Send friend request.

The newly elected mayor of Troy, a suburban community here in the Metro, presided over only her third city council meeting last night, but the first one to be packed to the rafters with angry residents and, no doubt, a fair number of outside agitators. Over the weekend, a Facebook status update from earlier in the year, when she was Private Citizen Janice Daniels — and may I just say, that would be an excellent business card to have, don’t you think? “Private Citizen (Your Name Here)?”

Anyway, here’s what P.C. Daniels wrote:

I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.

As you might expect, attention has lingered on the “queers” part, but I’d like to consider the rest of this simple declarative sentence for a bit. I know nothing of her background, although we can certainly assume she was at least considering a run for office in June, when this appeared. She should have been measuring her comments at the very least, but this is Facebook, and if there’s one thing that social network does, it’s winnow. I have hundreds of friends, but it’s fair to say that the ones I see in my daily stops there are pretty much like me. I see a million versions of the hot viral video being promoted by people like me. I know what the hot story being pushed on After a while, I could be lulled into believing the whole world agrees with me, and before you know it, I’m posting about the queers.

Daniels is a political novice and a favorite of the local tea party, so it’s fair to say she’s maybe not totally sophisticated about these things, and her half-assed, unenthusiastic walkback has only made it worse:

She’s pointed out that the offensive Q word is “in the dictionary,” and that she still has the tote bag (“It was a joke”), all the while clinging to her “principle” — that “marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

Although Daniels has apologized weakly several times, always with caveats, she has yet to suggest she actually understands how she offended real people who live, shop and work in Troy and who are her constituents.

…Maureen McGinnis, the mayor pro tem, said City Council members had received hundreds of emails, including those from people who said they wouldn’t shop in Troy stores or eat in Troy restaurants.

Daniels received them, too, she said, “but I also heard from people who said they want to move to Troy.”

But let’s get back to the original statement; gays can get married in New York, and the only thing you can come up with as a protest is to throw away a branded “carrying bag?” And you actually own one in the first place? That’s sort of embarrassing. It’s like saying you’re protesting Arizona’s immigration laws by boycotting Road Runner cartoons, and then, when called on it, protesting that there are cacti in the background, so, y’know, get it? GET IT?

On the other hand, this is a Facebook posting. What hath Sarah Palin wrought?

It should be illegal to be this dumb, let alone hold public office.

OK, the hour is growing late, and I have some work to do. A little bloggage:

Longtime readers know I like to use Bob Greene as a punching bag, but he actually did do a few pieces I liked, almost all of them for Esquire magazine. (Whenever I meet an otherwise bleh writer with one great platform, I always assume it’s the editor’s credit.) In one, he signed up to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test. It turns out anyone can take the SAT, if they pay their money and otherwise follow the rules. As I recall, he aced the verbal and tanked the math. I’d like to see more school board members, policymakers and other civilians try something like that, or, even better, take their state’s own standardized test, which one brave-but-anonymous soul did, described in this WashPost column. His report?

I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

Y’don’t say.

Time to cut things short and get moving. The week is now fully under way. Hope yours is going well.

Posted at 10:23 am in Detroit life |

65 responses to “Send friend request.”

  1. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

    The very sort of weird shit that results from the ascendancy of the Teabangers.

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  2. Sue said on December 6, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I think anyone who looks down on people who’ve gotten their GED should take the GED. Might be an eye-opener on the kind of motivation it takes to rectify a bad life decision like dropping out of high school.

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  3. mark said on December 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

    For those who are avid facebookers, or allow your children to indulge with minimal supervision, I am acquainted with two different companies that are currently downloading wholesale content from facebook, twitter, etc., while working on (or working with others who are) developing specific purpose search engines that will allow this data to be quickly and intrusively searched and segregated. I’m told there are others. In the near future, schools, employers and others will be able to obtain (for a fee), very thorough information concerning your internet presence, with reports highlighting any number of selected areas of emphasis- criminal conduct, drug and alcohol use, political persuasion, racially or sexually insensitive commentary, etc.

    And of course, all of those photos.

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  4. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 11:04 am

    It’s a pervasive claim on the web that Obama has been inordinately the beneficiary of banking and Wall Street largesse. On the right, this undoubtedly comes from lying turds at Newsmax. On the left, it’s a result of the remnants of the Deanie Babies and hardcore omphaloptical Naderites that elected Shrub with their short-sighted, smug Liberaler-than-thou bullshit in 2000. Well, au contraire. Tell that to the absolutely corrupt GOPer Senator Schmucks on the Banking Committee. Mind boggling.

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  5. Connie said on December 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Your local library probably has a test prep online product if you want to take a sample GED or SAT. Michigan residents can use MEL (Michigan electronic library)to access Learning Express.

