The only place it’s politically incorrect to call someone a dummy is in the classroom. Just go to the bookstore and find the “For Dummies” book series. Outside of our educational institutions, people often have a sense of humor about what they’re good at and what they’re not, even if they’re a little sensitive about it. I think it’s time for us to permit this kind of forthright honesty in our classrooms.
Therefore, I would like to propose a course called “Pre-Algebra for Dummies.” If you don’t know what entering college students can do these days, you can’t understand how much this course is needed. Pre-Algebra is normally a course that is taught in Junior High, but I think we can redefine it so that it fits the needs of today’s students. “Pre-” means “before,” and today’s kids need just about everything they were supposed to learn before Algebra: long division, multiplication tables, calculating averages, etc. If we wanted to be really thorough, we could add some lessons like “I am not the center of the universe.” The only problem is that their parents haven’t figured that out yet. (Stupidity is obviously hereditary.)
But you may object! Many students won’t need math in their professional lives and giving them a Pre-Algebra course in college will make them feel stupid.
First news flash: they can feel stupid now or they can feel stupid later, but they will feel stupid sometime. I wonder how many people wouldn’t have had to suffer through a foreclosure if they could have understood the math behind the exploding ARM and other financial arrangements they were making. You can’t dumb a mortgage contract down to such a low mathematical knowledge base. However, you can make ignorant people feel good about an unwise decision that lets them “own” a house.
Second news flash: Even English teachers need to know how to calculate an average. Their students will make them feel stupid if they botch that. Trust me; students are fantastic at math when it comes to getting every last point they think they deserve.
Third news flash: Math majors from some universities (including state flagships) are not sufficiently proficient in math to teach the subject in middle school. I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere, but it looks like the joke’s on the 13-year-olds.
Fourth news flash: The only way you’re getting these kids through a “college-appropriate” math course without this extra preparation is to inflate their grades beyond all recognition. Oh, wait… you’re doing that already.
Fifth news flash: You’re a dummy if you think protecting the kids’ self-esteem now will help them in the future, psychologically or professionally. Just please don’t report me to the college’s diversity office for calling you a dummy. From now on, I promise to respect and celebrate people of all intellectual capabilities.