Sunday 20 February 2011

Hard Homework

From   Tales of Statisticians..

Neyman was invited to Berkeley in 1938. Berkeley, as he put it, was "tabula rasa" - no statistical study at all then existed. None of these deeply rooted London antagonisms: he was getting in at the foundations.
Neyman's mention of two unsolved problems, including the Gosset/Student problem, in a Berkeley lecture in 1940, would have been of little consequence had George B Dantzig not been late to that particular class. He mistook the unsolved problems on the blackboard for a homework assignment, and wound up solving both of them. Neyman took the initiative in getting Dantzig's papers published, and thus launched Dantzig's career. Dantzig's discovery is legendary, and Neyman's generous response deserves to be legendary also: not all teachers will tolerate a student who discovers something in their presence, and few of those will take the initiative in getting that student's work published.

Love these stories...
George Bernard Dantzig (/ˈdæntsɪɡ/; November 8, 1914 – May 13, 2005) was an American mathematical scientist who made contributions to industrial engineering, operations research, computer science, economics, and statistics.

Dantzig is known for his development of the simplex algorithm, an algorithm for solving linear programming problems, and for his other work with linear programming. 

At his death, Dantzig was the Professor Emeritus of Transportation Sciences and Professor of Operations Research and of Computer Science at Stanford University.

His father, Tobias Dantzig, was a mathematician and linguist, and his mother, Anja Dantzig (née Ourisson), was a Russian-born linguist of French-Lithuanian origin. Dantzig's parents met during their study at the University of Paris, where Tobias studied mathematics under Henri Poincaré, after whom Dantzig's brother was named. The Dantzigs immigrated to the United States, where they settled in Portland, Oregon.

Early in the 1920s the Dantzig family moved from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. His mother became a linguist at the Library of Congress, and his father became a math tutor at the University of Maryland, College Park.  *Wik


Steven Colyer said...

... not all teachers will tolerate a student who discovers something in their presence, and few of those will take the initiative in getting that student's work published.

Why wouldn't they? it's all about truth, isn't it? Are are you speaking of teachers who only look upon teaching as a job? I hope there's not too many of them.

Which reminds me, have you been watching how many American States legislatures are going after Teachers' Unions, and the backlash? Sweet old Wisconsin, particularly. I saw this on a twitter from a news service:
"Where's the action ... Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and ... Wisconsin ?!"

Pat's Blog said...

Schools have pretty big budgets and they are a tempting and easy target for bureaucrats, especially in a society where everyone thinks they know more than the teachers do about education. 100 good teachers work can be overshadowed by one asshole who doesn't know (or care) whether they teach well or not. We have, in history, often been our own worst enemy.

Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...

I hear you. In NJ they're about to do away with tenure for state high school teachers. To get tenure, you basically have to show up for work every day for 3 years into your job. How many 25 yr olds do you know who deserve tenure?

But I must emphasize, this is not an attack on teachers, this is an attack on teachers' unions. Not sure how or even if DoD allows unions. Pension plans are the big expense, and thereby the big target by the Governments.

In USA public schools, I have long noted all the issues are between Teacher Unions and State Government. Left out of the loop and made to suffer are Students, Teachers, Administration, and Parents. Students are the most important, followed by the Teachers. All others can pound salt in my opinion, compared to the taught and those who teach.

So, I'm not surprised to see this coming to a head. Frigging sad all around, and keeps me from studying the 1089 problem and possible applications of Ramsey theory.

Anonymous said...

My friend made the mistake of speaking out against the introduction of a new curriculum (mathematics). New Jersey. They tortured him for 2 years. Without tenure he would have been fired.

Tenure gives us, essentially, the right to a hearing before being disciplined, or even dismissed. It deters arbitrary and capricious actions.

In New York City at the moment (that is where I teach, and I know quite a bit more), only about 40% of our teachers reach tenure. Others leave early, or are dismissed before getting there. And a small number make it to the tenure decision and are at that time denied.

It is certainly not the case that showing up each day for 3 years earns someone tenure, not here, not now.

That being said, unless you want me to directly answer a question, I've said enough. I hope this can rest as a stand-alone comment. I like Pat's work for the math, and don't want to litter the space off-topic.


Pat's Blog said...

JD... Your comments about education are always welcome here..and I don't think of them as "litter" at all. I have reached the end of my career and am grateful I was able to teach great kids and have loved sharing my love of math. I have never had to face the types of problems you guys address and have only admiration for your dedication and courage.... to paraphrase a common expression in bad Spanish... mi blog es su blog...

Anonymous said...

One of the pleasures I have is that I work in a place where I am more or less allowed to teach what and how I please, and I am given classes full of good math students (they can all handle fractions).

