Vlorbik's Diner

son of owen's cooking show

this will all make sense later

Posted by vlorbik on August 20, 2009

whenever you’re teaching, say,
“intermediate algebra” and talking about,
say, adding fractions… whatever,
sooner or later somebody will say
“my *old* teacher showed me…[this]”,
where [this] is, typically a sketch of,
some very-likely-flat-out-wrong or
in-any-case-insufficiently-general or
other way to go.

and we’ve got, as it were, a new
stumbling block. because, although
it’s easy enough to learn to rein in
one’s initial reaction
(“well, first of all i don’t believe you;
*no* math teacher would’ve told you *that*…
but more to the point, so what?
it obviously hasn’t been working out
for you since you’re still being
“remediated”. maybe *this* time
you’ll take it *seriously*”)…
the student isn’t getting “buy-in”.

because this “new” thing that *you’re*
presenting is *felt by the student*
as an *attack* on the “trusted source”
that they remember as having taught them
*something*… something that will have,
at least, made some sense to them at one time.

so they’ve circled their mental wagons
around their wrong idea hoping to keep
your good idea out as some kind of
*act of faith* (in their trusted source).

or so i conjecture.

i was telling essentially this story
one day in the barracks and was overheard.
“i like the way you put things”
said i-forget-who (a near-stranger)
gladdening my heart and giving me
some confidence that here was,
anyway, some blog fodder.

because we teachers need to talk about
issues like this and i’m just the guy
to jump right in and participate
whenever i can. i’ve *always* felt
this way. i’ve *also* felt that
formalizing such discussions,
say under the heading of
pedagogical content knowlege,
is in vain and a grasping for wind.

because why? because there’ll be
*no* “right answer”… anyway no
right answers of the kind we encounter
in, well, say, adding fractions.
where certain very precise claims like
{a\over b} + {c\over d} = {{ad + bc}\over{bd}}
can be displayed as it were
like a “text of our sermon”,
an anchor to insure that our discussion
never drifts off into mere opinion;
a way to get our *feelings about*
the material off to the side
and compare *our* ideas to
what i’ll go ahead and here call
“the truth” or “the fact of the matter”
or something like that.

nope; it’ll always, like in *most*
academic subjects, be about *words*…
and *opinions* about them…
things that flat-out *don’t have*
“literal meanings” in the sense
that equations do. what’s weird
is that we usually like to pretend
that words *can* and even usually *do*
have strict, this-and-only-this
“meanings” in ordinarly conversational speech.

i was kidding around yesterday
with some funny-when-taken-too-literally prose.
typical math-major stuff, really.
people say “always”, for example,
to mean “sometimes”… and are clearly
understood in their context.
this happens all the time (see?).

along comes a math major who thinks
(or pretends to) that “one non-example
refutes any claim to universality”
and expects (or pretends to) that
*displaying* a counterexample will
cause whoever is making the sweeping assertion
to *modify* their claim rather than,
say, reply with, “oh, you’re being
too literal” or some variant.

“acceptance is the answer to all my problems”.
all? really?
you’re just being too literal.
well, maybe *you’re* not being literal *enough*.

we keep wanting to be able to say things that
are *true*, as it were universally, and moreover
we keep wanting these things to be *believed*.
but because we’re working with ill-defined concepts
(not mathematical symbols), this is,
strictly speaking, impossible.

there’s *always* (okay, i don’t mean this)
some man-behind-the-curtain “hidden assumptions”
preventing us from settling arguments
in, say, religion and politics:
we *say* we’re talking about *school* classes,
for example, when maybe we’re “really”
talking about *social* classes
(but are prevented by blindspots and taboos
[in this case, by generations of redbaiting]).

math-heads keep noticing this; it annoys the others.

oh, and we saw _revolutionary_road_ a little bit ago.
good picture. but did the cinema really need another
madman mathmajor? couldn’t he have just been a philospher
or something? geez.

6 Responses to “this will all make sense later”

  1. kibrolv said

    “Wow,” he said. “Now you’ve said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that’s all we ever talked about. We’d sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said ‘hopeless’, though; that’s where we’d chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that’s when there’s nothing to do but take off. If you can.”
    “Maybe so,” Frank said. But he was beginning to feel uncomfortable again; it was time to change the subject. “I hear you’re a mathematician.”
    “You hear wrong. Taught it for a while, that’s all. Anyway, it’s all gone now…”


  2. kibrolv said

    movie clip.

  3. vlorbik said

    textbook selling blog. egad.

  4. vlorbik said

    “the barracks” defined

  5. […] At Random e-mail reprint08/20/09 nobody writes to the kernel ramble of ex-math-teacher08/20/09 this will all make sense later pedagogical content knowledge08/23/09 the equality meaning of the equal sign try it you’ll […]

  6. […] At Random e-mail reprint 08/20/09 nobody writes to the kernel ramble of ex-math-teacher 08/20/09 this will all make sense later pedagogical content knowledge 08/23/09 the equality meaning of the equal sign try it you’ll […]

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