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Anyone browsing a used book store could have gotten attracted to the purple and turquoise cover of a book that might have looked like the long-sought Anthology of English Literature. The casual browser may have gotten more curious and opened the book to find National Geographic-like pictorial essay on Mali’s Dogon tribe and other exotic communities intermingled with an essay on the need for zoos to project a social message.

The surprised browser checked the cover to discover that the book was Focus on Algebra, from Addison-Wesley. The book had the photo of Bill Clinton and Maya Angelou, who was selected to write a poem for his Presidential inauguration. The casual browser might have even recognized her Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘for I Diiie nestled among the Pythagorean formula and an example of a square root.

A pierced youth manning the cash register identified the book as the one used at his high school. The enthusiastic youth even bragged having studied from the book. However, when quizzed about the name for the graph of the 1/X function, instead of a hyperbola he called it a "heart monitor wave."

This book was developed by the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics, volunteered a proud shopper.

An elderly gentleman was more knowledgeable and informed the inquisitive browser that the new textbooks on science employ teaching by conceptual understanding. The casual browser said, "It is like learning to calculate compound interest by discussing Marxist criticism of free market economy." The grandpa laughed.

The grandpa told the inquisitive browser that the high schools nowadays promote cooperative learning, where students are invited to form groups in order to discuss and teach each other concepts without resorting to a teacher. This particular high school was about to follow the nationally acclaimed grading system where the science students would get credit for wrong answers if the answers were accompanied by a description of “appropriate strategies.”

“Would YOU know the formula for a cardioid?” asked the grandpa.
The casual browser was caught off guard.
“I don’t. But I sure would like to know,” he said.
The grandpa drew a heart shape on the store’s bookmark and inside wrote:

“Season’s Greetings,” said the grandpa and made his way to the antique store next door.

He must have been one of those old-fashioned geeks that designed the Empire State Building using a slide rule and a pencil.

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The following comments are for "The Logarithm of Maya Angelou"
by Teflon

This is what it has come to...
Thanks for a delightful vignette that summarizes perfectly what has happened to American [at least, how are things elsewhere in the world?] public education.

The touchy-feely, politically-correct, "I'm OK, You're OK" nonsense you describe is one of many reasons I don't regret not going into teaching, despite earning a Master of Science in Teaching (well, it wasn't THAT hard, since it is decidedly NOT rocket science!) and certification in grades 1-8 and in Learning Disabilities. I saw enough as a substitute teacher and as a full-time LD tutor to realize that teaching was no longer the respected profession it had been when my Great-Aunt Zerna was helping to create the Dick and Jane readers back in the '30s.

Teachers are not really supposed to teach anymore - God forbid they actually "discipline"! They're just supposed to pat their students on the head and tell them what good little boys and girls they are, even if the kids never learn to do anything for themselves. But I'm sure those of you still working in the biz could tell us real horror stories. (I bailed. Now I just work at a teachers' credit union!)

For more on the state of education, you may be interested in the material on She blogs about education and pops up regularly in the "Views" section of (Oops! I've said the "F" word! Now I'm in trouble!)

I enjoy your writing, Teflon. Do I detect a bad attitude? (The good kind, that is?)

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: December 29, 2004 )

well-versed in math?
Fuzzzy thinkers teach
fuzzy thinking
with warm and fuzzy cirriculum.

Hair-raising observations!

( Posted by: drsoos [Member] On: January 1, 2005 )

@LinnieRed-DrSoos-Jessica: is scary, but I grew optimistic: at least there is one sane sane teacher doing something about it and exposing the nuts and bolts of the system stripping its threads. I don’t get to see much TV to get the Fox picture – I get the feeling it is the black sheep in the News biz? I know Fox for its O’Reilly show that I have underwatched.

I thought I was up-to-date on my math, when later one I realized that I knew the polar coordinates equation for the cardioid, but not the Cartesian. I am also fuzzy!

Jessica, I am also fuzzy about categorizing writings. I still have some pieces that could be simultaneously Opinion, Review, Article, Blog, Announcement and Short Story. Months ago I even asked you about posting verses from the Psalms and the Song of Songs arranged in a unique order. Thinking about cubbyholing it helped me to rework the whole think

Happy Merrymaking to all,


( Posted by: Teflon [Member] On: January 1, 2005 )

Fuzzy Logic
Yet what I like about this opinion most, Teflon, is that it doesn't seem to push in favor or disfavor regarding the topic (maybe it would work best in essays, rather than opinions?)

For the most part I'm a strong believer in straight-forward education which aims at specific targets with it's students, especially where it focuses on rhote education with younger children. Yet I have to say that for someone, like myself, who scored a 37 out of 100 on an ADD assesment test which was based on the IQ test (normal is 100-110, anything below 80 is dysfunctional) I'd probably gain a deeper understanding of algebra from the book you describe than from an old-fashioned text-book, since that's essentially the way my brain works, anyway -- in a fuzzy way, not going from point A to point B, but bus-akwardly, from point Z to point A to point C to point B. The teaching style you describe may not be a method which would make sense to someone who sees the world in a linear light frame, but I think oddly-framed views hold more value to many more individuals than the causual observer might guess.

While I think unpremeditated acts of liberal education may be harmful, automatically assuming that all unusual aspects of liberal education are detrimental is simply restrictive and more harmful to students in every final analysis. One might as well fault a diabetic student for becoming sick after consuming a standard cafeteria lunch, where insisting one method of education works equally well for all students, everywhere, all the time.

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: January 4, 2005 )

It's been a while since I was a high school student, but does it mean that most of the American high school students need the Z to B to A method? Does it mean most of them have been raised as gifted poets but not as candidate scientists, engineers, statisticians, geneticists? I'm not being facetious, just finalizing it rhetorically.

Thanks for your angle,


( Posted by: Teflon [Member] On: January 4, 2005 )

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