Thursday, December 14, 2006

Go public schools!

By now everyone on the interweb has seen this:

Verizon Doesn't Know How To Count

Apparently, hapless (i.e., publicly educated) Verizon employees are unable to distinguish between dollars and cents. Indeed, 0.002 dollars equals 0.002 cents, &c.

The customer in this little dialog does a wonderful job of explaining the problem to the Verizon idiot, alas! to no avail. See, e.g.,

If you're selling your car and I said I'm gonna give you twenty thousand for it, and I show up with 20,000 pennies, we're not speaking the same language. If you quote me .002 cents it's not the same as .002 dollars.

Now, I have a degree in mathematics, and I don't have any of that educational and psychological baggage from an education curriculum holding me back. As such, I can see exactly what the problem is here. In fact, this is something I noticed all through high school, all through college, and in my post grad work as well as at the college where I work now. The problem is the concept of UNITS.

Except to the most mathematically pure among us, numbers are nearly worthless without a UNIT assigned to them. Intuitively, we know this. In fact, I bet we pick it up from language classes as much as anything else. It's not, "I need six." It is, "I need six sheets of paper." Just like within a sentence a subject needs a verb (and they need to agree - look it up dunces), a number needs a UNIT. Changing the UNIT changes the meaning of the number, even if the actual numeral hasn't changed. If Willis McGahee rushes for 142 yards one day, that is pretty good. If he rushes for 142 feet, well, that's not nearly as hot.

There is a really easy solution to the learning and understanding of UNITS. It is called "factor label" and relies only on multiplication, division, and the pupil's not being a moron. Of course, this is usually taught in a science or math class, so, allowing students to abandon all study of math and science at around the 9th or 10th grade level hurts this process. Then, of course, with no marketable skills but their voices and nothing but a GED or Diploma (if lucky), it is off to the Verizon call centers.

Society is in some real trouble.


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