Readings on ignorance

First, by way of Kevin Baker, we discover the story of representative Rick Roach of the Orange County Board of Education, who found himself stymied by a tenth-grade math test:

Roach […] was a teacher, counselor and coach in Orange County for 14 years. He was first elected to the board in 1998 and has been reelected three times. A resident of Orange County for three decades, he has a bachelor of science degree in education and two masters degrees: in education and educational psychology. He has trained over 18,000 educators in classroom management and course delivery skills in six eastern states over the last 25 years.


“”I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.”

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

Sounds like a pretty tough test!  Well, I’m always up for a challenge, so with a helpful link in the comments I found the test itself.  Here’s the first question:

Tonja and Edward are participating in a jog-a-thon to raise money for charity. Tonja will raise $20, plus $2 for each lap she jogs. Edward will raise $30, plus $1.50 for each lap he jogs. The total amount of money each will raise can be calculated using the following expressions where n represents the number of laps run:

Tonja: 20 + 2n
Edward: 30 + 1.50n

After how many laps will Tonja and Edward have raised the same amount of money?

A. 3
B. 6.5
C. 14.5
D. 20

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

(I find it amusing that when Roach name-dropped his degrees, he neglected to point out that they were education degrees.  I’ll leave the interpretation of that fact to the interested reader.)

Next we have a report on the effects of ignorant participants on voting systems:

It turns out that — according to a study done using trained fish of all things — a motivated minority can sway an opposed (but less committed) majority to its point of view much of the time, but when ignorant participants are introduced to the equation they tend to reinforce the majority and disempower the minority.

Translating this result directly to modern politics would be somewhat premature, but it sure explains a lot.


7 Responses to “Readings on ignorance”

  1. 1 kbiel
    December 17, 2011 at 22:13

    I believe that ignorant voters (including those who, rah-rah, push the straight ticket button without really knowing who is on the ballot) are a force for, well evil may be too strong a word so let’s say, not good. Now it is possible that ignorant voters on each side might cancel each other out, but I think that at best that only happens in the big elections. In the small elections with little participation, a little ignorance can go a long way.

    I have a possible solution though. Instead of making ballots multiple choice with straight party options and densely worded propositions, give the voters a blank piece of paper. If you can write in your favorite candidates’ names and at least name the propositions you support or oppose, then you are not likely to be an ignorant voter. This also eliminates people who are ignorant on only part of the ballot from spreading their ignorance in those items. Those people (and I am guilty of this as well as are most voters) come to the polls knowing mostly who they want to vote for, but are surprised to find some other race(s) and/or proposition(s) on the ballot that they have not studied.

  2. 3 Erik
    December 18, 2011 at 00:00

    The other day I made an image summing up the incompetence of Rick Roach for easy passing around the tubes: http://imgur.com/bR7it

    What I wonder is – what does the guy do at work all day? He can’t subtract, read a graph, pattern match, budget, convert units, and it seems he can’t even apply a conveniently provided formula, so looking up how to do the above won’t help.

    Is he paid to basically smile and nod?

    • December 18, 2011 at 06:38

      Either he could answer the questions but he didn’t even try so that he could score political points, or he’s an excellent example of why you should never believe someone when they describe their job. “Able to make sense of complex data relating to those responsibilities.” That’s quite impossible, so he’s fooled himself. I’ve found it’s about standard that non-STEM degree holders actually hold illusions of competence.

      • December 18, 2011 at 10:32

        Science envy. You’ll notice that when he described his education, he claimed a “Bachelor of Science” degree, but only “two Master’s degrees” without qualification.

        I wonder if part of his intent is nerd-shaming. “Hey, guys, I may have a ton of degrees, but this math stuff is like witchcraft to me. I’m just a regular Joe, see? I can’t be expected to know about nerd stuff like Dungeons and Dragons or systems of equations.” Even the commentariat on the Legal Insurrection post — which is mostly composed of people mocking Roach’s apparently-nonexistent math skills — does this to some extent: Commenters will mention that they attempted n questions and only got one answer wrong. How the damn hell do you take pride in anything less than a perfect result on that test?

        • December 18, 2011 at 15:22

          There’s definitely a science envy component to his article.

          As for the commenters talking about their own results they might just be being honest. You’re looking at this from the perspective of PhD (applicant?) in a Math heavy field who finds very high level math fun. Most people aren’t like that; getting 90% on that test is probably about all the math most people need. For someone in a math-heavy field like you, yes they really should be embarrassed about anything less than perfect on that test, but for a plumber, or a secretary that seems fine to me (more would be better, but we don’t live in a perfect world), though you’re right that it’s not something to be proud of, but it is acceptable.

          I would theorise though that if you get less than 75% on that test (Math, I haven’t looked at the English section) when you’re in grade 10 you are either not naturally suitable for College (more like 90-95% for STEM), or your education is horrendous. It is possible that you could overcome either of those problems by hard work in remedial math though.

          PS: For myself (a Linux SysAdmin) I got 12 out of the first 12 on the test, but embarrassingly I had some trouble where I forgot Pythagoras’ theorem, and took about 30 seconds to remember what it was. (I could have just checked on the first page, but that would be cheating)

          • December 18, 2011 at 23:15

            I think you’re on to something here:

            I had some trouble where I forgot Pythagoras’ theorem, and took about 30 seconds to remember what it was. (I could have just checked on the first page, but that would be cheating)

            I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of the commenters running through the test problems — for fun, let’s remember — blanked on one of the formulas, and decided it wasn’t worth the effort to go back to the second page of the PDF and check. What I found suspicious was the number of people who reported only one wrong answer — although now that you mention it I’d not be surprised if that one question was the one needing the formula they couldn’t quite recall and couldn’t quite be arsed to look up. And if it makes you feel any better, one of my acquaintances forgot the Chain Rule in his M.Sc. (math) thesis defence. Awkward.

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