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  6. Connie said on December 6, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I have been pleasantly surprised at how relevant my long ago high school education has been to my adult professional life. Math? I’ve been running municipal units with multi million dollar budgets. Just pulling in all the pieces of a personnel budget is mathematically complicated. Speech class? Yup, I speak to community groups of varying sizes from 10 to 300 or so. And so on.

    Remember sine, cosine and tangent from geometry? Some years ago an architect said to me (I paraphrase from memory) “the reason this outlet keeps blowing out computers is because there is a fan on the same circuit and it causes a sine wave on the line.” My response was “sine waves are real? I thought they were just math.”

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  7. Christy said on December 6, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I’d like to know more about this math being described in the standardized test. My experience (having tutored GED math a little) is that something about people and math causes them to mentally opt-out early, deciding that they are just not Math People, and so the math they’re being taught isn’t relevant, or they can’t do it, or something. I never saw a subject matter give people anxiety/antipathy the way math does, but given enough time and effort and belief in oneself, I honestly think anybody can learn high school math through Algebra at least. Maybe this makes me a bad instructor with overly high expectations, I don’t know. But I’d like to know what kind of math is on a high school 60-question exam that this fellow and his cronies consider difficult and unnecessary.

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  8. Deborah said on December 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I have to use geometry a lot in my profession (graphic design for the built environment) and I often have to call my husband who was a theoretical math major in his undergraduate years to help me figure out the correct formula to use. I am math impaired, I managed to get through Algebra II and trig in highschool and barely passed math 101 in college. I just do not understand math at all.

    edit: I think it’s a brain chemistry thing, or a brain physiology thing. Something’s not wired correctly.

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  9. Heather said on December 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I have to agree with Barbie here: Math is hard! And like Deborah, it just never clicked with me. I remember there was a very specific point at which I couldn’t really conceptualize it anymore–it was in third grade. And I was one of the smartest kids in school! Intro to algebra and geometry were OK, but once we started getting more advanced, it was like the teacher was speaking a different language.

    I can only think of one or two instances in which I needed math to figure out something, and I just asked coworkers. Not to denigrate math–it’s obviously an important subject. I’ve often wondered if it’s something about the way my brain is wired. I’m left-handed–always thought that might have something to do with it.

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  10. Sue said on December 6, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Christy and Deborah: I remember going in for extra work with my high school algebra teacher freshman year. I remember understanding it as we worked through the lesson. And I remember clearly the panic as I felt all that understanding leaking out of my brain as I walked down the hall minutes after the session. Really, I could feel it drifting away and I still remember the frustration and embarrassment. Whenever my boss wants me to do a numbers thing I remind him, wit that I am, that the the mathematical probabilities of me doing it correctly are not in his favor.
    Cooking and baking is a real-world place to practice math skills. And I got a peripheral math lesson out of an Excel class I took once. Excel rocks for the math impaired.

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  11. Jim Neill said on December 6, 2011 at 11:51 am

    The thing about math is that it teaches you to think logically (“A” leads to “B” leads to “C” leads to an answer). Some people are more adept at logical thinking (and thus naturally excel at math), but I think too many people give up on math when they look at a problem and the answer doesn’t magically pop into their brain.

    (by way of saying, the process is more important than the answer on the test)

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  12. nancy said on December 6, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I’d like to see math applied as part of a life-skills curriculum, to try to bolster students against all the people waiting to take their money. You could do problems on credit-card interest, buying vs. leasing a car, renting vs. buying a home, etc. Financial literacy, in other words.

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  13. Sue said on December 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    “Financial Literacy”:
    My daughter had to take a course like that, she ran into a brick wall because she couldn’t balance the checkbook. Oh, she could balance the checkbook ok, but she couldn’t figure out how to do it THE RIGHT WAY.
    There are those who can’t do math because they can’t make the answer pop magically into their brains, and those who can’t do math because they can’t navigate the roadblocks that are put up by those who can do math.

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  14. MichaelG said on December 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    When she was in eighth grade my daughter came to me for help with an algebra problem. I looked at it and fiddled with a pencil and mumbled and suddenly she interrupted with “Oh, I see it now.” Thanked me for my help even though she had figured it out herself and went back to her room. She later graduated with a degree in math.

    Navigating and building are also math intensive. Some time take a look at the calculations behind a structural element in a building. Whew.

    That practical course is a great idea, Nance. I would expand it to include basic living things like paying the rent, having to pay for utilities and groceries and cable and phones and all the other things in life. Also that when you move into your own place you have to get mops and sponges and etc. and etc. I think kids really have no idea of the real world when they get out of school.

