Most of the Arts as we have them today are largely an outgrowth of the philosophy of Rousseau and his Romanticism. That is dangerous. Silly atheist cant to the contrary, Atheistic Romanticism, in the form of Communism and Fascism, has killed more people than any other faith or ideology in the history of the world. With the growth of journalism schools embedded in the Leftist academy, we now see that the modern flavor of Romanticism has crept out of the Arts and English Departments and in to our news outlets. Romanticism creates myths such as Rousseau’s Noble Savage, and keeps on believing in those myths in the face of contrary evidence. A highly dangerous habit in the Press Corps.
My major beef with Romanticism in the MSM is that it can’t count. And that means, in today’s high tech society, that it often turns out to be the enemy of freedom. (I’ve gone into that in detail before.) In fact, given the low expectations about subject matter knowledge, journalists can’t do much of anything else, either, and that, too works against the very freedom the Press claims to protect.
But this is a post about math, or at least math concepts. It is a crying shame that, back in the 50s when Sputnik spurred the development of the current US high school math and science curriculum, that physics and physics envy ruled the day. Because for most people, high school calculus is a joke, and the time would be much better spent on statistics. If one has read Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, one should have been struck by the main mathematical aspect of that book: there were exactly zero references to the Calculus, and most of the examples came from probability and statistics.
The reason that Paulos concentrated on probability and statistics is that those are the non-intuitive concepts that drive policy and decision making even on the personal level, and they are the most subject to distortion by the media. Every time an assertion is made that can be described by statistics (and this is especially true of anecdotal examples that the MSM brings out without referencing statistics), the first questions an educated human ought to ask is: what is the mean, and how broad is the distribution?
The MSM has a habit of cherry-picking stories off of either tail of a distribution. The lack of logical training of most reporters comes through in this kind of argument. This allows them to buy into myths that may or may not have been true once upon a time, but are no longer supported by facts. Ginny just reminded me that one of those myths is that there is a large segment of the poor who would do better in life if only they had better access to education.
If you were to look at the mean of the distribution of intelligence versus socio-economic status in, say 1920, there would be an awful lot of smart kids left out in the cold, even though their parents were hard working and imparted the meta-skills necessary for success.
My paternal grandfather became an engineer is this time period. My maternal great-uncle was probably a genius, but didn’t. Both of them had the kind of meta-skills that keep one out of the poorhouse (statistically) in today’s world – they worked hard and they got married and stayed married. But my great-uncle was the son of a farmer and had an eighth grade education, and he had to teach himself mechanics. Self-taught or not, he was the only person in Leesburg that Arthur Godfrey would let touch his expensive and rare clocks, and my great-uncle repaired them every time they stopped working. What would he have done if he’d had access to an education? Well, I doubt that I’d be the first person in that family to hold patents, that’s for sure. But just one generation later, and of his brother’s four kids (my great-uncle died childless), two had aptitude and went on to college, and two didn’t and didn’t. The reality behind the myth was changing.
That’s not to say that every Boomer who wanted and deserved to go to college did, but with each passing generation, that myth of the buried genius is getting harder and harder to support with facts. Poor attitude and work habits bring down more poor kids than lack of access to education. As we cull more and more of the capable from the ranks of the poor, this under-resourced population is getting smaller. As Ginny noted on this blog:
Ours is not the world of Dickens; it is a world when the greatest injustices are done by people to themselves: staying in school, staying married, staying employed – these are choices. The fate that buffets us may be a culture that undervalues learning and undervalues renunciation of the sensual present for the well-prepared future, but it is diverse and the choices ours. Our schools may be lousy, but we have the internet and libraries. Waiting to marry and staying married is likely to be better for us, better for our children – to pretend that this gap is not one of choice is to infantilize us.
Are there still kids who can’t get access to an education due to poverty? You betcha. Our immigration patterns are going to ensure that at steady-state there is going to be a small, unfortunate pool of deserving kids who don’t get access. Can the media dredge them up? Sure. But the question is, how many of those kids are out there, is the population of them growing or shrinking, and what is the marginal cost of finding and educating them? Most important of all – what is the most cost-effective means to reach them without creating useless bureaucracies and more opportunities for rent-seekers? Most of our Press corps can’t even understand the statistical techniques used to get answers to those first three questions, or indeed to ask them in the first place, in most cases.
When we don’t ask the right questions, we leave things as they are, we construct ineffective solutions, or we solve the wrong problems. We allow poor schools to keep on destroying the futures of good kids, and we pour money into the Department of Education for useless initiatives.
But if we ourselves have not been educated in math and statistics, we fall prey to the idiocies fed us every day in the media. So I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most beneficial changes we could make to the high school curriculum in this country is scrap calculus as the major college-bound math subject and require probability and statistics instead.*
* If you think you want to become a scientist or an engineer (or, God help you, a mathematician), by all means take calc – as an elective.