February 22, 2006

Dumb Quote of the Day

And it has nothing whatever to do with the Summers ousting at Harvard. My take on that boils down to "typical." Interpret it however you see fit.

No, the dumb quote of the day comes from a local story on schools separating middle school boys and girls for the core classes, ostensibly to remove the distraction of those burgeoning hormones and the self-consciousness that entails and to tailor the classes to the learning patterns of boys and girls.

Personally, I think that's a great idea. But it wouldn't be journalism without the obligatory "dissenting view," (and don't get me started on the number of professional cranks this particular journalistic practice has created--grr) and so we have this little "I'm totally missing the point but I'm on auto-pilot and it's a decent soundbite" gem from the local NOW dingbat:

Groups such as the National Organization for Women have likened classes split by sex to the unconstitutional "separate but equal" reasoning used to keep schools racially segregated.

"I really feel this is dangerous," said Anna Worthen, president of North Carolina's NOW chapter. "What if you're a little girl that doesn't learn the 'girl way'?"

Teachers should challenge assumptions about sexes, she said, not cater to them.

"When kids say science is for boys, that's just what society has told them," said Worthen, who works in the technology field mostly around men. "If I had not learned to interact with men, how could I go into my workplace and encounter them every day?"

Anna, WTF? Did you even pay attention when the reporter explained the article to you? Let's break down the stupidity bit by bit, shall we?

1. Ooh, the eeeeevilllle spectre of "separate but equal." Let's see...they're in the SAME school, being taught the SAME subjects by the SAME teachers. Yep, it's practically apartheid. Man-de-la! Man-de-la!

2. Girls being shortchanged because they DON'T learn "the girl way?" Then they're being screwed right now, sweetie, largely because organizations such as yours have been instrumental in changing the pedagogy so that everyone is now learning "the girl way," with the result that boys are suffering. Or didn't you read that article, because it didn't portray girls as helpless victims of the patriarchy? Do you hear the words that come out of your mouth, Anna, or are you just reading the talking points memo aloud again?

3. Where in the teacher handbook does it say that in addition to managing classrooms full of unruly teens, piles of useless administrative busy work, psycho parents, and school politics, teachers should be "challenging assumptions about the sexes?" When exactly are the teachers supposed to TEACH THE SUBJECT MATTER, Anna, before or after the Up With People fireside singalong?

4. Oh no, these poor stunted middle schoolers will have no idea how to get along with the opposite sex if they don't diagram sentences together! Again, Anna, did you pay attention? The sexes are only separated for a few classes. There's plenty of time to interact both inside and outside of the classroom.

Grr. My tolerance level for the stupid has decreased exponentially today. Just...between reading this tripe and dealing with a shirty reporter from a large Yankee publication, I'm done for the day.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at February 22, 2006 01:51 PM

``My tolerance level for the stupid has decreased exponentially today.''

Actually, exponentially is dramatic for increasing, but wimps out for decreasing. You want ``arithmetically'' for dramatic decreases, ``exponentially'' for dramatic increases.

Exponential decrease would be 1 1/2 1/4 1/8 1/16 1/32 1/64 1/128 ... 1/262144 1/524288 ... etc forever, a malingering limp tolerance.

Arithmetic decrease would be 1 0 period.

This sort of thing ought to be taught in poets' science.

Boys are born knowing it.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at February 22, 2006 02:44 PM

I think, for the most part, you're absolutely right. We should all be concerned at the lack of similar advocacy groups for young men.

Posted by: Jessica at February 22, 2006 09:36 PM

My employer recently started holding special training for women called "Taking the Stage." This at a tech company where 50% of its employees are women.

This course, as I understand it, is to help women to communicate more effectively in an assertive, direct way suited to the business world. The irony is that, according to a friend who attended half a day, the course is very much like a typical Oprah show. Everyone sat in circles, were asked to say what intangible concepts like "Authenticiy" meant to them, and were generally expected to share their heart's desires.

Within this inner sanctum, it is announced that men are welcome, of course, but nary a male ear is there is hear that, and it's not publicized. I'm not upset in the least.

Posted by: B.K. at February 22, 2006 10:17 PM

Oh my God. I had to sit through one class of that dopey "Taking the Stage" before I got the hell out of formerly giant telecommunications company. It was the smurfiest bunch of hooha that I've ever had the misfortune to sit through, all belaboring the problem of women in technology professions and how we needed to be more assertive and blah blah fishcakes. It was the biggest waste of my time. As far as I'm concerned, "Taking the Stage" is just another way for a consultant to syphon money out of a foolish employer's pockets.

Posted by: Feral Girl at February 23, 2006 10:41 AM

I myself worked for a formerly giant telecommunications company, and was banned from the mandatory annual consciousness raising seminars there.

A painful experience, I guess. I liked them.

Always say what you think, and you'll be excused quickly enough.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at February 23, 2006 01:02 PM

We're mixing figures of speech with math which is never good.

Reminds me of a joke from my undergraduate days about an experiment to tell the difference between engineers and physicists. In a room, on one wall is a physicist and on the opposite wall is an engineer. Halfway between, in the middle of the room, is a very attractive member of the opposite sex (in most tellings unclothed).

The rules are that every time the buzzer sounds the engineer and physicist each may step forward half the distance toward the goal, i.e. the very attractive member of the opposite sex.

The physicist ignores the buzzer and never moves because the distance to very attractive member of the opposite sex can never be reduced to zero while the engineer dutifully moves forward halfway everytime the buzzer sounds because the engineer knows that eventually the distance will be reduced to "close enough to zero for practical purposes".

The engineering moral of the story is that if you cut anything in half enough times you will be so close to zero that that you don't care if anything is left over.

So I'd go with "expoential decay" which happens very rapidly at first and gets close enough to zero for practical purposes. (Actually I would have used "geometric decay" as being more specific but I digress even further.)

I also agree that separating out boys from girls is many educational settings is just fine. Maybe now the boys could be taught like boys without damaging the delicate self esteem of the poor little girls.

In particular, the above example was used to illustrate geometric progression (and to make fun of physicists) in such an effective way that I remember it 25 years on. BTW in the original example the engineer and physicist were presumed to be men and the "very attractive member of the opposite sex" was actually "a beautiful naked woman". Hooo boy! Try that one in today's PC classrooms.

Posted by: Locomotive Breath at February 23, 2006 01:36 PM