Algebra and Me

Image result for images of temac algebra

This is the story of an educational cockup based on a failure to understand human nature.

I got some good grades in junior high school, so I was placed in an advanced math class in which “Temac,” short for “teaching machine,” was supposed to teach me algebra. It was a book with algebra problems on the left side of the page, which we were to solve in our notebooks… and the answers, under a sliding black plastic sheet, on the right side. As we finished each section, we were to turn in our notebooks for grading.

How many nanoseconds did it take me to figure out that all I had to do, to get the right answer to any problem, was to slide the sheet down the page and copy the right answer into my notebook? Voila! An A in Algebra! And without learning a blessed thing.

I think our teacher was a real mathematician who somehow found himself teaching in a middle school and had no concept of “temptation.” He saw the right answers in my notebook and gave me A’s.

Those right answers qualified me for Accelerated Math in high school, for which I had no foundation whatsoever. By peeking at the answers to get good grades, I learned no algebra at all! And boy, did I pay for that in high school.

The moral of the story is, if you make it really easy to cheat, and reward it, people are going to cheat. I’m not proud of what I did, but the temptation was far too strong for me to resist at that age. It prepared me to make a total hash of high school math. Geometry, Algebra II, and Trigonometry–disasters all.

I’m pretty sure I could do basic algebra, now that I’m older and have gotten all that cheating out of my system.

Or I could just keep on cheating and become a climate scientist.

31 comments on “Algebra and Me

  1. My algebra career began and ended in the ninth grade – and so did all ‘higher’ math 🙂 Business courses back then didn’t require higher math – at least not in Catholic Schools.

  2. I have a hate-hate relationship with math. I went back to school in 2015 after not being in school for twenty years. I had to pass a pre-algebra test just to enter college (which I failed two times). Needless to say I was very nervous about taking college algebra. I had to basically relearn everything and study like a madman. But I ended up passing the class with a B-minus.

  3. Algebra instruction could serve as a case study in the ineffectiveness of the educational system. How many people. Do you know who are actually good at using agebra? How many of the people that are poor at algebra actually passed an algebra course in the public school system?

    IMHO, it’s a house of cards. A very small percentage of students go on to studies that actually involve applied mathematics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc. It’s my contention that these people would have the same outcome with or without the basic, one size fits all algebra classes that the schools use as a way of meeting their requirements.

    1. Actually, I don’t know anyone who uses any algebra at all, nor any trigonometry. You can live a long and busy life without ever using it.

    2. You can’t ever say that again, because you know me and I use algebra on a fairly regular basis and have used Trig on occasion. It comes in very handy when doing electrical calculations involving AC. The remarkable thing about it is that I did very, very poorly in these subjects in school. For my purposes, that speaks volumes with regard to the efficacy of the schools. They only thing they really did was waste a lot of time stretching 2-3 years of actual learning into 12 years of boredom.

    3. It’s essential for calculations involving impedance. Impedance in series only Z = √(R2 + X2) (if both R and one type of X are present)

      Impedance, Z is the square root of resistance, R, squared plus reactance, , squared. If you have a circuit with 3 ohms of resistance and four farads of capacitance the impedance will be 5 ohms. 3 x 3 = 9, 4 x 4 = 16, 9 + 16 = 25, the square root of which is 5. It’s the most basic formula in trigonometry.

      If you are flying an airplane in a cross wind, the air speed of the plane, the speed and the wind and the sine of the angle between the direction of the plane and the direction of the wind can be used to calculate how much effect the wind will have on the airplane and allow the pilot to plot a heading which will lead the plane to its destination in the least distance instead of compensating on the fly and flying a curved path.

      Applied trigonometry as used in real life.

    4. Speaking of flying – that’s where all of this went. Sailing right over my head 🙂

    5. He’s just showing off. Anybody who’s good at sports can fly a plane. And anybody who likes sports can be an air traffic controller.

    6. I should’ve learned more from reading Rick Brant books. Rick flies his own plane. That was in the 50s and early 60s, though, so a lot of the technology has probably changed.

    7. Most people only need basic arithmetic in their daily life, the only people who need higher math are those whose professions require it.

    8. The Electronics has changed dramatically, even in small aircraft. It’s really quite amazing. The engines and airframes still hold a lot in common with the state of the art 80 years ago.

      For a short time, I worked maintaining light aircraft for a flight school. It was like working on a ‘32 Ford; simple and straightforward. I loved it, but the pay wasn’t worth the effort it took to bend over and pick up your paycheck.

  4. R. J. Rushdoony said using the higher math to keep people from graduating is ridiculous (my paraphrased word). I know when I went back to college in 2012 to get a BA in Education I got all A’s except a B in a math class I had to take based on the new teaching approaches (you can’t believe how they teach children to do division – it’s nuts). I agree with Rushdoony, math is used to teach most kids to hate school.

    1. My education started in earnest when I left High School. After ninth grade, I had one truly useful class, Aviation, taught by a retired Air Force Colonel whom had flown F-4 Phantom Fighters. It was basically Private Pilot Ground School and it was the only ground school I had when I got my Private Pilot’s certificate, 8 years later. All I did was refresh my memory by reading the manual and I breezed on the test.

      However, after leaving High School, I studied music in depth, aviation (including several licenses) and ended up in computer networking after I got tired of airline layoffs. All three subjects require post-secondary education, but I never went to college and don’t miss it a bit.