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  15. nancy said on December 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I heard the lead guitarist from Queen, who is now a math professor, describe how he created the stomp-stomp-clap sound from “We Will Rock You” in the studio, using delays based on prime numbers. It sailed so many miles over my head it’s not even funny. Good thing I don’t like the song that much, but here’s the wiki version (I heard it on “Fresh Air”):

    The stamping effects were created by the band overdubbing the sounds of themselves stomping and clapping many times and adding delay effects to create a sound like many people were participating. The durations of the delays were in the ratios of prime numbers, a technique now known as non-harmonic reverberation. A tape loop is used to repeat the last phrase of the guitar solo three times as opposed to Brian May playing it three separate times on the recording.

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  16. alex said on December 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Financial literacy should be taught in schools. I know of one teacher who made it part of his curriculum — a teacher in charge of an at-risk program where children were emancipated or incarcerated or otherwise were earning high school credit while employed at jobs.

    The college-bound kids who’ll be getting deluged with offers from Citi and Bank of America, etc., don’t receive anything like this at all.

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  17. nancy said on December 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Don we now our bright apparel.

    I hope they don’t have to sing “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”

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  18. coozledad said on December 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Or “The Boar’s Head in Hand Bear I”.

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  19. Bitter Scribe said on December 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Troy is the HQ location of the company I used to work for, aka The Most Evil Fuckers on the Planet. Somehow I’m not surprised someone like that would be mayor.

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  20. Bitter Scribe said on December 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Careful with the financial literacy there, Nancy. If kids get too financially literate, they won’t buy the lottery tickets that fund education in so many states.

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  21. Sherri said on December 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    About ten years ago, I was considering becoming a substitute teacher in California. To qualify as a sub, you needed a bachelor’s degree, a background check, and to pass the CBEST, the California Basic Education Skills Test for teachers. So, I took the CBEST, cold, no prep. Three sections, reading, math, two essays, easy test, high score.

    What was troubling to me was that you take any section of the CBEST any number of times until you passed it. So, there were a lot of people at my test site there just to take the math part again, or maybe again again. The math test had nothing on it beyond the very basics of Algebra and Geometry.

    This is troubling to me because this is pool of people from whom we’re drawing elementary school teachers. In my experience, it is not at all unusual to find an elementary school teacher who will admit that he/she doesn’t like math or isn’t particularly good at math. Is it any wonder then, that students come out of elementary school already disliking math?

    We live in a society where it is perfectly acceptable to say “I’m terrible at math” but nobody would admit that they don’t read very well.

    By the way, for our journalist friends on the list, in my perfect world, more of you would be better at math. Too often, I see numbers just passed on from the source without any sort of sanity checking to see if they make any sense or not.

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  22. Bitter Scribe said on December 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Sherri: Boy howdy. When I was an editor, I wish I had a dollar for every time I tried to explain percentages or tax rates to a reporter and heard, “I became a reporter because I didn’t like math!”

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  23. MarkH said on December 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    caliban @#4 — Oh, really?

    Let’s put your linked article in perspective; that $31 million is for the ten Senators over their total time in congress. That’s 123 years for all the committee members combined. Let’s just say that our president is loved just as much by Wall Street, if not more. He is out-fundraising all of the republican candidates in Wall Street cash.

    Don’t like it? Call the WaPo this time, not NewsMax.

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  24. Christy said on December 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Sherry, it’s interesting you’d say that – there’s been some studies about math anxiety and how it transfers, and (supposedly) there’s a link between teachers with math anxiety affecting their students, particularly female math teachers and female math students. Google for “teachers math anxiety” sans quotes if you’re interested.
    My weak area, embarrassingly, has always been “Find the main idea”, and its close sibling: “A good title for this article would be”, despite having no problem with comprehension.

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  25. paddyo' said on December 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Just love that “it’s-in-the-dictionary” excuse by Janice of Troy. I’m guessing she’s probably never really cracked the covers of one, or she’d know that all the other offensive words — f-word, n-word, c-word, you name it — are in there, and with detailed definitions, too.

    As for math, I loved high-school geometry (guess I was better with protractors, squares, planes and space) but struggled with most of the rest beyond standard arithmetic. But then, in grade school I struggled with diagramming sentences until I finally grasped what on Earth it was Sister Anastasia was talking about.

    But Sherri noted a problem area: Journalists. We’ve committed some doozies, many of which made it into print. They should’ve had a required course in everyday-news-story math in J-school for the many mathematically challenged among us future ink-stained wretches. Would’ve helped us run election numbers, figure square mileage and acreage, calculate percentage increases in budgets/taxes/tuitions, and of course, do the ever-popular if often-inane quantity conversion for the purpose of gee-whiz-holy-shit-THAT’s-a-LOT!: “At the peak of the spring runoff, the dam operators were forced to release enough water to fill 20 million bathtubs a minute for a week ….”

