Saturday, January 26, 2013

How to Make Statistics... I mean Fake Statistics... no, wait: How To TAKE Statistics (as a course)

Who Put the Moby in my Mobius Strip?

   Somewhere along the line, I’ve accumulated an unnatural number of graduate credits in Teacher Education.  Either 29 or 31.  I can’t recall.  
   Technically, this is enough for a master’s degree, but I don’t have one of those.  

   Whenever I am asked if I hold this credential, I explain, “Well, not that specific credential. But I do hold a Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Teacher Education.  With either 29 or 31 credits. I forget.”
    I intend never to acquire a master’s degree.  To do that, I would have to take a course called Research Methods.  I choose to allow those methods to forever remain a mystery.
     A couple of ex-principals and some offspring of mine regularly suggest I take this class to finish up.  My eldest recently said during an animated phone conversation, “Really, Mom? You still haven’t taken this class?”
   We were discussing his sister and a class she needs, Research Methods and Statistics, which I had advised her to drop.  Not only because I, personally, could not help her should she have trouble. But because she was overloaded at 19 credits, so she can take that course another time (a time located in another dimension, or one in which her mother finds gainful employment at Wendy's or the YMCA, to purchase her a tutor.)
    I explained this to Nick, very meticulously.  But he is not easily distracted.
   “Can we get back to you, Mom? You have all the coursework except this methods class. And a master’s credential is a marketing-tool you need.  Plus, Mom.  Can you deny that you have the time now, to take this course?”
    I’m quite skilled, through practice, at my counter-argument. It approaches performance art.  The live version starts off with a glance heavenward, then I stoically proclaim, “A piece of paper…” (here I pause dramatically) “holds … no meaning … for me.” Then I drop my head and hold up a peace sign, allowing my high-mindedness to ferment. 
   Nick has been living with his marketing-director-fiancĂ©e for a couple of years now.  In Canada.  All of this makes him impossible to 'sell.'
    “Hey! Mom!” he said in tones reserved for redirecting miscreant thugs caught in acts of home-invasion. “YOU … (dramatic pause) … are not … a hippie. You and Dad got married in a church – a sanctioned social institution using a paper license and a legit minister.  You took out a mortgage. You guys are so deep into The System, you practically define ‘The Man.’ You’re not part of The Solution, Mom. You’re pretty much The Problem.”
   He certainly was not going to persuade me to take research and statistics by calling me The Man. My God, I’m a registered Democrat.

     I wish my commitment to not acquiring this credential were grounded in idyllic hippie morality.  Like going bra-less.  Or sprinkling hallucinogenic fungi on breakfast bark.
   The fact is, I’m scared of math.  Specifically, statistics. 
   Now I realize that I use math, possibly statistics, each day of my life.  I roll the dice and defy laws of decency and probability by speeding on the interstate while talking on my cellphone without getting arrested (well, for the last six years, anyway).
    And statistical-discourse flows like fluent drool from my tongue.  I can fold words like ‘variable’ and ‘probably’ inside almost any sentence.   
   I even possess a rudimentary knowledge of what a rhombus is, (something round involving onomatopoeia, rhom, rhom, rhommmmm bu-bu-busssss, which is a sound used to start mowers.)
   Once, a small group of math students at my charter school found me so worthy of their respect, they made me a Mobius Strip for my birthday! I found it so elegant (another math term) I brought it to my jeweler to have him copy its shape and make me a broach, inlaid with twelve of my birthstones.
   As it turned out, he couldn’t ‘twist’ the shape correctly.  He ended up making me an infinity sign, which was fine, because – due to my respect for math – I am a staunch supporter of infinity.
   This pin catches peoples’ eyes all the time when I wear it.  I am constantly asked which cancer-cure I am promoting.  “All of them,” I say.  “This pin represents ‘immortality’.” (Due to mathematics, this is even correct.)
    One last point: I have committed to memory the first seven components of the mathematical configuration known deliciously as “Pi.” I say ‘seven’ because I include the decimal-point as a ‘component’ out of deference to math, because -- as even I know --without a decimal point, mathematics would be way less precise.
   Anyway, every March 14, my charter school celebrated Pi Day. As a humanities teacher, I had my literature students collaborate on a poem centered in the theme of Pi. One year the particular charter school I worked for was concurrently celebrating The Year Of Interdisciplinary-Pretense. (The theme always changed, depending on which theory the state’s Department of Education elected as that year's 'Best Practice' during beverage-intensive summer galas.)  -- flash --  Please read a sobering treatise on Best Practices at the link below, written by my dear friend Bill Calhoun, a physics teacher (physics is loosely connected to math).   
     So to participate in Pi Day while, of course, being an Interdisciplinary Team Player, I had my English students create a rap which they thoughtfully published on various bathroom walls located  throughout the school.

