Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cheating - A Teacher's Perspective

It happens every year - I know that going in to a new school year. But it never fails to hit me like a kick to the stomach. I can't even begin to tell you how much it hurts me, how sick it makes me.

This year I am teaching a course called Advanced Topics in Mathematics. I basically developed this course and I love teaching it. The course is intended for high school juniors and seniors who, although they have managed to pass Algebra 2, still haven't had real success with mathematics throughout high school. Most of the students I am seeing just squeaked by in Algebra 2. They don't like math, and honestly, most of them aren't very good at it. This course is designed to give these some success in mathematics and hopefully spark some new interest in a subject they have come to hate. The course covers a survey of higher mathematical topics than those typically studied in high school. It includes units in mathematics in language, fractal geometry, game theory, discreet mathematics, probability and statistics and others. The students get to explore some of the most important historical results of mathematics and they gain exposure to some of the most important branches of mathematics in the modern study of the subject. So as not to overwhelm the kids, the course is humanities based, focusing more on mathematics as a mode of thought rather than on skills and procedures. We do a lot of reading and discussion, rather than page after page of problems.

So recently I assigned my students to read the 19th century novel Flatland by Edwin Abbott. It is a novel about a 2-dimensional world with lots of good geometry in it, and a great treatment of the concept of dimension. We read most of the novel in class together, I assigned some of the chapters for independent reading at home. At the end of our discussion, I asked the students to write a 2-page paper, a book review really, about the story. I really wasn't asking for much. I just wanted the students to give a brief summary of the story, tell me what they thought of the story and why, and explain what they believed the author's purpose was for writing the story and provide evidence from the book for their reasoning.

So far (I've read 35 out of 64 papers), I have already discovered 4 students who simply went on to and copied a user review of the book from that website. I don't think I can put into words how angry, offended and hurt I am by this. To me, this kind of behavior is a slap in the face. A student who does this kind of thing is saying to his teacher, "I have so little respect for you, that I can't bring myself to put a little time into writing my own thoughts and opinions for you. And you are so stupid and foolish, that you wont figure out that I just copied someone elses work and turned it in as my own."

That old adage about cheating that goes, "you're only cheating yourself"? What a crock of shit! Even worse, "you're only hurting yourself"! For a good teacher, a teacher who really puts his or her heart and soul into teaching, cheating hurts! It is the ultimate in disrespect, and we don't deserve it. It really saddens me now that tomorrow (after I've finished grading all the papers, and, being a realist, I know I'm probably going to find a couple more copied papers) I'm going to have to go to the Vice Principal and essentially turn these kids in. But I have no choice. I cannot, and will not stand this kind of disrespect. I won't tolerate it.

Another Real Shocker

Oh what a surprise...Harriet Miers "withdrew" as a nominee for the Supreme Court. Wow, didn't that little development just really come out of left field. You didn't see that coming, now did you?

I wonder if Bush will nominate one of his daughters next.

Yet Another Personality Test

I do love these things. I found this one at Kingdomality. It classifies your personality according to the medieval job you would be most suited for. It turns out I would have been most suited to be Prime Minister:

Your distinct personality, The Prime Minister might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time. You are a strategist who pursues the most efficient and logical path toward the realization of the goal that you perceive or visualize. You will often only associate with those people who can assist you in the implementation of your plan. Inept assistants may be immediately discarded as excess baggage. To do otherwise could be seen as inefficient and illogical. On the positive side, you can be rationally idealistic and analytically ideological. You can be a bold decision maker and risk taker who can move society ahead by years instead of minutes. On the negative side, you may be unmerciful, impatient, impetuous and impulsive. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today's corporate kingdoms.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Do Bee

This is a fable for a close friend.

The Do Bee
There once was a bee who was the nicest bee you could ever hope to meet, smart, creative, and industrious, she was also somewhat obsessive and quite a perfectionist. The little Do Bee would go out early in the morning to the clover field and would buzz around for long hours. She would only select the most beautiful and perfect clover flowers to land on and collect their nectar. Often she found herself hovering over a flower and looking down on it and thinking, "well it's a very nice flower, but I'm sure if I just fly a little bit more, I will find an even more perfect clover flower, and that would be so much better." And so she would fly on, and she would work long hours selecting just the most perfect flowers for her work. Then, when she got back to the hive she would slave over making honey from her nectar.

