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The Golden Verses Of The Stoic

Seneca and Epictetus refer to the Golden Verses of Pythagoras , which happens to provide a good framework for developing a daily routine, bookended by morning and evening contemplative practices. Zeno of Citium , who founded Stoicism in 301 BC, expressed his doctrines in notoriously terse arguments and concise maxims.  However, Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoic school, wrote over 700 books fleshing these ideas out and adding complex arguments to support them. 

Milgram -- Inciter of
the Math Wars



Do you recall the Math Wars?

I think anyone who was a researcher or near the academic world at least heard about them. Prof James Milgram is probably one of the last soldiers standing -- which seems appropriate since from many accounts, he started them. They began, in true form, the declaration being called, in 1994, though there are some references to 1987, which I'm not sure count -- signs of where things were leading? ... Definitely.

Education, public education, especially in the areas of Math and ELS are terrible. I believe... I haven't checked this though I'll probably confirm some time soon ... that they are worse than they were in the 50s.
*NOTE -- I just checked this.. and I'll post the answer into the next post.

There are a couple of enviornmental variables that are worth mentioning  because it is proffered by many repritable historian, socialogist and anthrophologist sources that they played a part in the escalation -- reaching quickly to tactics involving heavy propaganda, physical disruption of meetings, events or lectures, threatening and heavy harrasment, political coersion, professional sabatoage resulting in several careers failing and falling from acedimea all together, the clustering of gangs on both sides -- though the conservative minds were far more adapt in that area -- forgery and the use of false data to back assertions or debunk someone's apposing study, and even the use of mechanical sabatoage in one case in California, which nearly caused a death -- or a murder in this case.

If this sounds familiar, it is because a lot of those Math War aspects are attacking CCSS, and have been from the start. George Bush called an end to the wars, because they were so bad that they were destroying entire school systems. Jim Milgram was pointedly told to attend that meeting, as was Stotsky, and many others. They listened, and chilled a bit, but CCSS brought them all right back up on stage.

Anyway, one of those environmental aspects was the growing use of computers. Another, was the arrival and proliferation of the Internet.

No one was quite prepared for the Internet. In fact Bill Gates said,
"Sometimes we do get taken by surprise. For example, when the Internet came along, we had it as a fifth or sixth priority. It wasn't like somebody told me about it and I said, "I don't know how to spell that." I said, "Yeah, I've got that on my list, so I'm okay." But there came a point when we realized it was happening faster and was a much deeper phenomenon than had been recognized in our strategy."
It was much deeper than anyone realized in 1992. I get a little nostalgic thinking to the days of BBSs and Forums and waiting 3 hours for a nude picture of Deana Troy of Star Trek Next Generation to download. *sigh*. Getting that 1.44k baud modem, and like almost the next day the 2.88 is out! -- And then POW! 56K boy! Now what you got!? Then  wham! 1994 Websites are up, college papers and publications are all over the place, porn, Yahoo! AOL! Netscape, porn, MUSIC! SPAM, porn. (In 1995 the Wall Street Journal published a story, which showed that the only people actually making any money on the Internet were porn sites). Being asked 18 times a day if my breasts were large enough?

I personally believe it was the arrival of the "Blog" which set off the bomb. There were online journals and What's New places on AOL and lots of diaries and even a wireless eyecam blog in 1997 that was fairly cool. The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999. And yes, the Internet was growing and much of that had to do with the descending mass of the new century. People seemed to know that what was happening was happening in cyberspace, not in the cocktail lounge.

Then, in 2001, boom. Blogs were everywhere. It was like if you were online, you had a blog and if you didn't, well then you really weren't online. WordPress and Blogger and Live Journal and Movable Type were on the set. It was amazing what you could discover in a few short minutes with all of those blogs out there chatting at -- nothing. I quickly discovered that if you found someone who was blogging about, say, math -- and you asked him a question about math, he would write term papers and dissertations for you, telling you everything about what you asked -- going into far reaching detail. All because you recognized his existence out there in the black.