   “Three point one four one five nine
     gallops on our Number Line.
    To the right these numbers go,
     toward in fin it y they flow.
     Pi is awesome,
     not a fluke!
     Like pork pi 

  I was nominated for Interdisciplinary Blasphemer that year.
  Anyway, my son was not successful at convincing me that a course in Research Methods (which invariably involves statistics) would be worth it, in order that I acquire that elusive master’s credential.
   But guess what did convince me!
   A party for dozens of 14-year-olds, thrown by my niece and her parents for her birthday.

   This party supplied endless subjects for academic research, in every major discipline, with multiple opportunities to toss in statistics.  (I’m not even concerned with mathematical accuracy, due to extra-credit.  My working-title, “Field Fest For Forty Fourteen-Year Olds,” could earn up to ten bonus points in alliteration.)  But mathematically speaking, potential topics of study for teacher education were infinite. 
    I could present data on speech and language disorders by exposing a strain of language-pathology that renders virtuous adults speechless.
    For teachers of the performing arts, one party could proffer sufficient acting talent to launch an entire theatre department. 
   A behavioral science focus might explore juvenile sub-group conflict and gang violence.  Plus, administrators would appreciate the numbers I could run on the probability of needing security.  (Any existing Campus Security could become fiscally-efficient by making several arrests.)
    For teachers of business courses, nowhere but an adolescent party is economics more perfectly modeled. There is one girl for every boy: perfect supply and demand. And there are substantial party profits yielded by host and parents alike. I even invented something called The Law Of Exploding Marginal Returns. This happens when the birthday teen receives more than $600 in cash and prizes without lifting a finger to plan her own party.
   Exploding Marginal Returns also occurs when parents reap consumer profits:  80 pounds of leftover food, none of which they ever purchased. Fourteen year olds uphold a mathematical construct called ‘Bring Your Own Food …. and soda, chairs, CDs, a DJ, acoustical equipment, extension cords, boosting amplifiers with strobing optical effects, a power generator, pyrotechnical apparati, slot machines, bonfire logs, rocket fuel and colorful conversations that make chaperones go away.’
   For that state-mandated Interdisciplinary-Focus, I believe 14-year olds have found a way to combine Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with Emerson’s Transcendentalist Ideal, the Pentagon’s Model on Fiscal Inefficiency, and Corporate Total-Quality-Management. Here's how: Teenagers recognize man’s basic need for food and sex at parties, then they 'rise to the occasion,' spend all of their parents’ resources on party-excess that makes them sick, resulting in a totality of chaos that impacts everyone to an equal degree.
    But the greatest potential for research applies to STEM school educators, specifically biology teachers, particularly at a vocational technical school. A 9th grade party is a walking clinical rotation. 
   Future nursing students can train in smoke inhalation, pyromania, first degree burns, menstrual cramps, electrocution, strobe light seizures, woofer-deafness, compulsive gambling, hysterical blindness and lacerations from airborne tacos.  ALL sustained by chaperones. (Although the boys at this party did require IV antibiotics when the girls gave them makeovers with cosmetics containing staph.)
   Fortunately, we have a huge family with several more 14-year olds whose birthdays are spaced throughout the academic year.  I already have a title-concept for one party in July: “Fudgicles and Hyperactivity in the Pre-Latency Child.”
   There is so much material here, I am thinking of proposing to an education professor that I do a thesis as independent study, in lieu of a Research Methods course.
   By the time I complete my thesis, I feel certain statistics will no longer exist. Or at least have relevance. ‘Math’ will be replaced by a computer app I’ll download to my Smartphone that will program itself to analyze the data I hire someone to extract from my paper.
   I am calling Nick now to let him know I’ve had a change of heart. Why, my master’s degree is only an irregular-heartbeat away --  so, power to the credential, man, right on. 
   Plus, I will sell my thesis to Abby for some semester in her distant future, when she must take research and statistics, quick, before she graduates. She’s a psych major.  (God knows, there’s more than enough material for psychology majors – here in this blog – for that.)