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  26. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Mitt Romney has raised far more money than Mr. Obama this year from the firms that have been among Wall Street’s top sources of donations for the two candidates.

    That gap underscores the growing alienation from Mr. Obama among many rank-and-file financial professionals and Mr. Romney’s aggressive and successful efforts to woo them.

    The imbalance exists at large investment banks and hedge funds, private equity firms and commercial banks, according to a New York Times analysis of the firms that accounted for the most campaign contributions from the industry to Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama in 2008, based on data from the Federal Election Commission and the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

    One of those papers got the math way wrong. WaPo is including DNC donations, which is, of course, apples to oranges.

    Regarding those ten bought and paid for GOP senators, their bullshit intransigence on financial reform that is unquestionably in Americans’ best interest seems to me to brove my point about them. 123 years is 12.3 per, which is very slightly more than two Senatorial election cycles ber crook.

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  27. beb said on December 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    So apparently the inability of reporters to understand the marginal rates of our tax code isn’t because they’re criminally committed to advancing Republican fears but because they’re math literate?

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  28. Jolene said on December 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    The question of who is raising money from whom is tricky, both because, as Caliban points out, there’s the question of raising money for candidates vs. parties and also because the picture is changing everyday. It really won’t be possible to make an apples-to-apples comparison until there is a Republican candidate. Even then, it will be important to pay attention to how much is being given to candidates and how much to the SuperPACs that don’t require donors to identify themselves.

    Clearly, all candidates are going to try to raise money on Wall Street because, as Willie Sutton knew, that’s where the money is. Right now, it looks like the richest of the rich are leaning Republican, with Obama gaining a higher proportion of his contributions from small donors.

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  29. basset said on December 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    >>something about people and math causes them to mentally opt-out early, deciding that they are just not Math People, and so the math they’re being taught isn’t relevant, or they can’t do it, or something.

    Next, I will expect you to roll out Robert Heinlein’s famous comment about how the math-ignorant are “at best, tolerable subhumans who have learned not to make messes in the house.” Or something like that, working from memory here.

    I am tensing up right now just thinking about math class, any math class, from elementary school up through high school geometry, which is where I finally managed to barely fulfill the minimum requirements and stay away from math classes forever after.

    >>I never saw a subject matter give people anxiety/antipathy the way math does

    Implied subtext, at least the one I get: “Anyone who doesn’t get math can’t be all that bright – I mean, I can do it!”

    >>but given enough time and effort and belief in oneself, I honestly think anybody can learn high school math through Algebra at least.

    No, there are some who cannot. And, Caliban, I don’t want to hear how good you say you were at it in high school.

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  30. Julie Robinson said on December 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Yup, math is hard. Once my sis went off to college I was in trouble, and decided not to take it senior year, since I was going into theatre anyway. Once my kids got to sixth grade they had passed my junior level algebra and I was relieved of those duties.

    But I’ve worked as a bookkeeper and currently volunteer as church financial secretary, and I enjoy doing taxes. Most everyday math, the financial literacy Nance suggests, is more about literacy than math. If you can add, subtract, multiply, divide, and figure percents, you’re going to be fine as long as you can decipher what needs to be done and in what order.

    Thanks to those of you who enjoyed I’ll Fly Away–all three have done extensive performing and I had them sing at the beginning of the service, rather than at the end when they might be more emotional. Sarah read two of the Bible lessons and got very choked up during the second one, which of course got the rest of us going. They were good honest tears, though, and she pulled herself together and finished strong.

    I took her up to Midway to head back this morning and am thinking I deserve a nap. It’s been a long week.

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  31. Jolene said on December 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Speaking of small donations, the prez is once again offering donors (of any amount) the chance to have dinner w/ him and Michelle.

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  32. Christy said on December 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Well, I didn’t mean that at all. I am kind of shocked that there’s someone on the school board who couldn’t answer a single question on a high school exam, but no, I don’t think people who don’t get it are stupid or lazy or anything like that. I get frustrated because I feel like a lot of people are getting shortchanged educationally – and I did know people who were told at a young age that it was ok, some people just weren’t math people – that’s a quote – and one of them did feel like it impacted her ability to learn. So that bothers me. Mostly it just frustrates me that at a young age people are already approaching the subject with fear and insecurity, and it makes it harder to help them later on. But no – God, no – I would never say a person had trouble with it because they were stupid, because that hasn’t been my experience, and I saw quite a few high school dropouts that would say they were. I am truly sorry if I came across as a pompous ass, and “anybody can learn” was probably a poor choice of words.

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  33. Peter said on December 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Bitter at #19 – I didn’t know we were coworkers!