Between Google and Blogs, I could discover deep information both to the minute current and far reaching historic, with commentary from anthropologists, chemists, researching psychologists and a bartender in Newark, who always had something hysterical to say about it all.

Which is how I learned about the Math Wars. -- From the bartender. One of his customers got a little loose and started talking about it like it was real or something. Like he was hiding in a trench. "I'm a pacifist, that's why I'm a mathematician! I research! In my office! I teach. How is this happening? Why is teaching a threat?"

This is from a personal log of his, about a "meeting" he was coerced into going to, because it was either be part of them, or be a target. And already, three professors were out of work, and publicly embarrassed.   Maybe someone in India would hire them, but they weren't working on the West Coast any longer.

For the past couple of weeks I have been perched uncomfortably on the horns of a dilemma. I have in recent months repeatedly declared myself a Math Pacifist and attempted to refrain from firing off anything that might be regarded as a shot in the Math Wars. I still believe that a tremendous amount of the controversy is unnecessary, and in any case fueling acrimony is generally unprofitable. On the other hand, I have received now from several sources whom I highly respect an open letter written by a mathematician to be circulated among mathematicians. The letter recounts an incident that occurred in Maine, and I briefly tried to convince myself that that hornet's nest was already over the dam (not my phrase, but I love it!) Unfortunately, I can't convince myself that there are not more hornet's nests a-building, and in the end I decided that quietly stashing the letter would be plain irresponsible.So here it is. It came with a covering letter from one of his colleagues at Colby College, which I shall include. I should perhaps also add that the person to whom the letter is addressed, James Milgram, is one of the most aggressive anti-reform activists. If you would like a closer view of his opinions, check http://www.mathematicallycorrect.com/ . Then, while you are at it, also check the opposing views at http://MathematicallySane.com/home.asp
That is from 2002. Not going to print the guy's name. Hell, they could still have a contract out on him. The MathematiclallySane.com website is still functioning, but they took down the Mathematicallycorrect.com

Well, they thought they did. But if you know where to look.

I'm sure you'll recognize the verbiage and the style of writing. This style and construction is not "organic". It is a contrived and thoroughly researched -- and in use long before Hitler read books on its use and techniques -- method of controlling opinion, inciting emotional responses and focusing these responses toward a clear and present perceived danger. The basic formula is a construction of three basic accusations, which are repeated using three to five rephrasings, while offering no references, or basis for contention. In this round-robin of linking and connecting accusations, points of "fear" and "threat" are laced. Sometimes these phrases stand out, but those who know what they are doing will use other techniques for the lacing (which I'm not going to get into). These fears could be toward the loss of something precious, which could be abstract like your civil rights, your ability to be effective on your job, or the standing of your profession. They could also be solid such as your job, the level of your salary, the loss of your union.

The text will introduce or begin with the source of the threat. The bad guy. The thing whose very existence will cause all of these ill-wills to manifest. Typically, that thing isn't really described in detail. In fact the less detail, them more effective this message will be. If details are used, they will be grand, large, and flat out false.

This seems like a technique that would not work on the internet. The technique is called the Big Lie, the name is a throwback reference to a quote from Hitler's book Mein Kampf.
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  ― Adolf Hitler
1925 autobiography Mein Kampf (James Murphy translation, page 134):
"[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes."

Amazing as it sounds, that is a proven, well researched tactic and not just Hitler musing about the idiocy of the masses. It was a standard tactic long before he used it as well. In fact, it has been shown many times that intelligence plays no part in your level of susceptibility to this technique. The "lie" needs to be something outrageous, and thus is not really required to be false, but the reality is that very few outrageous things are true, so, most of the time, the blurb is a lie.

Throughout the round-robin the tone of the message will cycle through: outrage, condemnation, arrogance, and then derision, which is often used with humor or a slogan-like humorous phrase... Something like "Where's the Math?" echoing the memorable commercial from Wendy's "Where's the Beef?"

The added variable of humor is effective as it will increase memory depth. Humor has been shown to often breach "short term memory" and become incorporated into the "long term memory" with less barriers against assimilation. How ever the author chooses to deploy the derision, the primary purpose is to de-humanize and devalue the chosen object you are pitting your reader against.