      College used to mean something, but over the last fifty years or so it has been severely diluted. I’ve seen people in my current field with Master’s and Doctorate degrees who were, at best, mediocre and in some cases downright dangerous. My closest co-worker just finished a Bachelor’s and feels that he learned almost nothing that he didn’t already know, just from hands-on experience where we work. I pity the guy for putting in all that effort and having little more than a wall-decoration to show for it.

    2. Schools keep getting more and more technical, and the math keeps getting harder and harder. It’s like they want everyone to be engineers and computer scientists. But the fact is not everyone is cut out for that kind of technical work. Some just don’t have the desire or proclivity for it, others just don’t have the IQ for it. And if automation replaces low skilled jobs, where does that leave the rest of the population?

    3. For the good or for the bad, more math is the direction things are taking. I work, for the most part, in computer networking. The amount of specialized math involved is staggering. The math I have to be able to do in my head, instantly, would have been incomprehensible to me, back in my High School days.

      Is it for the good, or for the bad? I guess that’s a matter of perspective. I study harder right now than I ever did in school. I think that’s a good thing, but I go to bed at night with severe eyestrain.

      As for automation replacing labor, I’m not holding my breath. There are machines which help out with some truly onerous tasks, but they tend to require operators. I don’t think we’ll be seeing androids walking around replacing human laborers anytime soon. When earthmovers and power-shovels came along, ditch digging jobs may have been affected, but there’s still significant demand for laborers on construction sites.

      It used to be that interior walls were made by skilled plasterers whom were artists, in their own right. Sheetrock has made that all but obsolete, but there’s plenty of work for skilled rock hangers, finishers and even for less-skilled people to clean up after the sheetrock crew. I knew a fellow in the early ‘80s that made about $1,500 per week cleaning up after drywallers. He hustled and made quick work of it, keeping himself sane by counting the money he brought in every day.

      My point is that there is still money to be made in semi-skilled fields, and sometimes there is a lot of it available if you are willing to hustle. As a hiring manager, I can vouch that finding good, competent help, willing to work is a major challenge. This goes for my right-hand man, who has to be able to program network equipment and it goes for semi-skilled labor that we’ve needed from time to time. More than once, I’ve had to do the semi-skilled labor myself because I can’t find anyone willing to show up on time and work 40 hours per week on a reliable basis.

      The last guy I hired in such a capacity all but kissed my feet in gratitude when I hired him, but he was late on his second day and asked for time off on day three. Eventually, I laid him off during a lull in work because he simply wasn’t worth retaining. This has become all too common of a scenario with semi-skilled workers.

      Mike Rowe, who had a TV show called Dirty Jobs, is an advocate for people doing unglamorous occupations. He points out that there are literally millions of unfilled jobs which do not require college, but may require some specialized training.

      Skilled welders can make a lot of money. Likewise for HVAC techs that truly know their craft. It may require moving to where the work is and may require adaptability on the part of the worker, but it can be quite lucrative. A skilled welder in North Dakota may we’ll make considerably more money than my doctor does.

      But it’s always been this way. Proverbs 22:29 states: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men”. This isn’t some blind platitude, it’s true in practice. A truly reliable worker, willing to work hard and skilled enough to produce high quality work is quite valuable in any era.

    4. Imagine my culture shock when, having graduated from college with an honors degree in Political Science, I discovered I was not fit for anything but to stay in college and do Political Science for the rest of my life. I came very, very close to slipping through the cracks forever.

    5. That describes many professors today, not fit for anything but to stay in college.

    6. The value of many degrees would seem to be rivaled by the value of the paper they are printed upon. IMHO, we do need to study political science, but it’s not a career field. I’m interested in history and politics, but neither are of any direct value when I’m securing a computer network.

      Understanding the various political forces which operate in this world certainly informs my work, in that I realize the necessity of security, even in my little network, but that’s background information and not germane to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day operations.

      It’s not the course of study which is the problem, but the fact that some very meaningless degrees seem to have weight in the eyes of so many people. The last time I hired in a skilled position, education had no bearing whatsoever in the matter. I hired the guy with verifiable experience in the field. Interestingly, he entered a Computer Science degree program, shortly thereafter, and spent two years studying subjects which had little, if any relevance to the tasks at hand.

      After two years, he changed majors to an AAS in Network Management and spent the rest of his academic efforts taking the very same classes that the industry itself provides. I’m not saying the same subjects, I mean literally the same syllabus. The education industry managed, once again, to stretch a couple of year’s worth of meaningful training into many years of employment for otherwise unemployable professors. If I had sent him to industry training four weeks a year and gave him hands-on experience after each class the same thing could have been accomplished in 16 classroom weeks. But had everyone done that, the professor that teaches Human Sexuality would have been forced to mow yards or pick up trash for a living. 🙂 No, I’m not kidding, Human Sexuality was one of the classes he took in order to get a degree in Network Management.

    1. This is not actually the first time I’ve thought of this. Modern cars with manual transmissions have synchronized transmissions, which means you can shift without double-clutching. Some older vehicles, large trucks, some racing cars and hardcore sports cars have unsynchronized transmissions, which require double-clutching, and are a bit trickier to operate. There is an upside to this, however, an unsynchronized transmission can be shifted without using the clutch, one you know the trick.

      I had thought it would be fun to swap an unsynchronized transmission into a sports car. I doubt that .01% of the population could make it out of first gear, unless they had driven heavy trucks. It would be the perfect anti-theft device. 🙂

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