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Re: [Phys-l] Ca mandates 8th-grade algebra test

On 07/10/2008 02:52 PM, LaMontagne, Bob wrote:
Is that, then, an argument for keeping music out of grade schools -
because some students will never be good at it? Why does that
argument only apply to math?

Please look at the Subject: line.

The main problem is not the 8th grade algebra course. The big problem
is that the _STATE_ is _MANDATING_ a _TEST_ on the subject.

The day they mandate a test in music, we can have a discussion of
the question Bob asks. Until then, it's a red herring.

Remember, folks "No Child Left Behind" is the law of the land.
Once subject XXX is on The Test, then any child who doesn't do
well in XXX is considered "behind" and the school will be harshly
penalized. Whether teaching XXX is on the whole better than not
teaching XXX is not taken into consideration when penalties are
being handed out. Whether some students would be better off
postponing their study of XXX is also not taken into consideration.

This applies when XXX is algebra or anything else.

The entirely foreseeable consequence of the law is to destroy
schools that serve a heterogeneous population, and to reward
segregation academies. (I did not say whether this was the
/intent/ of the law. It is always hard to prove intent, and
I do not wish to discuss it.)


Actually there is another slight problem with any discussion of
8th grade algebra: I have no idea what "8th grade algebra" means.
As Mark Shapiro has clearly pointed out, there are some students
who "get" some parts of the subject, and other students who don't.
As for the students who don't: remember the proverb: You can't
make a flower grow faster by pulling on it.

Does "algebra" mean one linear equation in one unknown? You can
easily teach that to most 5th graders. Or does "algebra" mean
_Algebra_ by Hungerford? I know lots of adult professional physicists
who can't handle Hungerford.

Of course this instantly brings us back around to the real problem,
because the state test will -- for better or worse -- implicitly
*define* what 8th grade algebra means. Until we see the test, though,
none of us has much idea what we're talking about.

It's also a colossal mistake to portray the problem as a one-dimensional
race between the "abstract" nature of the subject and the "maturity"
of the students.
*) Abstraction isn't the problem. Ten year olds (5th graders) exhibit
lots of abstraction, symbolism, generalization, originality etc. in the
games that they play. By the time they get to 8th grade, they have
mostly learned that anyone who exhibits original or critical thinking
on school grounds will be punished. So they don't do it. That doesn't
mean that they can't do it, just that they don't do it in school.
*) Maturity is not one-dimensional. Have you SEEN any 8th graders lately?
The most obvious fact is that each one is vastly more mature in some
areas than in others. The same goes for sub-areas and sub-sub-areas.
The idea of "standardizing" any of this is beyond insane.

Tolerating a certain amount of person-to-person variability used to be
the cornerstone of politeness. Now it's illegal.