The only tactic against such an attack -- because I will tell you now that it is an attack and it is absolutely effective. Again, it doesn't matter how intelligent you are, or how strong willed you are -- in fact against this particular tactic those traits are not your friends -- is dependable information, which counters the Big Lie and leaves no doubt about its falseness.

This is unfortunate because people, on the whole, will rarely educate themselves. In the Internet age, the "open tab' is a click away, and the Google search and Google Scholar, only a few keystroke further on the path.--- but you won't do it will you? You won't even look up,

"The Big Lie" +Propaganda

There... I've even constructed the search for you.

*sigh*

If you listen to the message enough times (could be once, could be ten, might be twenty) you will suddenly believe it, and wonder how anyone could not see this "thing" for what it is, and ascertain the obvious threat it poses.

From that point, really, really, really good information -- will no longer be effective as a defense. You will also go out of your way to argue against counter information, if you happen to hear or notice debunking information against the belief you are programmed for.

I believe that this is the insidiousness of this particular tactic. You have not only convinced yourself, but you become a propagator of the method and belief imposed on you. Like a brain virus.

The term for this state is "programmed" and goes back to the 50s with the rise of some rather dangerous and prolific cults.

Here are some other references:

Chertkoff, Jerome M., and Suzanne L. Baird. "Applicability of the big lie technique and the last clear chance doctrine to bargaining." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 20.3 (1971): 298.

Lee, Alfred McClung. How to understand propaganda. Rinehart, 1952.

Helson, Harry, Robert R. Blake, and Jane Srygley Mouton. "An experimental investigation of the effectiveness of the “big lie” in shifting attitudes." The Journal of Social Psychology 48.1 (1958): 51-60.

McLaren, Peter, and Gregory Martin. "The legend of the Bush gang: Imperialism, war, and propaganda." Cultural Studies↔ Critical Methodologies4.3 (2004): 281-303.

Hirst, Martin, and Robert Schutze. "Allies Down Under? The Australian at War and the" Big Lie"." (2004): 171-186.

So.. let's take a look at this letter... it was sent as an OPEN Letter so we aren't breaching anyone's privacy.


September 20, 2002

Professor James Milgram
Department of Mathematics
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Jim

I am replying to you with an open letter. Events of this past week or so have dismayed me and brought me to ask if my views on democracy in America are out of line with those of my peers. Though I feel that people have the legal right to express even extreme forms of dissent, I also believe that there is a slow decrease in our civility to one another, making it much more difficult to bring about consensus and accomplish common goals. In the range between civility and the extremity of legal expression is a gray area where all of us react negatively or positively. I need to ask if many people would react as I have. First I'd like to outline as objectively as I can the events to which I am reacting.

I have been outside the US for a full year and only returned about a month ago. As I arrived I was invited to attend a meeting called by the Commissioner of Education of the State of Maine at the request of a small group of citizens of the state. I accepted. Behind closed doors the group related personal experiences. Then a spokesperson read an argument premised on a view of mathematics education that quoted you frequently. The rationale was based first upon this view and second on an argument that outsiders had exerted undue influence upon local school districts. The statement concluded with a set of nonnegotiable demands placed before the commissioner. The fact that the demands were nonnegotiable was reinforced in clear terms when some present were incredulous.

The list of demands required the removal of a set of specific curricula from the schools of Maine, the termination of any state funding used to support districts and teachers implementing these curricula, and the strict severance of any relationship of the commissioner with organizations working statewide to support districts and teachers implementing these (and consequently other) curricula.

Prior to this statement, some of the group individually related their own personal experiences in the schools. One person was a state legislator, two were school board members, one was a teacher, and two were parents active in the schools. Two had withdrawn their children from the public schools and one had found alternative schooling for a child.

Everyone in the group was very well prepared, articulate, and experienced in governance. In other words, in any forum they would be able to express their position clearly. Further, the school board members, teacher, and legislator had the power of the vote. All wore a badge that I had to have explained to me later. It was thereby clear that this group was a "political action committee" or PAC.