Now the simple truth of the matter is, the honey produced by the little Do Bee was absolutely the very best honey ever produced. Occassionally other bees would notice the extremely high quality of her honey, and might even sometimes remark, "oh Do Bee, you make really excellent honey!" But most of the time no one noticed, and more often than not, the little Do Bee heard comments like, "why are you so picky about the flowers you choose?" and "why do you spend so much time on your honey production? If you spent half the amount of time on it, it would still be the best honey in the hive!" But the little Do Bee just couldn't stop herself. She demanded only the absolute best from herself, and she couldn't accept anything less.

And so the little Do Bee began to grow tired and worn out. And the more tired she became, the less she was able to meet her own standards of perfection. And the more that happened, the harder she tried and the harder she became on herself, which just wore her out even more. She grew depressed and resentful of all the hard work she had to do. And even while she recognized that really she was the one making all the hard work for herself, she just couldn't back down. And the Do Bee grew more tired and more depressed and more resentful, and it was just eating her up inside.

Now the Do Bee lived in a hive that was inhabited, as all hives are, by some bees that were not as nice or as smart as her. Obviously most of the bees didn't work as hard as she did. And that made the Do Bee even more angry and resentful and depressed. She would look at all the other bees and she would look at her friends and family and even her husband bee and think, "why aren't they like me? Why don't they see the world the way I do, and only select the most beautiful flowers, and only craft the finest honey? Why don't they live up to my standards?" And of course that only made matters worse for the little Do Bee.

So in the end, the little Do Bee lived an unhappy life of angry, depressed desperation.

The End

Monday, October 10, 2005

This One is Funny

I'm not a big fan of jokes. As in, while eating lunch in the staff lounge your coworker comes in and says, "oh I heard the greatest joke yesterday...." kind of joke. I prefer situational humor, something with a context. But a friend of mine told me this joke a few days ago, and it IS kind of funny, so I am printing it here:

George Bush was giving a talk to a class of 4th graders at a public elementary school. At the end of his little talk, he asked if any of the students had any questions. A little boy raised his hand and Bush called on him.

"My name is Timmy," the boy starts, "and I have three questions for you Mr. President. First, how did you get elected in the first place when Al Gore got more votes than you did? Second, where is Osama Bin Laden? And third, what ever happened to the weapons of mass destruction?"

Just as Timmy finished asking his third question, the recess bell rang. Bush apologized that he would not get to answer the question but told the kids to go to recess and have a good time playing on the playground. So all the students filed out of the room to go to recess.

Half an hour later the students came back to the room, and George Bush was waiting for them. "I'm sorry that we got interrupted by recess," the president said, "maybe now I can answer some of your questions."

Another boy in the class raised his hand and Bush called on him. "My name is Billy, Mr. President" the boy said, "and I have five questions for you. First, how did you get elected in the first place when Al Gore got more votes than you did? Second, where is Osama Bin Laden? Third, what ever happened to the weapons of mass destruction? Fourth, why did the recess bell ring 20 minutes early today? And fifth, where the fuck is Timmy?"

Monday, October 03, 2005

Crucified for the Truth

O.K., this is going to be the most controversial post I've ever done, but since I have so few regular readers, I'm not thinking that that is going to matter much. If you have been following the scandal news of the US of late than you have been unable to escape the story of William Bennett. It seems this former Secretary of Education known for making hateful and bigoted comments was caught yet again spreading racism and prejudice on his nationally syndicated radio talk show. Bennett is absolutely being ripped apart in the press here, by politicians (both Democrat and Republican), commentators, talk show hosts, editorials, you name it, everyone wants to get in on this band wagon and rip this guy a new asshole. Now don't get me wrong here, I am NOT a fan of this man. He HAS said some very hateful, hurtful things in the past. But I think we need to take a closer look at what Mr. Bennett said in this specific case. Here are the comments that have spawned such a virulent backlash:
"If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down.
"That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

