Mea culpa – I confess it. I love math. I’ve always loved math. It comes very naturally to me and I revel in its precision. I guess it’s for the same reason that I enjoy crosswords and jigsaw puzzles and those games where you have to get from point A to point B by drawing a line through a maze without running into the barricades while en route. When you get the right answer or complete the puzzle, you have the reward of knowing that you accomplished something.
So here’s a math-ish question for you. Now before I state the question, you might be thinking that I read this on a five hour flight and who is seated next to me but a man who spilled half a bottle of Gaucho Boy Cologne (primary ingredient being horse sweat). So I picked up the In Flight magazine to see if there are any ads or stories which pique my interest – but primarily I am going to use the magazine to fan myself to keep the cologne odor as dispersed as possible.
I turn to page 33 and this is the question.
“You and some friends have gone out to dinner. You are extremely happy both with the food and the service your pleasant server provided. The bill comes to $200.00. What would be a good (my italics) tip to leave your server?”
Answers (Multiple choice, of course):
Frankly, that is just the kind of question that I might expect to find in an In Flight magazine. But that is not where I read it.
That question appears in a seventh grade “math” book that is currently in use in the Las Vegas School District. One of the children in the neighborhood was carrying this text home from school. As a matter of curiosity I asked her if I might take a look at it. In flipping through the pages this question caught my eye and as that was the last day of the school year, I asked if she would lend the book to me overnight, which she did.
If you remember my opening paragraphs, I enjoy math because it is precise. There is a right answer and every other answer is incorrect. There is absolutely nothing that is precise about this “math” question as it merely asks for a value judgment. In fact, other than the fact that there is an amount stated for the bill and various percentages are given as potentials to be applied to that bill for the tip, there is nothing mathematical in the question. The children are not asked to compute a tip amount – perhaps because the question assumes that their calculators or smart phones will always return the “correct” answer once the multiplier is input.
This was not the only such question in this textbook. So I wondered who wrote this piece of garbage. Only mildly to my surprise, one of the contributors to the book was the “Education Committee of the S. E. I. U.” If you don’t know what those initials mean, they stand for the Service Employees International Union. Parenthetically, that union represents, among other people, restaurant servers.
So here’s my take on the whole thing. We have one union (S.E.I.U.) writing questions which it supplies to another union (The Teachers’ Union) which, of course, accepts them. The question serves more to the benefit of propaganda than it does to the mathematics purportedly being taught in the book. This seems not to bother members of either union. If there’s no such term as crony-unionism, I think I’ll just coin it now.
The kids get brain-washed into an agenda which benefits members of the S.E.I.U. (notice that the lowest answer given is what most people accept as a normal tip) and the Teachers Union member who is instructing the class doesn’t really have to bother grading any papers since it would be hard to argue that any of these answers was either correct or incorrect.
And that’s education in America today. It certainly adds fire to the argument in favor either of private or home schooling.
“In the first place God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.” – Mark Twain