Two days later I received an email from you, 3,000 miles away in a distant state. I believe this is the first written personal communication I have ever received from you. You told me that two from the group wrote that I "communicated 'disdain' for both me and Dick" and asked me to "clarify what was actually said." Very shortly after this I received an email from Dick Askey, about 1,500 miles away also in another state, with more particular questions about mathematics curricula but also asking what was said in this meeting with the commissioner.

Then I received from the commissioner a letter written to the governor by a spokesperson for the group. The letter begins by asking the governor for help working "constructively with the Commissioner," stating that in the meeting I attended they were met with "hostile confrontation from the Commissioner rather than constructive dialog."

The letter went on to relate their view of events in Maine and to back up their position with arguments that can be found on the "Mathematically Correct" website. Since I was present at the meeting, I think the governor and commissioner sent the letter to me as a courtesy.

Next I would like to ask you, Dick, and others about democracy in America.

Here are my reactions to these events. Having lived about 30 years in Minnesota I know school governance differs greatly from state to state. Maine is a very democratic state, frequently using the town meeting to make decisions. Mainers are fiercely independent, so our town and school administrators and teachers are very practiced in hearing an extraordinarily wide range of views on matters like education and from this wide range of views distilling sound conclusions. In addition, many towns do not have schools and some have only elementary schools.

These towns must negotiate over property tax, education, and power to obtain education for their youngsters in neighboring tax districts.

Mainers are very able to understand the power of influence and money. I have no doubt after meeting this group that in their own districts they made their case well. Further, I have no doubt that those who made the decisions factored the group's arguments, both the educational argument and the argument about undue influence, into their decision. This decision did not agree with what the group wanted.

Frequently I have been asked for advice on school decisions. Because I am a professor my views are often not mainstream, so that frequently these decisions do not agree with my view. However, I was heard and the people making the decisions worked carefully. So my response was to roll up my sleeves, sit on classroom floors with children, work with teachers in their professional development activities, serve on committees that promoted interest in mathematics education, and seek both private and federal funding to help the children and teachers of my state. My wife and I would never have dreamed of pulling our children out of public school because things were not going our way. Had we opted out of the system, we certainly would not return to attack what hard working citizens had labored to craft.

Am I wrong to feel that others should pitch in when a result is democratically reached, or, at least, not attempt to overturn the process from the outside? Am I wrong to feel that people who find that they cannot stay and live with a decision should not come back to destroy what they left behind? What do other people think about this kind of activity?

Somewhere along the line, the members of the group who visited the commissioner found each other over varying districts and, judging by your email, apparently over varying states all around our country. Some of those in Maine formed a PAC and began working within the bureaucracy, behind closed doors, to alter decisions so carefully worked out by due process in local districts. To the outside world (e.g. the letter to the governor) this group presents a reasonable and rational image. Behind closed doors they present non-negotiable demands to appointed officials.

I know that these actions happen all the time, but they still make me feel uncomfortable. Is it all right to feel uncomfortable in the face of demands that appointed officials tell local districts to overturn decisions? Am I wrong to feel uncomfortable about this kind of governance in the US for our locally controlled schools? Am I out of step with my peers?

Then I received your email. I know absolutely nothing about the meetings called by the Commissioner of Education of the State of California. Even though I grew up near your home in California and raised my family in Minnesota, I have no business entering the politics of these states. I am a citizen of Maine. Even though I have years of experience with children, teachers, educational research, and the role of the federal government, I do not pretend any expertise on school education beyond that immediately useful to the people of my state, my professional organizations, and occasionally the federal government. If I am mistreated, misquoted, or even quoted correctly in a closed-door meeting with the Commissioner of Education of the State of California then that is none of my business. I am sure I will survive. My life and my stake in school education are not in California. They are in Maine.

Am I off base to feel that maybe some sleight of hand has happened here, that democratic processes are not working as they should, that probably I shouldn't have received an email from you because you should not even know about meetings called by Maine state officials? What do other people think?

