concepts like “and,” “or,” and “xor,” as well as fancy Latin words for various fallacies. Logic has gone missing, and we’re all of us the worse off for its absence.

When I was young, I had to do lots of logic games. These were the type involving a grid (or several grids) and a bunch of Xs and Os as the problem solver tried to determine which statements or pairings of entities were correct and which were not. For example, a problem might center on allocating livestock to farmers or favorite subjects to school students, given sufficient but incomplete facts. There were a lot of variants, but these are the ones I remember most.

My complaint is not that I did this and “kids these days” don’t. My complaint is that most kids didn’t do problems like that, then, either. See, I only did those games because I was assigned to the school’s “academically gifted” or “gifted and talented” programs (the name changed at some point for political correctness reasons). The rest of my classmates got the chance to do exactly one of these problems during my elementary school years, as I recall. Only a few of us did them regularly.

Continue reading “In Praise of Logic”

Further Proof…

… that about half the population will vote for about anything: the Miami-Dade County School Board voted 5-4 to fire six teachers and accept the resignations of 26 others. The teachers in question had all paid to obtain continuing education credits, rather than taking actual courses, and then lied about the credits by representing them as legitimate. Why this kind of vote comes down to a 5-4 split, I do not know. One of the dissenters is quoted, saying it “baffles” her why this should interfere with classroom education (presumably in the classrooms of the teachers who lost their jobs). I don’t see how it can’t. If the state department of education or local school board deems to impose continuing education requirements, allowing teachers who have committed fraud to meet those requirements to keep their jobs undermines the entire teacher accreditation system and sends a very bad message to students: “Lie, pad your resume, disobey your supervisors, and get ahead.” As it is, the message is pretty mixed. Granted, the real worth of these credits is highly debatable, and I for one doubt that worth is very high, but it’s a question of principles.

The moral: throw out almost any idea, whether it’s a proposal to fire teachers, a method of interpreting the Constitution, or a plan for war, and 40-50% of any relevant group of people (school board members, voters, etc.) will back it, at least initially. Throw in a slick presentation and good campaigning or lobbying, and you just might have a winner.

Your Name Offends Us: NCAA Bans Indian Mascots for Postseason

The NCAA has banned Indian names and mascots at postseason events. One question: if a given people group (tribe, in this case) is not offended by the use of its name and/or likeness by a college athletic department, but outsiders without any ties to that group deem the group’s name, itself, to be “hostile or abusive,” is our society actually moving in a positive direction?

School Board Offers Theological Defense of Homosexuality, Gets Taken to Task

In case you haven’t heard, the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools tried to implement a sex education curriculum that endorses homosexuality as a normal and amoral (not “immoral,” “amoral”) lifestyle choice. Whether or not one agrees with that proposal, the fact is that the school system gets its facts wrong and makes theological arguments – including making statements about the proper interpretation of the Bible and other religious texts and endorsing specific religious groups over others – in the proposed course materials. Eugene Volokh does a good job explaining the problems.

You can view the court ruling against the school system here.

UPDATE: I should note that the question of whether or not the school system can implement this curriculum is still open; the ruling above is only on granting a restraining order.

Social Studies

Kids used to study History, Geography, and Western Civ. Well before the time I hit middle school, though, we switched over to Social Studies, which presumably is supposed to evoke the idea of sociology.

My main memories of social studies were obscure listings of the principal exports of a handful of African countries, a few discussions about the havoc wrought in Latin America by one Christopher Columbus, a teacher who read North Carolina ghost stories on Fridays, and one teacher who obsessively played, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” apparently whenever she thought we had touched on a name or topic mentioned in the lyrics. Sure, I learned the names of U.S. Presidents and a bit about local history and geography, but topics like any reasonably detailed discussion of, say, the Civil War, were relegated to electives. American history or political theory wasn’t covered in much of any detail until AP US History.

I’m not complaining about my education or my teachers; I got to college much more well-read than was average among my peers, because my middle school and high school were excellent. I think, though, that something might be wrong in our multi-cultural approach to classroom education when people graduate high school, but disturbingly high numbers of them cannot explain what Watergate was, name either of the Presidents during WWII, or identify the decade of the Civil War. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that any educational system in the United States which fails to embed any of that basic knowledge in at least, say, 98% of each graduating class needs to be razed to the ground and rebuilt from scratch.

It’s not just us, either; a teacher’s union in the UK wants to abolish the term “fail” from classrooms. Tongue Tied calls this, appropriately, Deferred Intelligence.

The End is Near, of Intelligent Life, Anyway

A friend, who is a grad student at a major, well-respected university – names of student and school withheld, for reasons which will soon be obvious – reports that a student in a class she T.A.’s asked for a word definition during an exam. The word: “monogamy.” Shocked, my friend asked the student if he had really never heard that word before. He replied that he had not.

It really is the end of the world…