Thursday, August 4, 2016

MSU: Math OUT, Fakemath IN.

By Professor Doom

     It used to be the degradation of higher education required effort to see. It was incremental: a few pages taken out here and here, one less paper to write, one less book to read. If you weren’t working in higher ed, you could easily miss it.

      Now the degradation is in real-time, as we literally watch the meaning of a college degree change on a month to month basis.  A degree from 2016, already debased to the point that it means little more than a high school diploma from 2010, will still represent far more of an achievement than a degree from 2018.

       I’ve covered before how a school admitted their math courses were frauds, and simply removed them, replacing them with fake (instead of fraudulent) courses. One of the weird things about higher education is the “best practices” concept, which merely means “if someone else jumps off a bridge, then it’s reasonable for me to jump off a bridge, too.”

      So, with one state university abandoning the mission of higher education, others are following in short order:

Students at Michigan State University will no longer have to take college-level algebra, thanks to a revision of the general-education math requirement.

     We’ve gone from major news sites laughing that we teach algebra, a beginning high school topic, in college, to our colleges now not even aspiring to teach something so advanced as algebra.

     Now, readers of my blog know that “college-level algebra” is a lie, the algebra there is the same stuff the average high school graduate saw in the 10th or perhaps the 11th grade. The lies continue:

Michigan State University has revised its general-education math requirement so that algebra is no longer required of all students. The revision reflects an increasing view on college campuses that there is no one-size-fits-all math curriculum -- and that math is often best studied in connection with everyday life.

      The above is certainly pleasant sounding pabulum. A commenter flips things a bit to show how idiotic this line of thinking is:

Michigan State University has revised its general-education writing requirement so that writing is no longer required of all students. The revision reflects an increasing view on college campuses that there is no one-size-fits-all writing curriculum -- and that writing is often best studied in connection with everyday life. The new course - Life Tweeting 101 - will require students to compose one tweet of no more than 140 characters every week. The tweet must relate to an issue of social concern that has been discussed in class. A representative of Michigan State said that students connect to writing when it is presented as relevant to real life.

     Look, I agree “one size fits all” can be a problem, but, seriously, “1 + 1 = 2” is taught to everyone as well. The alphabet is taught as rote memorization to all. Should we remove these things because they’re “one size fits all”? Higher education isn’t about “one size fits all” anyway, it’s about pushing humanity to be better.

      It’s well documented that we’ve removed writing and reading from higher education. Mathematics has been pretty much the last standard bearer of higher education, but now that “best practices” will allow the removal of mathematics from an education, there won’t be much left to justify that diploma.

       MSU is abandoning that mission of higher education, under the spurious claim that pushing people is a “one size fits all” thing, and, instead, will remove mathematics, so that everyone is the same, at the same level of cognitive ability when they graduated the 9th grade. I’m starting to wonder if administrators take chainsaws to their brains…I just don’t see how else these levels of cognitive disconnects are possible.

      MSU wants to teach everyday knowledge instead of even high school level knowledge, further reducing the college diploma from “high school” to “middle school.” Why should people go deep into debt for this?

      With algebra gone, new courses will take their place:

Two quantitative-literacy courses -- Math 101 and Math 102 -- will be offered this fall, Melfi said. An estimated 1,000 students will enroll in these courses each year, he said.

      The gentle reader should understand that the long words of “quantitative literacy” are a smokescreen. These courses will simply be deeply watered down versions of the courses most students took around the 8th or 9th grade. While the claim is these courses will focus more on real world applications, I assure the gentle reader they will do no such thing.

      When I taught at a bogus community college, we had these quantitative literacy courses, and justified them as being “real world applicable.” Rubbish. Here’s the type of question that will be asked and discussed in these courses:

“Frankie is three years older than Johnny. If the sum of their ages is 13, how old is each?”

--does this question come up often in real life? This is what you’ll see in a quantitative literacy course.

     These courses will focus on questions you can just trial-and-error your way through, the hard part will be getting the students to indicate their answers in English (that’s what goes on now, the Math courses now cover the English).

      I’ve been teaching mathematics in higher education for decades. You know how much of that advanced math I use outside of the classroom? None, at least none I have to use. I don’t use calculus or statistics or differential equations or theoretical probability (much less algebra) to balance my checkbook, or determine that the cost of things I actually pay for is going up much faster than the government rate of inflation. Outside of the classroom, I mostly use the math I’ve learned for amusement purposes…I don’t suspect I’m typical in that regard (outside of math professors!).

      I knew how to handle my finances getting out of high school. I went into higher education to move higher than where I was before. MSU is getting rid of the fraud of “college algebra” and replacing it with an even bigger fraud.

     To be fair, I also don’t use the Marxism I learned in higher education either, or the history, or the physics, or the chemistry, at least not on an everyday basis. I didn’t go to college to learn everyday things, and higher education was never about everyday things. It’s stupid to annihilate a foundation of knowledge because you don’t use it to tie your shoes or take out the garbage or even pay your taxes. I again wonder why we should put our kids deep in debt to learn skills as common as the tying of shoelaces?

      There’s another problem with annihilating mathematics, however.

     STEM, STEM, STEM, we’re told over and over again how our taxes are used in education, how important it is to produce graduates in science, technology, engineering and math. Does the gentle reader suspect these courses will help with that? Of course not. Administration knows this as well:

Still, it’s important to remember that the quantitative-literacy courses will mainly have an impact on students in non-STEM majors…

        Since we won’t be accomplishing any of our goals in higher education by forcing students into fake math courses, what is the real purpose? Buried within the article is the true reason:

Bob Murphy, director of university relations and policy for the Michigan Association of State Universities. “It’s helpful…Ideally, it will lead to more successful graduation outcomes.”

     Again, we have long words here, but the true purpose is clear: more graduates. The university, bloated with growth through open admission and signing up everything with a pulse for student loans, is now under pressure to get actual graduates. Rather than focus on education, the administration has taken the cheeseball easy way out, and changed the definition of “college graduate” to “can perform at the 8th grade level.” Once again, this is why I keep saying we should have educators in charge of education, instead of the immense (and immensely  overpaid) legions of administrators we have now.

     Note also that once again I’ve produced an administrator whose title, “director of university relations and policy” is thrice as long as his name.  We really do have so many administrators that they’re running out of simple titles to award themselves. If we really want to help education, we need to trim back the shambling hordes of administrators that plague higher education. As I’ve mentioned before, we could probably start by just getting rid of administrators whose title is beyond a certain length.

      Until then, we’ll just watch higher educator degrade further and further, until “college graduate” simply means “can check a box qualifying for a loan to get a diploma.”