Aaron Brown on Newsnight recently said that in a free country like ours we should expect a very wide range of views (most of those are probably already held among the very diverse people of Maine). He went on to say it is very troubling that this wide range no longer represents a continuous spectrum of views, but rather that we have become polarized. The only views are extreme views. My own belief is that decisions should be reached in forums open to those who have a stake. Further, that rightly or wrongly, when a decision is reached, we all have an obligation to make it work. If we find we cannot, we have the right to opt out peacefully. But once that choice is made, we should not reach back to destroy that which we left.

There is a fundamental assumption here. Human beings, even groups of human beings, have a right to be wrong so long as they arrive at their decision through democratic means open to stakeholders. One reason for this is that 'wrongness' is in the eye of the beholder. In education, I have found that textbooks are not the major issue. Some make my job harder, some easier. Time and the ballot box tend to correct our mistakes. Is this an unconventional view? Am I out of step with democracy in America? I am asking these questions of the people of Maine, the educators I have known and worked with, the members of my chosen profession, and of you and Dick. How many others have had an experience like mine with you, Jim?

Now I would like to answer your two main questions.
First, you want to know what was said in the meeting. Other than the meager details about the meeting given in this letter, I think you should ask the commissioner. Second, do I disdain you? No I don't. Do I disdain the group who met with the commissioner? No I don't.

Here is my opinion of you. A hundred years from now there will be graduate students working to understand the most recent proof of a theorem of Milgram and wondering who he was and what he was like. I don't hold that view of very many. However, I believe that we, as mathematicians, are not prepared through our craft to assume the role of national leadership in mathematics education. Expertise in one of these fields does not automatically transfer to expertise in the other.

Despite, or perhaps because of, my many years of working hand in hand with mathematics educators in a broad variety of circumstances, I do not feel qualified to call myself an expert in mathematics education, and I don't think you are, either. I am quite concerned that you don't share my qualms in this regard, especially when I directly experience the tactics that you seem to condone and advise (given your very rapid email to me) on what appears to be a national scale.

I am sorry that you, as a leading mathematician and in the same profession as mine, have made me so sad about the state of democracy in America.


Sincerely,

Thomas R. Berger
Carter Professor of Mathematics
and Computer Science
cc
Professor Richard Askey, University of Wisconsin
Commissioner Duke Albanese
Governor Angus King


Something you might consider, just for a moment -- These "keep it the same" guys like Dr. James Milgram PhD 5* General of the Math Wars, 35 year veteran disruptor of education and an old school "Promotion through Propaganda and Threat" expert -- Just for an hour or two.. As an academic exercise, an entertainment of mental awareness -- an activity in research and education -- check the status of ANY of their suggestions over the last 25 years, and see if any actually worked. They all sound good and he seems to make a good case and he's got the credentials  -- but In the real world of education, did they help or hurt?  You will find some eye opening results out there -- as state after state, system after system that they have been allowed to work on and "bring back to accuracy" (after being threatened, harassed, lied to and coerced in to letting them do it)  that all of them ... 100% so far in my examinations across the years from 1975 to the present for James Milgram PhD, have turned to shit. Grades went down, dropout rates went up, fewer students progressed into college, and of those that did, more of them required remedial math just to catch up.

Milgram helped to author California's Math Standard 1997 --
2001 report comment on results "No notable change since 1996"
2002 report, comment on results "No notable change since 1996"

California continues to "not show a notable change" .. So... 2005 Milgram is in California again arguing against the suggested standard changes. Math wars are called to cease fire by George Bush. New Standard is going to go in place, but Milgram is able to get in there an make some changes.. Being very polite and even friendly he gets these published.
No noticeable change since 2001.

2007 California removes his changes and now runs with NCTM Focal Points as it was meant to be -- Math scores rise across the grades and through all races and sex columns.

