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Monday, July 30, 2012

Followup - What Is the Value of Algebra?

AlgebraWay back in the early days of this blog, in only the third month of its existence, I wrote an entry, What Is the Value of Algebra?, in response to an op-ed in the Washington Post that suggested doing away with algebra requirements for high school. Now, Andrew Hacker is up to similar antics, writing an op-ed for the N.Y. Times, Is Algebra Necessary? (h/t to Pharyngula).

Here's how he starts out:

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I've found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn't.

Later on in the article, he had this to say:

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation's shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I've talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

I already expressed my opinion pretty well in my previous blog entry, so I'll copy a part of it here:

...I think that our education should be well rounded. History and English are important, especially history in my opinion, so that people can put current events into their proper perspective, and learn from the past. But algebra is just as important. And it's not like it's asking a lot for people to learn algebra. It's basic, basic stuff. It's not like the requirement is for students to know calculus, or differential equations, or vectors, or imaginary numbers. Algebra is only one small step up from arithmetic. I use it everyday, and to compare it to English, algebra is as fundamental as being able to recognize nouns and verbs. If a high school diploma is supposed to have any merit for saying that a person has a fundamental skill set, and isn't just a piece of paper saying that a student showed up to class for 12 years, I don't think it's too much to ask students to understand algebra (and language, history & science, as well).

To add to that, we live in a representative democracy. Everybody's vote counts equally, and we all get a say in who represents us, and by extension, what public policy will be. How can you expect that system to work if not for a well educated citizenry, and how can you expect to have a well educated citizenry without the foundation of most of mathematics? I mean, how can you even begin to understand claims about scientific issues like global warming or vaccine effectiveness without a basic understanding of math?

Granted, there may be a problem with students having difficulty with math. But students also have difficulty with a lot of things. Just go read this Newsweek article, America the Ignorant, for a sampling of some of the ignorance of our nation. Here are just a few:

  • "21 percent of Americans believe there are real sorcerors, conjurers, and warlocks out there."
  • "Sixty-three percent of young Americans can't find Iraq on a map, despite the ongoing U.S involvement there."
  • "...more than a third of Americans of any age can't identify the continent that's home to the Amazon River, the world's largest."
  • "Only two out of five respondents, however, can correctly identify the executive, legislative, and judicial branches as the three wings of government."

The solution to all of these problems, including algebra, is not to reduce standards. Rather, it should be improving the education system so that students learn what they need to (there are societal problems that also need to be addressed, as discussed in a different op-ed from the N.Y. Times, Class Matters. Why Won't We Admit It?)

Further down, Hacker had an example:

What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It's true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there's no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x² - y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.

That is a truly basic bit of algebra. It's not asking someone to develop the quadratic formula or Phythagorean theorem. It's something that I would hope every high school graduate could do. And even if a few lower caliber students slipped through the system without being able to complete that task, I fully expect that politicians and public intellectuals would be able to do it (or rather, I should say that I'd hope they could do it - my opinion of politicians isn't too high). It's like saying, 'there's no evidence that being able to write a sentence with proper grammar leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.'

I just don't understand the anti-intellectualism so prevalent in certain sectors of our society right now. Granted, not everybody can be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, so we shouldn't set expectations unrealistically high, but we also shouldn't set the bar so low that a high school diploma becomes meaningless. Algebra really is the basis of most 'real' math, and an understanding of it should be expected of all well educated individuals.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

National Hot Dog Month

Chili DogJuly is National Hot Dog Month. The 22nd is National Hot Dog Day, but the big event is July 4th, the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Last year's winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 62 hot dogs, buns and all, in 10 minutes. That's almost 8 packs worth!

There are tons of different toppings for hot dogs, but here's one of my favorite combinations, which also happens to be just a little out of the ordinary. Ellicott Dining Hall at University of Maryland used to serve them this way, but it's the only place I've ever seen that did, and they've since remodeled, so I doubt even they make these hot dogs anymore. Really, the recipe's pretty simple - a hot dog on a bun, covered with sauteed potatoes and onions, with a bit of spicy brown mustard. The potatoes have to be diced pretty small. Simple, like I said, but very good.

And if you really want good hot dogs, make sure you buy good hot dogs. You can't beat hot dogs in a natural casing for the little bit of crispiness when you bite into it. Here in Wichita Falls, I can find the Boar's Head brand with natural casings, which are pretty good, but they're all beef. Back up in the northeast, Dietz and Watson makes natural casing hot dogs, too, and theirs have pork mixed in (I'd buy those if I could find them down here). Of course, if you know of a good local butcher, go there.

