Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review of Why Johnny Can't Add

Morri's Kline's Why Johnny Can't Add was written in 1973 as an attempt to change the direction of mathematics education. Mathematics went through a small upheaval at the turn of the century with the foundational "crisis", the Bourbaki program, and related developments.

These developments inspired pedagogical reform that Kline felt made little sense. The book is an extended polemic against the pedagogical reforms that came to be known as "the New Math".

His argument is essentially that the New Math involves teaching abstract mathematics and a whole bunch of other things like set theory, group theory, arbitrary bases, and clock arithmetic, . . . to schoolchildren, at the expense of the basics.

The reforms insisted on abstraction, Kline argued for a more concrete approach to the teaching of mathematics.

For the record I am not convinced that Kline or his opponents were correct. I have no idea how mathematics is taught today, and I am pretty convinced that there are few good theories of education. But he did make a good recommendation. Kline suggests that we really need to treat mathematics education like a real science. That is we have to do real research in to what works in education. This needs to be taken more seriously than it is.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jewish Services at Fort Benning

In the Army, Sunday is religion day. Regardless of your religion, you can pray on Sunday. That is when all the services are held. On Fort Benning there were various Christian services in various chapels and one Jewish Service. There was probably some Muslim service and I should assume a Bhuddist one somewhere in the neighborhood.

The Jewish service is held on Sand Hill. Sand Hill is the place on Fort Benning where all the basic training takes place. So if you are going to be in BCT in Benning, you will be spending a lot of time on Sand Hill.

I remember Jewish Services at Fort Knox when I did basic training there four years ago. There, there were usually 8-15 people. About half of them were Jewish. In basic training, most people go to some service just to get away from their barracks. Spiritual comfort is often beside the point. Basic trainees often went to their battle buddy's service, generally because it was something different to do. On Fort Knox, I remember seeing mostly privates in basic training, and one E-4 who took it upon himself to lead services while he was there and a major who spent time with the Chabad Rabbi who came by most Sundays to do part of the service.

On Fort Benning, which is a slightly larger base than Fort Knox, there were at least 75 people at each of the two services I attended. I did not have many free Sundays. I think about 70 of the 75 people were in basic training. There were about five of us who were eihter in OCS, BOLC II or some other school there. I did not meet anyone permanently stationed there.

I would guess (based on nothing more than looking at last names, general intuition, and guessing) that no more than 15 or 20 of the basic trainees there were Jewish.

Though there is a Jewish Chaplain on post, I did not see him. He was out for the two weeks I was there. People say good things about him. I sat next to some kid from Chaim Berlin on a flight who claimed to know him from Atlanta. Instead of the chaplain there were two lay leaders. One led services one week, and another led services the next week. They both did a good job, and they seemed to be very enthusiastic about it.

Though the praying was nice, I suspect that the real reason so many people choose the Jewish service was for the food. There was a nice selection of donoughts, bagles, cream cheese and OJ. If you are in Basic Training in a place like Fort Benning, these things will sound like real treats. They were to me at Fort Knox. One of the lay leaders made some joke about bagles without cream cheese being article 15 actionable.

The actual service lasted about 45 minutes. This was followed by some food, and some people who went outside and gave Hebrew lessons. They got to the first few letters. when I was there. Hebrew lessons are scheduled to follow the service.

Incidentally, I think that at least two of the cadre in my BOLC II company were Jewish. That strikes me as odd for some reason.

That was my experience with Judaism in Fort Benning.

Monday, August 06, 2007

more BOLC-II

There has been a lot going on in BOLC II. Most of the stuff we have done here is very standard training. We did combatives, as I mentioned. That is hand-to-hand combat techniques. It was uninteresting. We did basic shooting. Again, standard stuff. We had a 4 day pass, which I used to insert myself briefly in to New york, and then I left. We came back to a week in the FOB. I am now back for week 2 in the FOB.

A FOB is a Forward Operating Base. it si a mock-up of the type of thing that the US builds when it goes in to a country and sets up camp. It is a tiny little Army base. It actually sucks a lot. We had to do a land navigation exercize. I passed the first time, but it basically involved wandering around the woods a lot. A good chunk of it was in the dark. We also learned a lot of skills like how to "clear" a room (of people). There was a lot of shooting too: in rooms, from vehicles, in burms, on hills. . .

Some of the more gung-ho people here seem to love this crap. I don't. But I am doing the best I can, and putting up with this as well as anyone else, I suppose.
We have a ten-mile road march that will culminate this stay in the FOB and essentially our training for this part. We will then have a stupid week of form-filling, where we "out-process" this phase of training. I can't wait for this to be over. Then I have a few days off. Following that I am off to phase 3, which will be in Virginia.

Georgia is a very hot. The FOB in Fort Benning is even hotter. There is also a ton of humidity. The weather sucks.

Hopefully I make it through unscathed.