Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Slippery Slope to Polygamy

So the conservative blogs are hopping over this article about a civil union of three people in the Netherlands. It has long been one of the talking points that if we give gays legal marriage or civil union rights, this will lead to further degradation of marriage in the form of polygamy and presumably other evils. One thing has always bothered me though....

Why is it that Christian people seem to think polygamy is worse than gay marriage?

The Bible gives no example of gay marriage and makes no comment about it. However, it does soundly condemn homosexual relationships. On the other hand, the Bible contains numerous examples of polygamy being practiced by faithful members of God's people. Nowhere do we find an outright condemnation or prohibition of the practice. Nowhere. Only two things I can think of argue against it: 1. Paul said that pastors (deacons, or whichever translation you want to use) should "be the husband of one wife." 2. Most of the polygamous relationships in the Bible led to problems, so the accounts of what happened can be taken to be advice against it.

Furthermore, there are cases where the OT law required polygamy. In certain situations, when a woman was widowed, her husband's brother was to marry her and raise children for his brother. It doesn't say "only if the brother is single" so this would lead to a polygamous relationship if the brother was already married.

I'm not defending legalization of polygamy, I just think we have the whole thing backwards. If polygamy is not good, then certainly gay marriage is far worse and shouldn't even be considered. Maybe our rallying cry should be "No gay marriage before polygamy."

Of course, the Netherlands case is a good example of moral problems all around. The married couple met a married woman in internet chat, got sexually involved with her, and as a result she got divorced and joined them. So the original couple here is guilty of marriage-busting, and of course, adultery. These three are obviously not going to be good poster children for polygamy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

John Taylor Gatto

You have just got to read the article linked here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Written in Defense of ID

It could be that mine is the only mind that exists, and that everything I perceive (including this board) is just a product of my imagination. Or, just as easily, of "The Matrix." Philosophers have pondered these and other possibilities. We don't really know how much of the "real world" is really real. Do we? In fact, whatever position you take on the role and interpretation of sensation, it is clear that all logical deductions and inferences are a product of the human mind (individual or collective). It is conceivable that such products have no relationship to "reality" or "truth" whatsoever. In fact, if the mind is the product of random, undirected, unintelligent processes, there is absolutely no reason that reason should produce anything reliable. It's just another random process. Belief in evolution leads logically to a rejection of science as a valid way of knowing.

Friday, September 23, 2005


The International Herald Tribune
September 17, 2005 ; Pg. 7
HEADLINE: People who know math matters
BYLINE: Thomas L. Friedman

"HeyMath's mission is to be the math Google to establish a Web-based platform that enables every student and teacher to learn from the "best teacher in the world" for every math concept and to also be able to benchmark themselves against their peers globally.The HeyMath platform also includes an online repository of questions, indexed by concept and grade, so teachers can save time in devising homework and tests. Because HeyMath material is accompanied by animated lessons that students can do on their own online, it provides for a lot of self-learning. Indeed, HeyMath (see www.heymath.net), which has been adopted by 35 of Singapore's 165 schools, also provides an online tutor, based in India, to answer questions from students stuck on homework."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Louisiana Officials Indicted Before Katrina Hit

Surprise, Surprise. There were already officials in New Orleans indicted for fraud with FEMA money before the hurricane hit. Millions of dollars for improving flood and hurricane preparedness disappeared....

Global Warming--A Cool Headed View

Article by Bill SteigerWald, FrontPageMagazine.com:
Q: And global warming is something we should study but not get panicky about?
A: The thing to keep in mind always is that the natural fluctuations of climate are very much larger than anything we can ascribe – so far – to any human activity. Much larger. We lived through a Little Ice Age just a few hundred years ago. During the Middle Ages the climate was much warmer than it is today. So the climate does change all the time. We need to understand the scientific reasons for natural climate change. Most of us now think it’s the sun that is the real driver of climate. It has something to do with sun spots, but the mechanism is not quite clear. That’s what’s being studied now.

