Mixed Media

"Everyday Math," Every Child a Loser

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:55 PM EST

Who says American education isn't working? Via Slate, I just learned that our children are being taught something called Everyday Math that is going to make every day of their adult lives quite math illiterate. This is so stupid, it's hard to believe it's actually going on right now in class rooms across America. What the f*&^ is our problem? You know things are bad when you have to go to that nutball Michelle Malkin for ammunition (see below) that just adds up all too dismally. From Slate:

The [Everyday Math] authors also firmly believe that children are capable of learning a great deal more than previously expected."

Especially if they use a calculator. Or take a simple multiplication problem and turn it into a "cluster" of five other, simpler problems. Or make a pretty "lattice" box and input numbers. Apparently, like Barbie once said, "Math is hard!" and we have to dumb it down for everyone rather than figure out ways to let the smartest kids excel and provide help to those who need it. This video that Malkin posts is long but well worth watching. The woman in the video--who went back to school to facilitate a midlife career switch and was startled to see the youngsters in her class struggling--shows how bizarre and convoluted this "new new" math is.

As critics are pointing out, kids are not learning better with these techniques. Children aren't learning multiplication in third grade, since they are repeating the addition and subtraction they should have learned in first grade. And check out this sample question from a fifth-grade text:

A. If math were a color, it would be --, because --.

God help me, I put on a gas mask and forced myself to Malkin's site to watch one of the most disturbing videos I've ever had to endure. No wonder people home school; EveryDay Math in action must be seen to be believed. I've saved you the horror of visiting Malkin's site, so click the link above (it's You Tube), then call your child's school and make sure that Everyday Math is not on your child's curriculum unless you want to spend your dotage helping them figure out how to cut a recipe in half or balance their checkbooks.

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Sad but Necessary and Inevitable? Cataloguing the Decline of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:27 PM EST

Ever heard of Wiley College? Me neither. But we all will when the great and powerful Denzel Washington's new movie hits on Christmas. From the New York Times:

When the light at University Avenue is green, drivers can pass Wiley College without a glance. There was a time, however, when this small black liberal arts college here caught the attention of a nation: in the 1930s, Wiley's polished team of debaters amassed a series of victories over white competitors that stunned the Jim Crow South....
On Dec. 25, "The Great Debaters" will appear in theaters with Denzel Washington as its director and star, and Oprah Winfrey as producer. The film depicts Wiley's most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship.

What a tragedy that this bastion of black excellence fighting the good fight in the depths of Jim Crow so neared extinction that it's faculty has had to accept unpaid furloughs and seen its student body dwindle to only 400. What a cruel irony that the very civil rights victory it helped bring about now spells it's own doom as black students opt for newly integrated educational opportunities. Read the Times article for a gloomy update on the slow death of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) which produced the greatest black American minds to date. Integration is here to stay, but at what cost? Perhaps the relevance of even trying to maintain the HBCU system is today's great debate.

Don't Trifle with the Truffle: A Lost Opportunity for the Art World

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:37 PM EST

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A gigantic 3.3 pound white truffle mushroom was unearthed in the hills nearby Pisa, Italy last month and sold at auction for $340,000 this past weekend. Art star Damien Hirst and his fellow bidder Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi were defeated by Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, who thus deprived the art world of another potential Hirst blockbuster. We may never know which of his regular tricks the world's most expensive living artist would have employed to transform a humble mushroom into an art object worth more than its weight in gold. Would he have suspended the fungus in formaldehyde or encrusted the dug-up edible with diamonds? Perhaps the exceptional Tuber magnatum would have inspired him to produce some more really detailed paintings. Most importantly, would this project-in-the-making have surpassed his previous $100 million price tag? Somewhere in Russia, a billionaire collector mourns the loss.

—Cassie McGettigan

Requiem for Swiss Skiing

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 3:19 PM EST

While the New York Times reports on the threat posed to luxurious Swiss ski resorts as a result of global warming, one fan of the indie band HEALTH has produced an unofficial video that sounds the alarm on another potential casualty of a suddenly sultry Switzerland: the heroic ski jumper.

To view the video, take a look at this post on our environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

—Cassie McGettigan

From the Oxymoron Department: Sunday School for Atheists

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 12:10 PM EST

Religion is even more inescapable than usual this time of year as are the fights that ensue over it. Some of us are just spoiling for fights. Others have fights thrust upon them. Given it's muted tone, I wish I'd seen this piece before I wrote these about The Golden Compass and Mitt Romney's Mormonism. Not that it won't piss off 'the faithful'. But at least it sheds some light on the moral, let alone organizational, struggles of the unchurched. Atheists and anarchists: where, and why, are those conventions held?

Refusing even to entertain the ignorant notion that atheists and agnostics are ipso facto amoral - hmmm. Maybe I'll murder the moron who took my parking space since I don't believe in Jesus - the question remains: what do we teach our kids, and how?