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  34. Mark P said on December 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    It’s easy to say you’ll never use math in your life once you’re out of school, but few of us actually have the crystal ball to make sure. I attended a very good prep school and took AP math, physics and chemistry. And then I got a journalism degree, where I never used any of it. But after a few years I went back to school and got a PhD in atmospheric sciences, and you can believe I was glad I had taken all that useless crap.

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  35. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I hated algebra and had no interest in learning it. Bad teachers too. I was a straight C algebra student, and to this day have no idea why I had to waste time on it. Geometry makes sense and is clearly rife with practical applications, and I loved it. I guessed on the math SATs and did fine with a system. Rule out ridiculous answers, pick what looked like the most likely, proved backwards through problem. Worked well. Worked on the GRE too, somehow.

    When I transferred to UGA from Holy Cross, I was confronted with a Math requirement. Precalc was horrendous taught by an old bastard that identified himself on his syllabus as Col. M. D. Collins, USMC (Ret.). I knew from the getgo it would be living hell, and the class began at 7:50 am. Col. Collins would lock his classroom door at precisely7:50. What a shithead. He gave trig tests that required hundreds of extrapolations that an idiot savant math whiz couldn’t have finished half of in the class 75 min. Midterm, I had a 54% avg. highest in the class by about ten points. The Col. asked me what I thought my grade was, and I told him A, since nobody else was even close. Gave me a C. A classmate that asked him to take more time explaining concepts pointed out that he’d been in the Air Force for seven years and hadn’t taken a math course in nine. He was told he’d have been better off in the Marines. This guy was an SOB. Fortunately I found out that a course in Formal Logic in the Philosophy Department was good for the second half of the Math requirement. One of my favorite college course ever.

    I’ve never paid someone to do my taxes, and had no trouble with accounting prereq for grad school. That’s arithmetic. Now fund accounting was a different story. That’s magic, smoke and mirrors.

    Julie, the hymn is gorgeous. I shared it with my brothers.

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  36. Bitter Scribe said on December 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Peter @ #33: Just tell me you don’t work at Bad News Pricks. (And if you do, you’ll know what I’m talking about…and God help you.)

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  37. Kirk said on December 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Sherri, what you said at 21, particularly the last two paragraphs.

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  38. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Hat tip to BS @ #20, which I nominate for today’s Thready Award.

    And I think the Blogmistress’ coinage could be an acronym: HAUW. “The candidate, caught by surprise when the microphones were left on, offered only a HAUW.”

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  39. Jolene said on December 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    The Washingtonian has published a profile of our favorite humorist/feature writer. Check it out.

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  40. LAMary said on December 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Sherri, I did the same thing. Took CBEST cold and aced it, but I was taking the test in a room full of people who were taking it for a second or third or whatever time. It was not a hard test, and this is coming from someone who had crappy math grades.

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  41. Bitter Scribe said on December 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Jeff @#38: Thanks, but it was just a riff on the old joke, “The lottery is a tax on the people who goofed off in math class.”

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  42. Jolene said on December 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I have been away from school for way too long to know how math is being taught these days, but I know that, for me, connecting the calculations to a story was a big help. Graduate statistics made more sense to me than high school trig because it was so clearly linked to finding the answer to real questions. Did the experimental group differ from the control group? Did the treatment affect the outcome?

    I can’t say I was a stats whiz, but the basic ideas of probability are incredibly powerful. If more people knew them, we wouldn’t be bothered by so many people trying to sell us goods and services that have no discernible value or by arguments about causality when what’s at work is happenstance.

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  43. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Jolene. I wa so math-phobic, I was askeered of Quantitative analysis, as my grad program called stats. The first exam was a legendary ball-breaker. Then, my calculator ran out of gas. I ripped all the pages out of my blue book and did the problems over. I was right the first time, and ended up with a 54% on the exam. I thought my grad school career was in the crapper. Passed the final with an A, and everything was OK. I proved a basically irrefutable statistically significant correlation between high incomes and voting Republican in Massachusetts cities and towns.

    Remember last summer when critics went nuts over Hanna? We just watched it, and it’s superb. The child star, Saorise Ronan, she’s the next Cate Blanchett if she wants to be. As gut-wrenching as Children of Men, which we think is Blade Runner good.

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  44. ROGirl said on December 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    My father was a statistician. After around the 7th grade I lost all interest and most of my ability in math. I made it to Algebra II in high school and it wasn’t pretty.

    The Teabaggers in Troy were also responsible for trying to close the public library last summer.