What is "Middle-Schoolism"?

Not Middle Schools, mind you, but the philosophy that bred them. This is explained in a new paper by Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke, Mayhem in the Middle. A few highlights:

She [Dr. Yecke] is superbly qualified to tackle this topic, having served, among other things, as a senior federal Education Department official, as Secretary of Education in Virginia—a state widely praised for the quality of its academic standards—and, for a brief but astonishingly fruitful period, as Commissioner of Education in Minnesota. As we go to press, Florida Governor Jeb Bush has just named her that state’s new chancellor for K-12 education. She also authored the fine 2003 book, The War Against Excellence, which simultaneously exposed the shortcomings of U.S. middle school education and the country’s strange and dysfunctional animus toward “giftedness.” (Information about that book can be found at www.waragainstexcellence.com.) As expected, her book was condemned by reviewers for the National Middle School Association, which branded it “part of a larger attack sponsored by ultra-right and ultra-conservative groups on colleges of education, NCATE, and the like,” thus sparing itself the unpleasant task of addressing Yecke’s substantive arguments and voluminous evidence.

Middle schoolism (definition): An approach to educating children in the middle grades (usually grades 5-8), popularized in the latter half of the 20th century, that contributed to a precipitous decline in academic achievement among American early adolescents.

The middle school movement advances the notion that academic achievement should take a back seat to such ends as self-exploration, socialization, and group learning.

If ever an education fad was a vivid illustration of dreadful timing, reaching its intellectual and political pinnacle just as lightning struck that very mountaintop from afar, that was “middle schoolism.” The key year turned out to be 1989, when the middle school bible, an influential Carnegie-backed report named Turning Points, was published just as the governors and the first President Bush were gathering in Charlottesville to place the United States squarely on the side of the standards-based reform that is antithetical to the central message of this education religion.

Rather than submit to the reality that America now demands schools with strong academic achievement and that such achievement is essential to secure not merely national prosperity but also the engaged citizenship that undergirds the republic, radical middle school devotees continue their efforts with fervent zeal.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Out with the old trigonometry

Mathematics students have cause to celebrate. A University of New South Wales academic, Dr Norman Wildberger, has rewritten the arcane rules of trigonometry and eliminated sines, cosines and tangents from the trigonometric toolkit.

I have not read the book, "Divine Proportions," and cannot judge its value. However, I do have a comment on the notion that we could somehow dispense with teaching the trig functions in high school or college. Trig functions are not just about figuring triangles. There are many mathematical concepts that make use of trigonometry and have no obvious connection to triangles. Engineers and many other practical users of mathematics rely on these functions for many basic calculations. Is it possible to supplant the trig functions with something else, in such a way that it would generalize to all the other current uses of trigonometry in higher math? If so, how do we make the transition? Can we really have one generation of engineers who understand and write things in terms of sine and cosine, and another generation immediately following who have no knowledge of these things? Or one branch of the field that uses one set of definitions and another branch that can't communicate with the first because it uses another set of definitions? I won't say it's impossible to establish a new paradigm, nor that it should not be done. Just that it seems extremely difficult. Proceed with caution before eliminating something so basic from the mathematics curriculum. If it really is a good idea, work it from the top down--get the graduate schools on board first, then the undergraduate schools, etc. so the reliance on the old system can be weaned in an orderly manner.

If anyone is familiar with Wildberger's ideas, please add some comments.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Ambassador to Afganistan Math blunder

This morning on NPR the US Ambassador to Afganistan was interviewed. He was asked several questions regarding the elections, one of which had to do with the fact that several candidates have been killed. His response: "Six out of 6000 candidates have been killed. That's .001%, a very small number."
Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe he doesn't know decimals from percents. Or maybe it was a deliberate attempt to make a small problem seem even smaller.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

ED Hirsch Book

Like many other ed bloggers, I too am looking forward to E.D. Hirsh's new book, "The Knowledge Deficit." I have given a link to The Instructivist in the title as one example. He has copied the press release for the book in this article. Check it out if you haven't already.

