Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

1/6/2005

Trouble a-brewin’.

File under: Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:47 pm.

Week One is drawing to a close, and I’ve managed to make it through my four and a half straight hours of teaching without collapsing, but we’ll see if that trend continues next week, when my evening classes begin. So far, my classes are going well, and my students, for the most part, seem pleasant enough, with the usual exceptions. I’m going to have to come up with ways to deal with some of them:

  1. There’s a guy in integral calculus who’s taking eight (8) classes this semester. (A full load is five.) He’s already seen most of the material from my class; I asked him why he’s enrolled, and he answered predictably: my class is easier than the advanced math class, and, well, what with the other seven classes it’s good to have an easy credit. Normally that wouldn’t bug me - far be it for me to impose my radical philosophy of but don’t you want to LEARN NEW THINGS in your classes on my pupils - except that this kid persists in calling out suggestions for where I should go next with the mateiral. It’s abundantly clear that he’s seen the material before - a calculus newbie doesn’t figure out, unprompted, that we can find the area under a curve by sticking little tiny rectangles around the curve and then take the limit of the sum of their areas as the rectangle width goes to zero - so I can’t think of any reason for this disruptive behaviour, other than sheer boastfulness on his part. I’ve already talked to him, and he confirmed that nothing I’d covered today was new to him. Unfortunately, though, it seems like he’s not being wilfully obnoxious; he seems to really crave validation from his teachers, and even after I tried to explain it, he can’t see why his input isn’t appreciated. Hopefully his other seven courses will get the better of him, and he’ll drop mine.
  2. The Nice Teacher who gave “pretests” to his students last term isn’t back this semester, but his legacy remains. I’m teaching some of his flunkies in my precalc class this term - that’s right, despite the fact that Nice Teacher essentially allowed his students to see their tests before they wrote them, he still failed as many students as I did - and two of them approached me last night and asked me, in all seriousness, whether I too gave pretests, because that totally helped them last semester. I managed to keep my jaw from descending, and decided that the logic of “how much could the pretests have helped you if you still failed the class” would be lost on, well, students whose native intelligence was insufficient to exempt them from that group. So I simply answered that no, I did not give pretests; Like it or lump it was implied. I did hand out a review sheet that class, and specifically mentioned that anyone who was not comfortable with the (grade 5-9-level) material on it would fare poorly in my course. Beyond that, being prepared for Precalculus Revisited is their responsibility.
  3. Last but not least: by and large, statistics is going swimmingly. It’s a fun subject to teach, and my students seem receptive. (Introducing the subject from the “media numeracy” perspective turned out to be a very good idea.) The notable exception, at this point, is this one woman who sits and the back and who, at every available (and unavailable) opportunity, regales us with her insight into the subject, which I summarize here for your edification: statistics as a field is racist, sexist, and classist. Now, most introductory statistics texts take the break-it-down-then-build-it-up approach to introducing the subject - “look at how poorly collected/analyzed/presented statistics can mislead you, all right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s learn how to do it right” - and my text is no exception. In accordance with the text’s structure, I’ve devoted no shortage of class time to pointing out that many studies have overlooked minorities or women or poor people.
    But that’s beside the point, apparently, as - GODDAMNED PATRIARCHAL STANDARD DEVIATION! - statistics itself is fundamentally flawed . This she has pointed out some four or five times, in various contexts, as though hers is some profound observation that would render the last six decades of statistical study obsolete, if only we mathematicians would open our eyes. My college does not have a department of PoMo bullshit, or women’s studies, so I don’t know where she got the idea that her thoughts are anything but empty, self-serving claptrap. What I do know is that my patience will soon be depleted if I have to engage her in many more exchanges such as this one:
    Me: (after writing definition on blackboard) So we’d want our sample to be randomly selected, so that it provides a good representation of the entire population.

    Her: But don’t randomly selected samples tend to ignore the poorest, most disenfranchised members of our society?

    Me: That is a segment that is prone to being overlooked in collecting sample data. However (pointing to definition), a randomly selected sample is no more likely to overlook poor people than it is to overlook rich people, because in a random sample, BY DEFINITION, every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected.

    Her: I’m not convinced.

    So there we have it: FUCK THE POOR is one of the central tenets of statistics, and as part of our work, the secret cabal of statisticians must pledge allegiance to the Ruling Class of white Jewish mathematicians who co ntrol the media and public discourse, or something. Due to space considerations, I omit - and I swear that this actually happened - Tuesday’s (truncated - my patience stretches only so far) discussion of how the prevailing Western worldview is so androcentric that the idea of phrasing a survey question objectively is completely laughable, and it’s a reflection of my privilege to pretend otherwise. (I bit my tongue and did not counter with “I took the bus to school today. You drove, didn’t you?” Nor did I point out that she (blonde and blue-eyed) could not lay claim to the visible minority label, whereas my ethnicity is ambiguous.) Anyway, I look forward to many more truncated discussions with her - in particular, some in which she challenges her test grades, because, like, everything is totally subjective and statistics is bullshit anyway and therefore I should give equal consideration to her bullshit.

None of this, so far, is unmanageable, not even #3, who already shows some signs of weariness: I’m a term older and a term wiser than I was four months ago, and I can already feel in myself a growing proficiency at setting the tone of class discussions and firmly but gently discouraging certain behaviour.

If that fails, I know a lot about mind games. My former students have taught me well.

Profit margin: 50000%

File under: XX Marks the Spot, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:54 pm.

If anyone can think of a better way to create a profitable business using $10 of their own money, I’d certainly like to hear it.