2007 though  Milgram is hired to help develop and advise on the project CCSS -- Common Core State Standards. (Yes, Milgram helped to create CCSS -- or rather, was hired to help, and did very little except to make everyone aware that there was only one way to teach math (His Way), and that these ideas they had -- dangerously close to Focal Points ideas -- were weak, and ineffectual and would never help a student to prepare for college or a career. The group of over 100 professional working on CCSS quickly learn to accept his critique, and not fill him in on any source or result of new benchmarks, because he will send every little nitpicky thing he doesn't agree without into the blogosphere to be hacked an slashed by people who don't have a clue what they are talking about. Milgram complains about this censorship of citations and sources on every report I could find. A telling point here is that as in the quote here, he makes a bid at a veiled threat, suggesting by him not knowing, it could be bad...

"What follows are my comments on the final draft of the CCSSI Core Mathematics Standards. There are a number of standards including, but not limited to 1-OA(6), 2-OA(2), 2-NBT(5), 3-OA(7), 3-NBT(2), 4-OA(4), 4-OA(6), 4-NF(1), 4-NF(2), 5-OA(3),8-G(2), 8-G(4), F-LQE(5), G-SRT(4) that are completely unique to this document, and most of them seem problematic to me. I have repeatedly asked for references justifying the insertions of these or similar standards in previous drafts, but references have not been provided. Consequently, to my knowledge, there is no research base for including any of these standards in the document."

This one I like, as he tries to incite them into an argument. I have a copy of Finland's Standards and I've looked and searched for this "Years Behind" claim he has from whatever unstated country, he is thinking about -- though Finland is Still up in the Top. In fact, the Core Standards of Finland and CCSS are nearly a match. CCSS lists more details and demonstrates by this compartmentalism of document design the philosophy of the Standard's intent for execution,  and Finland is a page -  sometimes a little more -- of clearly laid out instruction -- but the details cross and collaborate easily.

Another thought here, is that this document isn't for "our" consumption. He is addressing nearly 30 people who are educators and know how to look up a citation -- the big lie isn't going to work here. So after this he backs off and goes back to the solid ground of "true" ... but that he seems to try first... it could be that he's been doing this so long, he's programmed himself. I've seen it happen.
"A large number of the arithmetic and operations, as well as the place value standards are one, two or even more years behind the corresponding standards for many if not all the high achieving countries. Consequently, it is not possible to certify that the Core Mathematics Standards are benchmarked at the same level as the standards of the high achieving countries in mathematics."

Then, after that  he says :

"The approach to geometry is very unusual, focusing, as it does, on using the Euclidian and extended Euclidean groups to define congruence and similarity. Mathematically, this approach is rigorous,... The exposition at the high school level seems reasonable, and may well work. However, to my knowledge, there is no solid research that justifies this approach at the K-12 level currently ...
"Overall, only the very best state mathematics standards, those of California, Massachusetts, Indiana and Minnesota are stronger than these standards. Most states would be far better off adopting the Core Math Standards than keeping their current standards. However, California, and the other states with top standards would almost certainly be better off keeping their current standards."
Point of interest, those states have gone to Common Core.

2007 Milgram goes to Florida and helps write the Florida Education Standards
Result -- Florida Math scores drop.
2010 -- Florida adopts CCSS -- well they can't do any worse.
2010 -- California adopts CCSS

Milgram believes and is quoted many times in print -- that the Red Chinese and the Communist Russians (the people who the Chinese learned their education from) of the 1940s and 1950s knew what they were doing. No educational progress of any merit has been made since those glorious days of Communist Educational Systems.

2011 -- Milgram talks California into putting in the Algebra I requirements for 8th grade "Please for the Love of God! What are you doing not teaching Algebra at 8th Grade!? You're Killing those Kids!"

2013 -- Milgram's Algebra is removed from CCSS -- but on the Super's suggestion, a revised and Core compliant Algebra I standard is put into a document titled "Optional" in the same folder.

That letter brings up a good point. I will not argue or even waste my time verifying Milgram's math skills. Enough repretable math professors have verified his claim. However, has he ever been educated on education? Ever?


Hey! Want go over and see how Oklahoma and Nebraska are doing now? See if the teachers have stopped crying yet.....