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  45. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 6, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    My son is still on 8th grade math, where I can still help him; what I hear people nearby kvetching about is somewhat misguided, in that the new principle is repeated exposure over time from different angles, rather than taking a step and pounding it in for three months then moving on. Fractions in elementary, for instance, or factors (starting earlier than I hit them in the 70’s, anyhow); you don’t master them, you work with them, muddle about with them, and change course, with the kids in on the plan that you’ll see these again. Net, they’re doing math concepts two or even three grades earlier than I recall first exposure, and getting them to high school with a pretty solid, broad base, with a minimum of Math-people, and Not-Math-people.

    The worry I hear from the college side is that this improved process and learning staggers to a halt in many/most high schools, and kids stop at as early a point as they can, or default to “easy” math. So when you’re teaching Statistics 101 in first year college curriculum, too many have had a couple years away from serious math, and it’s hard to get them up to speed with regressions and sigmas and deviations. Plus a growing number of young men are just not succeeding at math, and diverting out of fields where it’s needed. We needed the programs to support & enhance women in STEM, but we missed the rise of video gaming and hyper-distractibility that caused men to fade in those fields (no, Newt, it’s not a zero-sum game, and one didn’t cause the other).

    Admissions folk worry that a reinforcing problem is that high school kids, male & female, are reluctant to take more challenging math for fear of messing up a faux-perfect transcript. So they make it into a challenging school, but are accordingly less ready to be challenged. Anyhow, the point is we are successfully teaching more math to more kids across the socio-economic-ethnic boards by all accounts (looking from the 70s to the present), but only up to about 7th/8th grade, when the bottom relatively speaking drops out. So we know our next task — get boys engaged in math & science, and get them all to take risks in tougher classes and don’t obsess about raw GPA (they really do look at what your grades were in as it is, but perception is everything . . .). And there’s just the general, ongoing issue with patience & persistence. There’s not as much as profs would like to see, but likewise we’re putting more youth into college, so the relative numbers may be up, but the percentages of admitted v. successful are suffering.

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  46. Jolene said on December 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Very interesting analysis, Jeff. As always, the details matter. Am sure your insights on this topic will smooth your son’s transition into high school math classes.

    Tonight’s PBS NewsHour had a good feature on Detroit’s struggles and the changes underway there. Video not online yet, but should be available later this evening.

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  47. Sherri said on December 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    There are a lot of controversial topics in math curricula, including the “spiraling” concept that Jeff talks about, where you touch on a topic and then spiral back around to it later. One local district here carries the concept on into high school; rather than having separate Algebra I, II, and Geometry classes, they’re all combined into multi-year classes that spiral among the topics. Makes it rather difficult if you transfer in or out.

    There’s also the controversy over “fuzzy math” – the idea that in the move to make math more relevant, many math curricula today have moved too far away from drilling the basics, like actually forcing kids to learn multiplication tables. The state math test in Washington that we encountered when we moved up here in 2003 was very much a “fuzzy math”, language heavy math test; writing about the math problem was more important than solving the math problem. (No, I’m not exaggerating.) The test has improved, but the quality of the curriculum still varies quite a bit from district to district, even here in Microsoft land.

    I will say, having spent time tutoring kids in math and watching what my daughter does in math, that the math textbooks I see today are generally not as good as the ones I used. I was able to teach myself a lot of math just from the textbook, while it would be difficult to do that from the textbooks I’ve seen. It’s not just rosy memory; I have my old calculus textbook, so I can compare it to my daughter’s current calculus text.

    There are a lot of conflicting things going on in the high school/college boundary. High school requirements are going up; my daughter’s district requires 3 years of high school math through Algebra II for graduation (a waiver can be obtained for Algebra II, but not for Algebra I or Geometry.) My daughter has consistently taken math two years ahead of what I took in high school, and while she’s advanced, most college bound kids in her high school are at least a year ahead of what was available to me in high school. Yet at the same time, colleges are reporting ever more students needing remedial math. I’m not quite sure how to resolve those two things, and I’m not yet convinced that anybody else does either.

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  48. basset said on December 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Caliban, give it a rest just this once, OK? We’ll all stipulate that you’re the smartest guy in the room and always have been if you will only be quiet about it for awhile. And I said I didn’t want to hear it, not this time.

    Christy, you don’t come across as a “pompous ass” at all, but I have been called stupid and/or lazy for my math failures enough times that what you saw is my default reaction. I started first grade in a university lab school in 1960, just as the “new math” hit, and never did quite get it; ended up in a rural high school where nothing was important except basketball, just barely passed algebra II and geometry without any help from anyone, least of all the teachers, and no way in hell was I even going to attempt trig, statistics, calculus, or anything on that level once I got out of there.

    I mentioned “tensing up” earlier in the thread; even now, I have a physical reaction to anything involving math beyond simple arithmetic. One of Neil Stephenson’s novels, forget which, had some math formulas a few pages in; as much as I enjoy reading Stephenson, I saw those, closed the book, and shut down. Didn’t read another page, got rid of the book without finishing it, and felt low for the rest of the night.

