28 January 2008

Dummit and Foote for middle schoolers?

Somebody seems to have mistaken Dummit and Foote's Abstract Algebra -- a standard undergraduate abstract algebra text -- for a middle school algebra text, and wrote a bad review of it, saying things like:
As we see from these excerpts from the text, Dummit and Foote are disciples of "new math," a doctrine discredited in the 70's. Too often, strange symbols and jargon take the place of clear English prose. Extraneous concepts like "sets"--much less "finite nilpotent groups" or "invariant factor decompositions" or "symmetric multilinear maps"--are merely obstacles to a student's understanding of algebra. Sadly, the authors, holed up in their ivory towers, have not yet learned these vital educational lessons.
Well, of course! It's not good as a text for middle schoolers, because it was never supposed to be! (And it probably comes with a preface saying "this is a text for juniors and seniors in college majoring in math", or something like that; can anybody who has a copy of the book confirm this?)

I think it might be a parody. I hope it's a parody, of what someone who expected a middle school algebra text and got an abstract algebra text would say. And I think every mathematician has had that moment where they told someone they're taking "algebra" and people say "but didn't you learn that years ago?"

And the author makes a point, perhaps inadvertently - there is a time and a place for the precise language of higher-level mathematics, and middle school isn't it.

14 comments:

John Armstrong said...

This old one again? We really need to get a central repository of "people being stupid about math on the web".

Anonymous said...

with a line like "...aced the math portion of the sat with a 590...", i can't help but think that it's anything other than a joke.

Anonymous said...

Adequacy.org is a defunct satirical website known for attracting unwitting visitors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adequacy.org

Ben said...

Thank Jeebus, it was a joke. The review was bad enough, but comments (as usual) were worse. I'm not sure I was ready for that level of math-trollery (accusing people of making up Hilbert? where do they come up with this stuff?).

Anonymous said...

http://www.adequacy.org/stories/2002.2.21.224440.364.html point 5.

John Armstrong said...

Yes, yes, collected anonymi.. It's a joke. Thanks for not playing along.

Anonymous said...

Joke or not, it has an eminent precedent. Hardy and Wright's 'An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers' had 'an introduction to arithmetic' as a working title that was abandoned as it might have led to 'misunderstandings about [its] content'. Not that various 'sat acers' like Dyson were put off, and instead found it a source of inspiration.

Blake Stacey said...

We really need to get a central repository of "people being stupid about math on the web".

Like the Maths Department of Crank Dot Net, but bigger! And, like, Web 2.0 and stuff.

Anonymous said...

a joke of course
(and a funny one too).
serre's _a_course_in_arithmetic_
deserves mention in this context.

Randall Hennig said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adequacy.org

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Andrew said...

"This book evolved out of notes by the authors from courses given at various universities over a period of about thirteen years. The backgrounds of the students in these courses were quite diverse, ranging from freshman and sophomore undergraduates to beginning graduate students...." (p. xiii)

I think that's all they have to say about the subject.