An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the ...Welfare State

"What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. And they don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men. "
Please read this excellent article by Robert Tracinski.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Race of New Orleans

Ambra Nykol says,
... accusations have centered on race, racism, and the neglect of black people, specifically by President Bush. .... As the front man, our President has taken a beating for such sentiment, but to be honest, considering the real issue at hand, I'm not entirely convinced that Kerry, Clinton or Gore would have handled things much differently. For the record, the reality stands: institutionalized racism currently exists. It's not some socialized problem [emphasis mine]. It is a stronghold that needs to be broken.

Condi Rice says,
"I find it very strange to think that people would think that the president of the United States would sit deciding who ought to be helped on the basis of color, most especially this president," she said. "What evidence is there that this is the case? Why would you say such a thing?" Ms. Rice said she was first impressed by Mr. Bush in the 1990's, not because of any foreign policy issues, but because he spoke of "the soft bigotry of low expectations" [emphasis mine] and the phrase meant something to her. She recalled being told by a high school teacher "that maybe I was junior college material" and added: "I know about the soft bigotry of low expectations. And it's not in this president. It is, however, deeply ingrained in our system, and we're going to have to do something about it."
Fred says
I was traveling in China when pictures of the looters in New Orleans began to appear on CNN. They were black of course. Looting and raping and burning are what blacks do when the lid loosens. Yes, I could phrase this more cautiously.... Yet it happens time and again. There was Los Angeles, burned in 1992. There have been Cincinnati, Miami, Seattle, Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, Crown Heights, Watts, Newark, on and on and on. When the law loses its grip, the looting begins.... With the dismantling in the Fifties of apartheid in the United States, many hoped that blacks would rise, study, progress, and become genuinely[,] as distinct from formally[,] integrated into the country. I hoped it too, though my expectations were low [empahsis mine]. Southerners said it would never happen, but were dismissed as prejudiced. They were right. The melding of the races just hasn’t worked and, if examined honestly, shows few signs of working. Fifty years after the Brown decision, blacks remain unassimilated. .... Integration of the schools degraded the schools, but did little for blacks. Operation Head Start didn’t work. Racial quotas in the universities didn’t work, nor did the awarding of unearned degrees or the establishment of epartments of Black Studies. Compulsory integration of restaurants didn’t work. Quotas in hiring, enforced by the federal government, didn’t work. Welfare didn’t work. “Hate-crime” laws didn’t work. Nothing has worked.... Neither race shows much inclination to associate with the other. Left to themselves, they quickly segregate, in housing, on campus, in night clubs. Only heavy federal pressure produces an appearance of togetherheid.
As a police reporter frequently in the hearts of the big cities, I saw the failure with a clarity available to few. The black regions are huge, and they are purely black. Their denizens share little with a society of European derivation. In particular, with not enough exceptions, they seem to regard laws as restraints externally imposed instead of internally felt: When the police go away, so do restrictions on behavior.... Morally it is saddening. For blacks, for whites, for the country the best thing would be that blacks genuinely flourish.... Perhaps, as many suggest, a history of being wards of the state, of being given special aid and special privilege, of having nothing expected of them [emphasis mine], has inculcated passivity. .... Scholarship, reading, study do not seem to appeal.
Writers speaking of the looting in New Orleans regularly say that poverty causes looting, and that as a society we should do something about it.... With the inevitability of gravitation, commentators attribute the incompatibility with what we think of as civilization to oppression or neglect by whites. Oh? In Washington, the mayor is usually black, along with a majority of the city council and school board. The principals are black, as are most of the teachers, almost all of the students, and their parents. The funding per student is high. Yet the schools are horrifically bad.

Institutional racism today amounts to little more than institutionalized low expectations. Wherever attempts are made to raise expectations, the cries of "racism" arise, thus keeping expectations low and entrenching institutional racism. I think that about says it all.