    Some of us, Christy, are really not math people. Believe me, we’re not. Maybe we aren’t smart enough, some of you would say so, but math for me means stress and failure and more stress and more failure and that terrible feeling of not understanding, and I will avoid it as much as I can for the rest of my life.

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  49. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 9:26 pm


    What did I say. I said I sucked at algebra. It caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety as a HS freshman. And I was called dumb and an under-acchiever for it. In fact, my freshman algebra teacher told my parents I was “slothful”. How was I claiming to be smart? That is unfair as well as nonsense and claiming I said something I decidedly did not say.

    To this day, I vaguely understand the quadratic equation, and I defy anybody to explain why I should bother. I am not joking at all about guessing and bluffing through math on the SAT and GRE. Mainly, I consider decent scores lucky. I fail to understand how anything I said on the subject was self-aggrandizing. I did get fairly high scores on those standardized tests, but as I said, it was bullshit. I didn’t know what I was doing on many of the questions. I did almost, but not quite get this shit in college. I still see no purpose in it whatsoever. Please reconsider if you think I was bragging about my lack of math prowess. No way, no how. I managed to pass, by the skin of my teeth. All I said in the first place.

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  50. Suzanne said on December 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I did fine in math in high school–Algebra and Geometry–but I never enjoyed it. Seemed like a lot of gyrations just to get a number. I don’t really remember anyone I knew even taking calculus and trig back then in the mid-70’s. I’m sure some did, but I sure didn’t know any. I made it through college without having to take it.

    I think math is taught really stupidly nowadays. My kids did that spiraling thing and both of them were done with math as soon as they could. They had horrible math teachers in middle school, when it was probably the most important time to lay a foundation. I agree that there are far too many teachers who have math phobia themselves and so pander to the natural math brains because they don’t want to appear stupid. Or something.

    Also, in the push to promote STEM subjects, the math people get paraded around most schools on a pedestal like they are some sort of heavenly beings. Many of them will admit that they don’t read well, and write even worse, but that seems to be excused because, after all, they are math people and isn’t that wonderful.

    Hopefully, things are changing. At least, it does seem that smarter young people are going into teaching. The ed majors I knew in college were mostly really dense. One girl I knew had to be tutored in elementary math–yeah, that is what I want teaching my kid. But lately, the kids I know going into teaching are much brighter.

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  51. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I always thought that the verbal portions of standardized tests depended more on vocabulary than anything else. Latin Greek and Francais oder Deutsch in HS will put anybody ahead of the game. There is also luck on AP exams. When I had to write an English Lit essay for my AP, the subject was my second favorite poem, The Wild Swans at Coole. I had been considering this poem for years. The only thing that would have been easier would have been Under Ben Bulben. So what I say is that I’ve been remarkably fortunate. I’ve taken the national teachers (Praxis) exams. Scored quite well. I think that ability to score well on standardized tests, is probably genetic, or a knack, like playing the harmonica. Seriously, I’d like the Educational Testing Service to point out anything I ever got wrong on the verbal parts of their tests. I doubt I did. On the Math? How did they give me 600 scores when I talking out my ass? I love Physics, and the idea of physics, more than anything, but I can’t quite understand it. I got biology, but I think that’s a lot like understanding geometry.

    Sorry Basset, I was not tooting my horn. Sorry I annoyed you, even though I don’t understand what was annoying.

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  52. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    So elementary math is percentages? I do those in my head.Pardon me if that’s bragging, but I can do three digit numbers times four in my head. I cannot, for the life of me figure out the quadratic equation. There’s math and there’s arithmetic. Am I wrong? Did I somehow insult bassett? I still don’t see how. I certainly meant no insult. And I’m hurt to have been thought inconsiderate.

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  53. Kim said on December 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Oh, math, how you have vexed me. But as I am raising kids who are different learners than I (and the product of a father who is super-mathematical) I have had to get over the math blind spot. And, as a journalist, it has been to my benefit to recognize the math and be able to do it, correctly and confidently.

    All through school – elementary through high, that is – I had teachers who hated math and/or science. As a result, they rarely taught it. I thought it was great in the early going, then realized pretty quickly it was B.S. and the teachers ought to just master what they were supposed to be teaching us. It really wasn’t that complicated.

    A friend is a math teacher of amazing abilities. She can explain anything and get my liberal arts brain to get it. She claims math is developmental, and if you don’t keep the student engaged throughout the whole “getting there” process, you’ve screwed all the other teachers down the line along with the student.

    Because I’m married to a math wizard I have really learned to use that mathematical process – it is logic, really, and it helps to keep writing tight. Which I probably haven’t done here.