Look at the whole quote, look at the qualifying remarks, and now understand the context of the comments. Bennett was having a conversation with a listener of his show about the social and economic effects of abortion in this country. During the conversation, Bennett brought up some results published by an economist (Steven D. Levitt) with the help of a freelance writer (Stephen J. Dubner) in the book Freakonomics. Levitt's analysis of the data suggest that the most strongly correlated factor to the significant drop in crime during the decade of the 90's was the legalization of abortion in 1973 approximately 20 years earlier. Levitt doesn't stop there, he analyzes the data further to determine if the correlation suggests causality. To do this, he compared the crime rates of the 5 States that had legalized abortion prior to Roe v. Wade to those of the other 45 States of the union and discovered that indeed, the crime rates in those States had begun falling years earlier than the crime rates in the rest of the U.S. Then he compared the crime rates in the States that had the highest abortion rates in the decade after Roe v. Wade with those in the States with the lowest abortion rates, and once again discovered that crime rates fell faster in those States where abortions rates were highest. Other statistical analyses confirm these results.

Using this as launching point, Bennett makes the above "controversial" statement. So now let's consider his statement. Bennett suggests that if every black fetus were aborted in this country, we would see a drop in the crime rate. I think we have to assume that Bennett means first, that such a thing would have to happen on a sustained basis for many years, and second that we would see that drop in crime rates in approximately 15 to 20 years after such a scenario started. So, here's the question: is Bennett wrong? No, he isn't. Bennett is absolutely correct in his analysis, and I challenge anyone to produce a sound mathematical/statistical argument to prove otherwise. At the same time, I also think it is quite clear that Bennett is attempting to forward this notion as an absurd hypothetical and that he does not believe that the abortion of all black babies is a reasonable strategy for reducing crime. If Bennett were actually advocating such an idea as a solution to crime in this country, then I could completely understand the indignation and angry responses his statements have engendered. But clearly he isn't. Look what Bennett says next. He acknowledges that such an idea is "impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible." Bennett wasn't calling for the abortion of all black children, he was attempting to make a point with his listener. And while admittedly, he did so quite clumsily, the claim he makes is undeniably true. Further, he qualifies his remarks sufficiently to make it clear that he isn't advocating a policy of forced abortion for black women.

So why is this man being crucified in the public arena in this country? This is political correctness at its absolute worst - a monumental case of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand in order to deny eminent catastrophe. Rather than vilifying Bennett over his comments, we ought to examine what circumstances in this country account for the fact that Bennett's analysis is absolutely correct and reflect on the steps we need to take in this country to remedy those circumstances. It is a national disgrace and disaster that we have created a society and culture that has resulted in Bennett's words being true. Attacking the messenger doesn't do a damn thing to illuminate solutions to the problem.

I'll Spread the Dirt

I'm not much of one for rumors, but I'll gladly help spread this one. It seems that that most esteemed paper of American Journalism, the National Enquirer, is reporting that President George W. Bush has fallen off the wagon. I had heard this rumor a few days earlier connected to the strange events surrounding Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA. Michael Brown was very much identified by the Bush administration as a scape goat for the complete Federal failure in response to hurricane Katrina. Days after the disaster Brown was removed as the coordinator of the relief efforts, and few days later Michael Brown resigned as director of FEMA. Now Brown was a controversial appointment from the start, he had absolutely no experience with disaster relief, or with management of such a large organization. So when the "big one" hit, it was no real surprise to anyone that he completely bungled the response. Now one would probably think then, that with Brown's resignation, the Bush administration would dust off it's hands and say, "good riddance." But just days after resigning from FEMA, he was rehired by the agency as a highly paid "consultant"! This led many to question what it was that Brown might know that he could hold over the administration to get this job. And the answer that numerous bloggers and commentators have come up with is that Brown has knowledge of Bush returning to the drink.

So here's the deal, I haven't seen solid evidence of either of these two things - either that Bush is drinking again, or that Brown is somehow extorting the administration to keep a cushy, well paying government job, but I'm not above stirring the pot and fueling the rumor mill on this one. This administration deserves it.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Join the Evil Genius Club

April turned me on to the "Asshole/Bitch" test where I scored 58% asshole. No surprise there (except maybe that my score wasn't even higher). But from there I connected to the "Evil Genius" test. And here are my results:
I am 84% Evil Genius.
Evil to the Bone!
I am pure evil. I lie awake at night devising schemes of world domination, and I will not rest until all living souls bend to my will.

Oh yeah! Was there ever any doubt?

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