I'll mention that I kicked off the month by going to a local place, Ronnie's, and getting a chili cheese dog with sauteed onions and jalapeños, and a side of fresh cut fries. It was pretty tasty, and worth going back (unfortunately, the dog didn't have a natural casing or pork). Probably my favorite hot dog joint is The O in Pittsburgh. Natural casings, plenty of toppings, and a mountain of fresh cut fries to go with it. When I had my internship back in college, there used to be a guy with a hot dog cart that would pull up to our building every day. I didn't go there every lunch, but it got to the point where I didn't have to order - once he saw my face, he'd just start preparing my regular. I've never seen a guy work so fast with toppings.

Anyway, there's no deeper meaning to this post. It's kind of frivolous, but I really like hot dogs, almost as much as potatoes, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to write about a whole month dedicated to them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tastykake Follow Up

A little while ago, I mentioned that I'd found Tastykakes for sale at the local Walmart down here in Wichita Falls, Texas. Well, now our local Target has them, too.

Tastykakes in Target

Awesome.

So, I know I said in that previous post that I thought that once Tastykakes were available to me all the time, they'd lose that 'exoticness' that made me buy them everytime I went back up north, and that I'd end up eating less of them. Well, they have lost just a bit of that specialness, and I don't buy them all the time, but my daughter really likes them, so we probably buy a pack every month or so. In other words, I may not be gorging myself on Tastykakes, but I'm getting more than I would from trips back home. If you notice in that picture above, there are no more cream filled Koffee Kakes, because we got the last one.

Now, if only the stores would start stocking Utz Potato Chips and the Grandma Utz kettle chips (fried in lard), I'd have all my snack foods covered. Then I'd just need to get them to start stocking scrapple, shoo-fly pie, mustard eggs, sweet lebanon bologna, Taylor Pork Roll....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

National Essential Tremor Awareness Month

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month. To quote from the International Essential Tremor Foundation, Essential Tremor, or ET, "is a neurological disorder that causes hands, heads and voices, and sometimes legs and trunk to shake." It is also referred to as familial tremor, benign essential tremor, or hereditary tremor.

To quote from Wikipedia, "ET is one of the most common neurological diseases, with a prevalence of approximately 4% in persons age 40 and older and considerably higher among persons in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Aside from enhanced physiological tremor, it is the most common type of tremor and one of the most commonly observed movement disorders." It's important to realize, though, that ET can occur in people of any age, even newborns.

Although there are some medications to treat the symptoms of ET, those medications are only effective in about 60% of people who suffer from the disorder.

To learn more about ET, visit the International Essential Tremor Foundation. Here are a few pages focused on information.

If you'd like to help, you can make a donation.

Friday, February 24, 2012

WooHoo! Tasty Kakes

I was in Wal-Mart this week, and look what I saw:

Tasty Kakes

Tasty Kakes! For those of you not familiar, they're a snack food company based in Philadelphia. They were the local equivalent of Hostess or Little Debbie. When kids in the cafeteria pulled out their dessert from their lunch bag, it was Butterscotch Krimpets, not Twinkies.

Ever since seeing that, I can't get the jingle out of my head. Here's the commercial I remember best from when I was a kid, but the jingle's been around forever.

Actually, since that commercial's mostly an instrumental, here's another one more typical of the jingle.

The weird thing is, now that there are Tastykakes here in Texas, I bet I'll end up eating less of them. As it was before, they were something special that I couldn't get here. So, every time I headed back up north, I'd buy a couple boxes as a treat. Now that they're here, I can buy them anytime. I'm sure as heck not going to eat them everyday, but there's no special event to trigger me to pick up a box.

It's the same thing when Jack in the Box came to town. Before, the only Jack in the Box I knew about was in Decatur, midway between Wichita Falls and DFW. So, whenever we stopped in Decatur to get lunch, we'd stop at Jack in the Box since it was something we couldn't get at home. Now that the Jack in the Box has been in town for over a year, I've been there maybe 3 times.

So, I've got a box of Butterscotch Krimpets and Koffee Kakes, and I'll probably buy some Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes once they're restocked, but that'll be my Tasty Kake fix for a while. Maybe. My daughter really likes them, and we buy her treats more often that we would for ourselves, so maybe once they're in the house my temptation will get the better of me.

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