OK... I'm sure I'm going to get tons of emails on this one, most of them blasting me for my manifest stupidity and not "staying abreast" of things. So be it. Because I rather suspect that the point of this will be lost to those inclined to send emails to me blasting me. Years ago, in graduate school, I wrote a paper for a very famous Eastern Orthodox theologian, taking issue with certain trends in academic views of theology, one of which was the so-called "Hellenization of the Gospel," by which is meant that the "early simple Gospel of Jesus" became overladen with terms borrowed from Greek philosophy, and ever-afterwards there was a growing complexification. This of course, spawned a movement to get rid of all that Hellenistic husk and get back to the pure unvarnished "kernel" of things, and as a result, there was more complexification. One might say, what resulted was massive confusion and an inability to get anything done, because there were no more agreed-upon conventions of technical jargon.
All this, of course, is to greatly over-simplify things, but I've always thought there were profound methodological parallels between theology and mathematics (yea, I know... it sounds colossally stupid, but I beg my readers' patience, because I'm just a hack from South Dakota). Anyway, in my little paper, I resorted to the time-honored tradition of allegory: what would happen, I asked, if one complained of the undue "Hellenization of mathematics," with all those pi's, psi's, chi's, capital Sigmas, alphas, betas, and other Hellenizations that clutter the symbolism of mathematics, making it "opaque and obscure to the average user". Far better, I argued, to invent a completely new, and more "accessible and culturally relevant" set of symbols, and school a new generation in their use.
As one can imagine, the result of such an experiment would be chaos.
Well, Mr. S.S. shared this video, and mind you, while I have no time for videos, the mathematical nature of it caught my eye, so I watched it rather than immediately hitting the "delete" button as I normally do when people send me videos. When I watched, I couldn't help but think of my old paper:
Now, I have no idea if this new convention is part and parcel of common core, or not. Perhaps I am even "mis-remembering" things: but as I recall when I was taking my mathematics courses in junior high and high school, this expression was equivalent to 6/2(1+2), and that one performed the operations in parenthesis first, then multiplication, then division, &c, giving the result 6/2(1+2) = 1. But no, as the video points out, that's an "older" usage, because the new convention is to perform operations from left to right, giving 6/2 = 3 x (1+2) = 3 x 3 = 9.
(And here, let us note, we're not even dealing with the undue Hellenization of mathematics, but the undue Arabization of mathematics, since we're using Arabic numerals.) But regardless of who is to blame for this cultural invasion, the point remains, regardless of which one is the "conventional" and therefore the "correct" method, when one changes conventions abruptly, one gets confusion, as is evident from the numerous comments below the video. Even Mr. S.S., who sent the link, stated that to him, the answer was "1", but that was because he learned "the old math." Well, call me old-fashioned, but that's the way I remember it too.
One can imagine the frustration of parents who might have learned the older conventions, helping their children with their homework, and submitting papers that are marked wrong because of a change of convention which they knew nothing about. Extend the principle for a moment, and imagine similar results applied to - for example - equations for satellites or space probes, with one team working with one set of conventions, and another working with another. One might have space probes that, rather than orbiting Mars, go careening into it. Oh, wait... that's already happened when a few years ago, NASA informed us that the crash of a space probe on Mars was due to the fact that one team was using Imperial measures in its calculations, while everyone else, following the older convention, was using metric.
Oops... I guess there's no accounting for taste.
So what's my high octane speculation here? Well, forget about gender neutral language and all the tinkering going on in the "soft" disciplines; if one wanted to really sow confusion into a population, and to dumb an entire population down, why not just arbitrarily change mathematical conventions, but do so stealthily: change them here in this region, but not over there in that one... and then when confusion results, enjoy the collapse of the idea that mathematics is the one "hard science" that always gives the same answers. The epistemological damage that this can do to a culture already reeling from the death of a thousand other progressivist paper cuts is immense. Changing the conventions and customary usages is all about the process, you see, and it's the process that counts... exempla gratia, the above example.
But if you think that example is a "little over the top" then consider this article sent by Mr. H.B.:
Now, if you're like me, you're old fashioned and still send paper checks in the mail to pay your bills. I do it, because I want a hard copy record because I don't trust my bank or my electric company or internet company (or any other company)to keep accurate records for me, just as I don't trust a product named "Kindle" to have the best interests of books and literacy in mind. So, imagine trying to balance your checkbook using the the second method of performing subtraction in the first example from the article above. My check register simply doesn't have enough spaces to do it. And perhaps that's the point: one generation does things "the old way," and balances its checkbook. The new generation can't balance the checkbook(if they even use one), because there aren't enough ledger spaces to do it and voila, one can rack up more and more "servicing fees" on a clueless "de-arithmetized" generation.
Call me crazy, but if I can think of it, then there's no doubt in my mind that the sinister doctors of edublither thought of it long ago. And that, I suspect, is the real point of Common Core and every other nutty project to come out of our Colleges of Edubabble and Psychoblither, out of the methodology courses and Gramscian social and multicultural experiments: it's a form of epistemological warfare.
(Heavy sigh.) Ok, rant over.
See you on the flip side...