What's in a (Maiden) Name? Me, That's What

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:47 PM EST

Women taking their husband's names always baffled me. I've known since I was a teenager that I wasn't going to. Aside from genealogic traceability and simplified familial paperwork, why on earth would I agree to be absorbed into some man I hadn't even met yet? And who might turn out to be a huge mistake? I've lost track of all my female friends and relatives now carting around the last names of men they've been divorced from for more than twenty years. But it isn't the possibility of divorce that makes me object to women taking men's names; its just the plain unvarnished, sexist truth of what it means. As one of my aunts famously said in leaving her husband after a long, troubled marriage, "I understand all about man and wife becoming one, but how come we always have to be you?" Symbols matter and that was one I simply couldn't stomach just as I could never stomach changing my citizenship. Don't ask me why those seem equivalent but they do to me. Even worse, to me, are hyphenated names. What a cop out; change your name or don't, girlfriend. Lordy, those godawful amalgamated, frankenstein names.

What I was up for was picking a new name we'd both take or flipping a coin to choose one of our surnames. Too bad I never thought of hiring a consultant or underwriting an internet survey to basically focus-group the new couple's potential new name. Ah, if only we'd had the internet. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who agonized over the whole whose-last-name thing.

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Imus Goes Back To Work

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:24 PM EST

Imus is back on the air and that's just fine with me.

I never listened to him, or any other shock jock, before and I won't now. No, not even to make sure he doesn't go off again, notwithstanding how much some black leaders want me to (Rev. Sharpton's press conference on the subject will be announced soon. Stay tuned). Life is too short to spend hoping we'll have another band wagon to jump on and chase down another powerful white man. I could have lived a long time without Imus's 'nappy headed ho' psychic assault and I hope to go another lifetime before I ever do again. Call me weak, but I won't be surfing the air waves looking for more insults. In my experience, they have a way of finding you without any extra help. Let's hope his new show is nice and uneventful.

Besides, whatever else you have to say of Imus, he has been more contrite than just about any one else in public life who's been caught redhanded saying something so unregenerately hateful. I actually admire him a little after reading about his first day back at work:

Party Ben's European Tour Update #3: France

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 10:17 AM EST

mojo-photo-paris1.jpgIncludes: Illness! Drama! Crowd surfing! And the possible emergence of a hilarious new dance trend! Greetings from Paris where I've just wrapped up my "Gettin' Euros" DJ tour with dates in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Paris and Lille. France has been, appropriately, like a beautiful but insane lover, pushing you away to pout one moment, only to turn around and embrace you the next. A hapless American can only sit back and enjoy the ride, I suppose.

It's Hard Out There For a Daredevil...

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 8:46 PM EST
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Breaking news: Evel Knievel is dead at 69. As we remember the 1970s stuntman and orthopedic-surgery poster boy, let's also remember his unwitting contribution to our slang lexicon: He helped make it legal to call someone a pimp. In 2001, ESPN's website ran a photo of Knievel with a caption saying that he "proves that you're never too old to be a pimp." Knievel sued for defamation. The case made it to the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled against Knievel, finding that ESPN had tagged him a pimp not to suggest that he managed prostitutes, but rather that he was, as the kids say, "cool." "It was most likely intended as a compliment," concluded the majority. Knievel's decision to try to jump over the majestic canyon of the First Amendment seems even more bizarre considering that, according to his AP obit, he used to brag about having been a "swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man." (Photo: evelknievel.com)

Sundance Still Embracing A Misnomer

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 4:47 PM EST

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The Sundance Channel exists to produce sleek, artier-than-thou programming. That is its niche, and, though I personally choose not to watch shows like One Punk Under God and Anatomy of a Scene, I can accept that. What I refuse to accept, however, is the channel's willful mauling of the English language in service of a puffed up celebrity interview vehicle called Iconoclasts. Each episode pairs together two "iconoclasts" and "explores the intersection where two great talents meet—and where creativity comes alive," says Executive Producer Robert Redford. The third season wrapped up last night with a show featuring Madeleine Albright in conversation with Ashley Judd. Past episodes have featured Sean Penn with Jon Krakauer, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder with surfer Laird Hamilton, Renee Zellweger with Christiane Amanpour, and Robert Redford himself with Paul Newman. Even aging media mogul Sumner Redstone has been on. The thing is, this is probably a really great show for people who love celebrities—like E! True Hollywood Story for the alternative crowd—but none of these celebrities are actually iconoclasts. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word is (1) a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration or (2) a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.

Genuine iconoclasts include H.L. Mencken, who made a career out of smashing all manner of popular beliefs and prejudices. There's a good case to be made for Salman Rushdie as a model iconoclast, with respect to both literature and religion. But Robert Redford? Look, I liked Sneakers as much as the next guy, but when was the last time Redford shattered any contemporary American idols? The point is, mere accomplishment in a given field does not an iconoclast make. I plan to e-mail Sundance about this; pedantic language-conscious Riff readers should feel free to do the same. Resist corporate verbicide!

—Justin Elliott