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Assessing the Assessment

By Dr. Eugene Maier

The Oregon statewide assessments, mandated by the legislature in the 1991 Oregon Education Act, are up and running. And so is the opposition. An article in the local paper tells of a group of parents who are actively opposing the tests. They say they "are full of flaws and are a waste of money," while negatively affecting the quality of educational programs by cutting into classroom instructional time and draining funds from such things as field trips and counseling programs.

Who Gets What

By Dr. Eugene Maier

I came across a couple of statements a while back that disturbed me. The statements expressed similar notions of what education ought to be about. They came from disparate sources and I wondered if they expressed a common viewpoint.

Why Education?

By Dr. Eugene Maier

Physicist Fred Raabe heads the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, briefly called Ligo. Under construction at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Ligo, when completed, will search for gravity waves. Although many physicists believe they exist, none has ever been detected. Ligo hopes to change that.

For the Fun of It

By Dr. Eugene Maier

"Few pleasures equal the joy of the mind when it's being put to creative use."—Lewis Lapham.

Math in the News

I ran across three mentions of school math in the news a few weeks ago. All incidental. All negative.

The first occurred in a story about Ira Glasser, who is retiring as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. The story said he "was an odd leader" for the ACLU in that he didn't have a background in law. Prior to his involvement with the ACLU, he was a mathematics professor. "It was good training," the story reports, "of all the audiences he has faced, he says, none have been so hostile as college students in required freshman calculus."

Attending to the Subconscious

By Dr. Eugene Maier

Most everyone has had the experience of trying unsuccessfully to recall a name or some other bit of information only later to have it unexpectedly come to mind. In a similar vein, there are those who have tackled a mathematical problem, found no solution, quit all conscious efforts to do so, and then later have a means of solution pop into their mind.

Four-Syllable Words

By Dr. Eugene Maier

"My goodness," I thought, "They think education is competition!" I had just read a comment made by the Chairman of the Oregon State Board of Education while defending Oregon's standards-based testing program: "We are not talking just about standards that make our young people competitive in Oregon or the United States, we are talking about standards that make them competitive globally."

Testing the Logic

By Dr. Eugene Maier

When George Bush speaks it’s not always clear to me what he’s saying. The following quote comes from his February 27 address to Congress: “Critics of testing contend it distracts from learning. They talk about ‘teaching to the test.’ But let’s put that logic to the test. If you test a child on basic math and reading skills, and you are ‘teaching to the test,’ you are teaching math and reading. And that’s the whole idea.”

Dropping Out

By Dr. Eugene Maier

The future for high school dropouts these days is dismal. Here in Oregon, according to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, dropouts are twice as likely to be unemployed as high school graduates and, if employed, earn 30 percent less than high school graduates; and they comprise 80% of the adult prison population.

A Talk with the Mailman

By Dr. Eugene Maier

I was out pruning the shrubs around the mailbox when the mailman arrived with Saturday's mail. As he handed it to me he asked, "Are you a doctor?"

"Not the medical kind," I replied.

"What kind, then?"

"A Ph.D."

"What area?"

"Mathematics."

"I'm impressed. Do you teach?"

"I did."

"I wished I could have more of a conversation with you but I don't know much about math."

And then he told me his version of a story I've heard many times. A story that starts "I did fine in math until..."

Everybody's Mad About Math

By Dr. Eugene Maier

While looking through my files the other day I came across the results of a research project I undertook a number of years ago. I never published the results—my project protocol wouldn't meet the stringent conditions that publication requires—but the information I gathered points to an irrefutable conclusion: everybody's mad about math.

It's something I had suspected for a long time, and I wanted evidence to support my belief. Hence the study.

College Football, the Postal Service and Bush-era Education

By Dr. Eugene Maier

College football, the postal service and education in the Bush era may seem like an odd trio, but they do have one thing in common: the creation of elaborate, technologically sophisticated mechanisms intended to overcome the foibles and inefficiencies of individual human judgment and effort. With a common result: tyrannical systems that aren't very successful, except in diminishing the human touch.

The Education/Business Connection

By Dr. Eugene Maier

It was a bit fortuitous, I thought. Ironic, too.

On the front page was a story concerning the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), the centerpiece of Oregon's high school reform movement. Intended to dethrone the high school diploma, the CIM requires passing extensive state-administered tests and completing work assignments in core courses. However, most schools don't require it for graduation and only a fifth of last year's seniors earned one.

Note to Myself—Some Reflections on Teaching

By Dr. Eugene Maier

A while back I ran across an article entitled "Notes to Myself" that I wrote for the September 1984 issue of The Oregon Mathematics Teacher. At the time I had been teaching for over thirty years. Now its been over fifty years since I taught my first class and I find that these notes have served me well. The article is reprinted here in its entirety.

Math in the Lives of Two English Professors

By Dr. Eugene Maier

They had much in common. Both were born in the 1860's and both died in the 1940's. Both attended Yale University as undergraduates and both, after receiving Ph. D. degrees in literature, taught at Yale. They became full professors within a year of one another and remained colleagues until their retirements. Both wrote autobiographies. Even their names were alliterative. But they differed vastly in one respect. William Lyon Phelps abhorred mathematics. Wilbur Lucius Cross relished it.

How To Make a Mathophobe

By Dr. Eugene Maier

You're not likely to find it in the dictionary. It's a coined word, patterned after such words as Francophobe or Anglophobe, formed by the attachment to a descriptor of the combining form -phobe, meaning one that is averse to whatever has been named. Thus one gets mathophobe—someone who has a repugnance for or distaste of mathematics.