Friday, January 10, 2014

Educationists need to leave higher education.

By Professor Doom

     “I will now demonstrate the FOIL technique with an example, by multiplying
       (a + b) times (c + d + e).”

--Math Education degree holder trying to teach math. FOIL, incidentally, is a mnemonic specifically for multiplying two binomials, and makes no sense in the example given. I’ve given many laughable examples of Educationists attempting to teach a subject they know nothing about, but I must clarify. I’m not picking on any single person here; each example comes from an experienced, different, Math Education major attempting to teach mathematics on a college campus.

     Time and again, I’ve seen mathematics positions being handed over to Math Education degree holders at the college level. I just assumed from the name of the degree that these people were well trained in how to teach mathematics, and that’s what explained their higher retention. Early in my career this made sense to me, like administrators I was completely ignorant of what Math Education entails—the difference being, I’m willing to make an effort to rectify my ignorance.

Student asking question from book: “Is y = |x| differentiable at x = 2?”
Educationist, teaching Calculus 1 for the fifth time: “Let me look it up.”
--Honest, it’s not that tough a problem for a teacher of the course.
     Eager to learn the ways of Educationists, I sat in courses and saw with my own eyes that Math Education degree holders thoroughly didn’t know what they were doing, and were instead only covering the lightest material, poorly, achieving higher retention via lowering standards to the point of irrelevance. I’ve reviewed what a Math Education degree entails, and I’ve taken an Education course, so I can say with certainty that the degrees are not interchangeable with actually knowing the subject of mathematics. It is puzzling how the holders of such degrees see nothing wrong in what they are doing when they apply for college positions. It is as unethical and irresponsible as a veterinarian performing heart transplants on humans.

Student: “What is the probability the population mean is in the 95% confidence interval?”
Educationist, with ten years of experience teaching statistics: “95%”
--wrong answer, by the way. I kept my mouth shut.

     Math Education is a splinter field, at best, addressing some minor topic which I admit I just don’t understand (more accurately, I don’t understand how you can study teaching of math as an end for two or more years of graduate level work that has almost no mathematics in it). A course called “Math Education” belongs on college campuses the same way courses on Gender Studies in Children belong on campus: a single splinter dead end course for those filling out a degree. The degree curriculum for this field has clearly been designed for people wanting to teach in public schools, and while it probably doesn’t have enough mathematical training for even that, such degree holders on a college campus should only be teaching courses called Math Education, nothing else seems to apply.

Educationist: “Now let’s try to do this exercise, copying the words after first turning the page upside down.”
Me: “The instructions say we’re to try to copy the letters as a mirror image”
Educationist: “No, it’s upside down.”
(I show her the handout she gave us, clearly stating to write the mirror images of the letters in our continuation of the first exercise.)
Educationist: “Well, it’s all the same. Turn the page upside down.”
Me: “Are we now doing the last exercise, since it’s now at the top where the first exercise used to be?”
--Educationist teaching us what having a learning disability is like, probably a bit more accurately than she intended. It’s nauseating how consistently Educationists can’t speak coherently on a topic even when they get to pick the topic.

      For some reason, an Education degree seems to be used as a joker, able to imitate any subject, or so Educationists claim. Much as mathematics has some application in physics or accounting, I accept the Educationist claim as some small truth, but not so much that these degree holders need to be held in such awe by administrators, and certainly not so much that everything they say should be taken as a face value undeniable truth applicable to all subjects. Educationists know about a field called Education, but past that? Not so much.   
     So that’s my next “brilliant” idea: only have people trained a subject teach that subject. Stop the insanity of wildly unqualified people teaching material they know nothing about. Much like my advice regarding the prevalence of cheating and the vast sums of “college loan” money spent on non-collegiate material, I’m puzzled that I’m giving such advice seriously…how did it happen that the rulers of higher education became so wildly incompetent, with no way to stop them?

Administration, at faculty meeting: “Let’s congratulate our new hire, as selected by the committee…”
Me (talking with each member on the committee): “Didn’t we agree this guy was the absolute worst possible choice?”
Committee member: “Yes, I don’t understand. Even the incompetent woman was still  better than this guy.” (each candidate said something similar)

Me (in e-mail to admin): “How is it that the faculty committee’s last choice got hired?”
Admin: “Because all the others were offered the job, and refused.”

Other candidate (in e-mail): “Did you fill the position? I never heard anything back?”
--two other candidates reviewed by the committee applied again, and claim they were never offered the position, either.

     The way to stop Education from controlling everything is for faculty to reclaim a power that administrators took: the ability to hire faculty. Instead of, time and again, administrators overruling faculty and inflicting questionable “teachers” on a department, faculty should have ultimate input over who they want to work with, and why. I’m no elitist, a candidate’s degree isn’t nearly as important to me as ability to teach and knowledge of subject matter, but loading up departments with people whose only qualification is subservience to administration is simply not a recipe for providing a good education to students. Perhaps this, too, needs to be explicit in accreditation, although there is a distinct need for emergency appointments from time to time.

“You’re working with idiots.”
--time and again I’ve had friends and family say this to me when I tell them what’s going on in higher education. Some doubt, but then I provide documentation from my colleagues and superiors (sic) showing what’s up.

      Education as a field has made inroads into math, chemistry, English, and many other subjects, watering down the curriculum in a blatant attempt to increase retention of their majors in those fields. What will happen when there are Engineering Education, Medicine Education, and, God forbid, Airline Pilot Education graduate degrees? Maybe there is a need for such specialist specializations, but allowing such degrees to serve as wildcards for actual subject matter does a grave disservice to students that want to legitimately know these subjects.

Official letter: “We’ve reviewed the original committee’s work, and unanimously agree that 120/50 is 2.35.”
--I can’t make this stuff up. The reviewers all had graduate degrees (granted, mostly Education related). The reality is administration ordered the committee on pain of termination not to find any error, but…damn, it really seems like someone should have spoken up.

     It isn’t just that we’re screwing over people, inflicting hideous debt on them if they drop out without a degree…we’re also screwing over the folks with legitimate degrees, because there’s no way to tell if it’s a ‘real’ degree, or one given by Educationists. That needs to stop.


  1. 'Student: “What is the probability the population mean is in the 95% confidence interval?”
    Educationist, with ten years of experience teaching statistics: “95%”
    --wrong answer, by the way. I kept my mouth shut.'

    Technically he or she is correct -- just expressing a tautology. Might have been more precise to say "0.95," as probability can be anywhere between 0 and 1, but this is just pedantic quibbling.

  2. I concede it's a tricky question...the probability is actually 0 or 1. That's why it's called a "confidence" interval, as opposed to a "probability" interval. The technique works with 95% confidence, but whether it did or did not in any particular case is (typically) unknown.

  3. Nice blog and a good effort to alert the educationists.
    UK Ireland Student Visa