Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why Richard Cohen Is the Dunderheaded Idiot He Is.

I have never been highly skilled with math, a personal trait that is personally embarrassing. A lot of my poor math skills comes from having poor teachers, and oddly enough aggravated by my father's mastery with numbers. Instead of explaining clearly why y=mx + b, my father woudl go on these long, all-encompassing lectures about everything numerical, beginning with why we use the numbers we use, the history of integers, the invention of zero, before finally comign to my question, usually early the next morning. I am SO not exagerating.

That said, I understand the importance of math, and I'm not simply talking about the ability to balance the checkbook, determine interest rates, properly square a deck frame, etc. I am talking about abstract thinking and logic: mathematics is so integral to coherent, logical thought.

So when Richard Cohen writes, to a teenage girl struggling with algebra,
Gabriela, this is Richard: There's life after algebra.
In truth, I don't know what to tell Gabriela. The L.A. school district now requires all students to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry in order to graduate.
All it seems to do, though, is ruin the lives of countless kids. In L.A., more kids drop out of school on account of algebra than any other subject. I can hardly blame them.

I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time -- the only proof I've ever seen of divine intervention -- somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.

Here's the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it.

I get a little annoyed.

This is the money quote:
On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

God forbid, history. Cohen doesn't value the training that leads to logical, consistent thought, and furthermore, he doesn't see the value of history. No wonder Richard's wrong about Iraq and everything else: everyday must be like groundhog day in the Cohen household. "I keep giving myself cataracts by looking too closely at the microwave! Why does this keep happening to me?!?"
I'm to take a national pundit, someone who comments on the state of our republic, seriously when he scorns the idea of teaching history?

Gabriela, sooner or later someone's going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers. Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not.

Utterly wrong. Writing may be the highest for of expressing one's reasoning, but writing, in and of itself, is not reasoning. Richard Cohen's daily columns are proof of that statement: all you have to do is read Bush Wanted War to see that while Richard belches a columns worth of words onto the newsprint, there is absolutely NO REASONING GOING ON AT ALL. Same with his "Colbert's not funny" dogshit last week.

There are those of you, and Gabriela you are one, who know what it is like to stare at an algebra problem until you have eyeballed a hole in the page and not understand a thing you're seeing . There are those of us who know the sweat, the panic, the trembling, cold fear that comes from the teacher casting an eye in your direction and calling you to the blackboard. It is like being summoned to your own execution.

Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a similar column about algebra. Math teachers struck back with a vengeance. They made so many claims for algebra's intrinsic worth that I felt, as I once had in class, like a dummy. Once again, I just didn't get it.

That's because, Mr. Cohen, you ARE a dummy, and too egotistical to ask for exta help besides.

And maybe, just maybe, you've never needed to use algebra or math skills becuse you've grown used to being a fat, pampered, mollycoddled, mommied, mufflered poodle of the beltway press.

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Here you are at a cocktail party wearing a LOVELY grey muffler indoors. Or is that what Lands End calls "charcoal"?

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And here you are looking quite the pink little piggie, fat and soft, your little hankie poking out of your suit, your Sally Jesse Raphael glasses giving you just the right touch of femininity.
Or perhaps the proper word here is "yutz".
It's certainly not "mensch".


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