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A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
July 27, 2014 • 128 Comments

I wanted to come back to the popular NYT Magazine article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” about how they teach math better in Japan, as you can tell because Japanese students average a higher PISA score than American students. According to the article, the Common Core now offers us another opportunity to teach math better. But, American teachers have consistently failed to exploit the opportunities offered them by educational theorists:

It wasn’t the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it. The same pattern played out in the 1960s, when schools gripped by a post-Sputnik inferiority complex unveiled an ambitious “new math,” only to find, a few years later, that nothing actually changed. In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices.

You see, it’s not that the math fads of the past failed, it’s that they were never really tried.

In reality, the New Math mostly failed because it was an attempt by math professors to design a curriculum that makes sense to math professors wanting to create new math professors. To students, however, it was repetitious (every September from 1965-1970 I had to study the Number Line in the first chapter of each math textbook), boring, and pointless. The Number Line didn’t do anything to help me think more interesting thoughts about baseball statistics.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

The trouble starts earlier when the Powers that Be adopt some smooth-talking salesman’s pitch for a whole new way to teach math without making him test it first on real students. The reason...

June 18, 2014 • 91 Comments

The NYT notices something I’ve harped on for about a dozen years:

DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT

Latinos Onscreen, Conspicuously Few

Anna Bahr

JUNE 18, 2014

If you went to the movies in 1946, when Latinos constituted barely 3 percent of the American population, you might have caught Carmen Miranda, reportedly the highest-paid woman in the world at the time, dancing with her improbably tall fruit hat. By the 1950s, Desi Arnaz graced network TV as a star of “I Love Lucy.”

But it was more likely that the Latino actors seen on big and small screens occupied a narrow range of stereotyped background roles.

Actually, after WWII, Hispanics tended to be, if anything, over-represented in movies. They were featured prominently in Latin Lover roles, such as Fernando Lamas, whose image lives on in his sailing buddy Jonathan Goldsmith’s Dos Equis beer commercial character “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” George Clooney’s uncle-in-law José Ferrer won the 1950 Best Actor Oscar for Cyrano de Bergerac. Ricardo Montalban was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1949. The best of the Latin actors, Anthony Quinn, had been working steadily since the 1930s and ascended to stardom in 1952, winning the Best Supporting Oscar playing Marlon Brando’s brother in Viva Zapata.

There was a lot of pro-Latin American propaganda and warm feelings during the 1940s in America, such as Mayor LaGuardia of NYC renaming Sixth Avenue the “Avenue of the Americas” in 1945. I imagine there were several reasons for this trend, including

- To encourage Latin America to side with the Allies rather than the Italians and Germans or sit it out like the Spaniards;

- Because Latin America prospered mightily during WWII (for example, in 1946 the Mexican League tried to become a third major league in baseball by raiding 18 American big leaguers), thus making Latin America economically fashionable for awhile.

- With movie markets in Continental Europe cut off, Hollywood focused...