Let’s Put the Matter to Rest: An AP Calculus Response

by Thomas Pinkava

For those of you who are blind, oblivious, living under a rock, or part of the English Department’s incognizance initiative, a problem or two recently arose in the matter of Calculus class. Words were thrown, people were offended, heretics were slaughtered, militaries were deployed, missiles were launched, and some very furtive glances were passed between several bearded men. Hang on — I’m thinking about something else entirely.

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, we can assert confidently that the very last thing that we need is for the issue to be dragged up from its murky depths.

Unfortunately, we have no choice. The last published viewpoint here on the topic offered only one side of the complex debate — and the opinions that it represented were awfully stilted. I — who am part of the Calculus class and one of the signers of the infamous letter — found the opinions to be completely inconsistent with the nature of the complaint.  In fact, with all due respect, I wonder if some of the viewpoints were informed correctly at all.

The official standpoint is perfectly reasonable, of course. Joan’s views are also perfectly reasonable. What rankles us is the fact that only one half of the debate has been published. The establishment maintains its ideals, and, indeed, those ideals are its duty to uphold. The duty that has been overlooked, however, is its duty to the student body to fairly represent all sides of an argument.

With that in mind, the recent article was structured in such a way that almost seems deliberately unilateral. The sources quoted were from only one side of the debate; the lack of ideas from within the Calculus classroom lended a very slanted aspect to the article. Spin it how you will, the article only gives one half of the strong opinions involved. Why should we, a reputable news source, only give 50% of what we promise to the student body?

Since criticism gets us nowhere, however well based it may be, we shall endeavor to flesh out the debate with the other side of the argument. We shan’t name names, even though the use of quoted sources was one of the key factors in the article’s message. Here we go, then, piece by piece:

Content: “In a school with a reputation — earned or not — for entitlement and privilege, it’s fair to say that running to the school principal at the first sign of trouble instead of trying to make the situation work wasn’t a good look.”

Response: Although this particular comment casts doubt on the methods used by those who raised concerns, it is fair to say that construing the actions taken as “running to the school principal” is inaccurate. The letter to Jordan was not the first action taken, nor was it — in any reasonable sphere — as “entitled” as it is made out to be.

Content: “Almost everyone interviewed pointed to the extremely difficult nature of Calculus itself, regardless of the teacher, and wondered whether there were unrealistic expectations from the outset about how successful students could be in the course. This was, as well, a major point of Jordan’s letter to students and parents. There is a palpable feeling amongst both teachers and students that Joan was scapegoated for the natural and unavoidable challenge of the material.”

Response: According to David S. (an involved student), “Unlike what the previous article would have you believe, the majority of our complaints were not that the material was too hard for us, but instead that there were major inconsistencies with what we were promised from Jacqui. Those inconsistencies were actively inhibiting our learning ability, so action was taken to open a discussion with Joan and her students about the subject.”

Content: “It’s always ugly when students turn on teachers. Both students and teachers are trying to their respective jobs and go home in good shape at the end of the day. They need each other’s good faith efforts to be successful.”

Response: Yes. Yes they do. The problem lay in the lack of “good faith efforts”; both parties failed to make proper contact.

Content: “While multiple teachers and students interviewed for this story commented on their disappointment in the level of animosity and disrespect shown by some students, Joan added that, “The vast majority of the kids I’m teaching are respectful and wanting to learn.””

Response: This segment, in my opinion, is highly indicative of the level of misrepresentation present in the original article. If an informed source had been consulted, it would have been revealed that there was no animosity or disrespect at all. Indeed, the students involved did their very best to reach a diplomatic solution. The actions taken may have seemed disrespectful at the time, but only to an outside observer with no actual understanding of the debate. As David S. says, “I feel like the result of our letter was wholly positive, both for us the students and Joan, and sends us on a trajectory to learn better. In my 13 years of OES experience, I have never felt the need to do something like this before, so I remain fully confident that what we did was correct, and students outside of calculus may not understand our predicament.”

Now we shall hear the opinions of the author of the original article, editor of The Dig and non-calculus student Abe A:

Question: What prompted you to write this article?

Abe: “I thought [the issue] raised a lot of interesting questions”

Question: How did you select which individuals to interview?

Abe: “I thought it was important to interview Joan and Liz, and then I wanted to try to interview students from varying perspectives. I had very little success getting students involved in the letter to agree to be interviewed.”

Question: Does this issue affect you?

Abe: “It doesn’t. And it’s a good thing, if you’re going to cover [the issue], to be objective”

Question: Do you believe your article fairly represented all sides of the issue?

Abe: “I don’t think that’s for me to say. I tried. I tried to write something that represented all opinions. I did my best.”

And now, with all that balanced out, we shall set the matter to rest, once, and, hopefully, for all.

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