    Math seems like another language, I think, because it is one.

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  54. caliban said on December 6, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Now, European versions are always supposed to be better than American. But Rooney Is so much more Salander than Noomi Rapace. It’s not close. One’s feral, the other isn’t. American’s win. Salander is feral. That is the point, and that is why the American version is clearly better. Ms. Rapace is more like some Brunhilde. Rooney Mara is feral and deadly. What the character is supposed to be. Way better. The book exactly.

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  55. caliban said on December 7, 2011 at 1:18 am

    One of my best friends ever was an all America amazing football player that went to
    appalachia State. Kid’s did not give Neal shit in class. I’m all for astonishing teachers convincing kids about math. My boy Neal did. I wish more than anything I understood advanced math and physics, but I don’t. I get geometry with no doubt. But algebra and anything further, sorry, I don’t get it.

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  56. basset said on December 7, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Early start today, bad knees are my alarm clock. Four-thirty each morning, there they are.

    Caliban, pretty much all your posts, at least the decipherable ones posted before 10 pm or so, add up to “tooting my horn” – I don’t think you’re deliberately inconsiderate, but even in a post about having trouble with that mean ol’ jarhead’s trig class you had to work something in there about being best in the class by ten points. Scholar, athlete, “gifted” cook, it does get old, and worse than that, predictable. I asked you to lay off just that once because math is such a painful subject for me and I knew you’d have some kind of comment, but you still had to toot just a little. I’m not insulted, just tired of hearing about it.

    I’m not even sure you’re a real person – your total presence on here could be, and sometimes I think must be, a brilliant piece of performance art.

    Kim, from my point of view your friend’s exactly right, it is “developmental” and if you don’t have a strong base you’re in trouble forever. Another example – probably the best predictor of a student’s academic potential is how well they read in the third grade. If they don’t have it down by then, they have a hard time absorbing information from there on out, the pack pulls away, and before you know it they’re 17-year-old ninth-graders and they give up.

    That’s it from me, another thread-killing Basset post and we move on to a new day and new topics.

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  57. Connie said on December 7, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Bassett, I once heard at a library conference that the numbers of boys with serious reading issues in second grade has a direct correlation to that cohort’s prison population when they grew up. I am still skeptical. And cannot cite.

    Love my iPad, hate the keyboard.

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  58. David C. said on December 7, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I’m capable at math, but certainly no wizard. I had to take two semesters of college calculus to get my MET degree and was able to manage Bs. I never use it. All the formulas I use at work are already derived, so it’s a matter of plugging in the numbers and doing the calculation. Calculus in high school was my college calculus professor’s biggest irritant. He always ranted that they shouldn’t even bother – that the methods they use leads to bad habits that need to be broken (by him) later on.

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  59. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 7, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Sherri, I’m intrigued by your point that the older math books you could teach yourself from, but you couldn’t do that today with the much maligned “Everyday Math” spiraling texts. I think you are precisely correct, and yet I’m also certain that my son’s class work has been consistently two to three grades ahead of what my wife & I recall from ’67-’77. There’s an insight here that I can’t quite catch. But you are correct in at least that when I flip back and forth in the Lad’s book to figure out what he needs help with and I’m not quite up to speed, it’s not laid out . . . at least how my brain can get it.

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  60. Julie Robinson said on December 7, 2011 at 7:54 am

    The idea that math is developmental makes sense to me, since so much else in school is too. A reading specialist once told me some astounding figures about trying to catch up with kids who didn’t get good reading skills in kindergarten and first grade. I don’t remember the specifics, but the time needed for remediation is exponential each year after first grade.

    Connie, this is what our daughter is getting for Christmas to go along with her iPad: Unless someone else here has a better suggestion?

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  61. nancy said on December 7, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I, too, have a Bluetooth keyboard, which I use with my iPad whenever I have more than a few lines to peck out. HIghly recommended.

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  62. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 7, 2011 at 9:13 am

    (Which you should buy through the Kickback Lounge on your right . . . since Nancy isn’t saying it.)

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  63. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 7, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Monetize, monetize, monetize (aka do as I say, not as I do).

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  64. Julie Robinson said on December 7, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Oh yes, Kickback natch.

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  65. Colleen said on December 7, 2011 at 10:54 am

    *****Some of us, Christy, are really not math people. Believe me, we’re not. Maybe we aren’t smart enough, some of you would say so, but math for me means stress and failure and more stress and more failure and that terrible feeling of not understanding, and I will avoid it as much as I can for the rest of my life.****

    I am really not a math person. I am taking stats now and need to get a C on the final to get a C in the class and continue with my program. And it’s not all that certain I will get said C.

    I am smart at some things. Math isn’t one of them.

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