I have known for years that I should avoid, to the extent possible, prepping for the test, but instead encourage facility and familiarity with the mathematics. Each time a kid independently takes "the next step" just ahead of me, those are the moments that reinforce learning. And I know that going off-topic is a privilege in this system, but a gift to my students.

In other words, I can't engage with much stuff quite as hard as you discuss here, but I do get to have fun, and get the kids to do interesting things, and even they occasionally have fun.

So much better than what most of my colleagues are forced to do. Yet, I am well aware of the battles raging, I know how formidable our opponents are. I know about endless test prep, scripted lessons, courses a mile wide and half an inch deep. I know about moves against tenure, against our pensions, against our job security. And I continue to speak out on behalf of those who also teach, but not necessarily in conditions as rewarding as mine. But I'll keep that on my blog (-:

Everything I do, I do because I think it is important. The teaching part, that I love. And that's why I come here and read.


Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...

JD, your passion is admirable. Since you're a Union leader, I have a question for you:

Why the hell are teachers "unionized" in the first place? I never understood that. I've been in a union myself, 2 in fact: The UAW (Mack Trucks) and and the Teamsters (UPS). I had fine co-workers, fine upstanding men, some quite brilliant, most not but rather average, all competent. None with more than a high school education, and in today's dollars, making the equivalent of $80,000, for essentially picking things up, and putting things down. That's all they did.

My point? What is WRONG with our system that educated people are Unionized? Because you know what Unions are, right? Watered-down communism, period. Removes the incentive to stand out from the crowd. Promotes averageness. And again, I'm not anti-Tenure, just easy tenure. Little is gained when things are easy.

I'm not saying Unions shouldn't exist, I know the history of the AFL-CIO, etc., I'm just amazed that the Government, charged with helping the people, takes such poor care of its own people, that they have to organize. A shame.

In a nutshell, the mess in America's States is that Government takes about 2-3 years to notice that Business is in a recession. Business, don't forget, is where the taxes that pay government employees comes from.

Government is now feeling the effects of layoffs, frozen salaries, benefit reductions for current AND retired employees, that Business has known since the NYSE (their metric) peaked in Oct. 2007. Not my fault NAFTA was passed and banks were deregulated beginning with Reagan and ending with Phil Gramm in '97 under Clinton. Not my fault America's white collar jobs have been exported to India and the blue collar ones to China and the Far East and Mexico, but that's what happened. Now what do we do?

For the record, I love teachers and teaching. You guys are warriors against ignorance. Keep up the good work, just understand there are reasons these things happen, and try to look at the big picture.

Anonymous said...

So there's some interesting discussion. I can turn the passionate advocate off (who do they want to pay for the millionaire tax break??) and throw out some things to chew on.

I was supposed to be an engineer, ended up instead an untrained (and not so well paid) transportation planner, ditched that, became a math teacher. It's not that common a route, and most of our engineers become train wrecks. That's a different story.

Most people become teachers because they care about kids. Like care, as in nurture. What I'm getting at, it's still largely women's work, with the crap and the pay that still goes with that.

Unlike "professionals" we have centralized employers. There's usually one district in town, right? And similar policies district to district.

Think back 50 years. Maybe more. A few teachers unions - probably run by socialists or communists. Little math teacher associations, social studies teachers associations. Individual towns may have had some sort of good and welfare clubs.

But on the ground - uneven and unfair pay patterns. Arbitrariness in work rules. And very real danger of dismissal or discipline, at whim.

Plus a society where more and more workers, of all stripes, were joining unions. Unions were far better regarded then they were today.

So the existing unions, the benefits associations, the professional groups, formed the seeds for teachers unions.

Me, back as an advocate, think unionization is a good thing. But if you are looking for reasons why we ended up with unions (and not professional associations) - 1) women's work, with associated pay and conditions, 2) centralized employers, 3) organization occurred while unions were at their most popular. And 4) "math" teachers realized that their associations were too small and weak, on their own, to bargain. Substitute any subject for "math."


Anonymous said...

I found an old post of mine:

It's still women's work in the US, especially with younger kids.

Level/ women/ men
Pre-k/K 430k/ 8k
special ed 150k/ 25k
elementary/middle 2.45M/ 0.65M
secondary 460k/ 310k
post secondary 500k/ 600k


Steven Colyer said...

Oh, Jonathan, please, you don't have to defend yourself. I read CNN, you too? There are many sides to this issue, and frankly, I think you defend your side (my favorite side) better than most. That Pat likes you is good enough for me, but there are other reasons, to whit ...

YOU WORK IN America's Calcutta? That is to say, The Bronx? Props to you man, I'm just glad you make it home safe every day. Teasin' ... a bit ... I know there's a big difference between the South Bronx and that up by Yonkers.

But it's still "The New York City School District", which in and of itself makes me sad I complain about New Jersey, in comparison. :-) You're on the front lines, man.