Tag Archives: This problem can NOT be taught any longer. A problem which refers to gender might be offensive to some students.

lunacy triumphant (or, who’s in charge?)

My wife, a consultant to mathematics teachers in training (and a former mathematics teacher herself), told me about something that one of her mentees told her today.

As my wife explained it to me, there is a core problem for high school mathematics students involving probability which is used as a teaching tool and will often be on standard exams. The problem is as follows: What are the probabilities of parents who have three children having 1 boy and 2 girls? 1 girl and 2 boys? 2 boys and 1 girl? 2 girls and 1 boy? 3 boys? 3 girls?

Or, as follows:

What is the probability that all three children in a family will be the same gender?
P(all female)= 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/8
P(all male ) = 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/8
P(all one gender) = P(all female) + P(all male) = 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4

What is the probability that a three-child family is two girls and one boy?
Each possible birth order has P=1/8. That is, P(G,G,B)=P(G,B,G)=P(B,G,G)=1/8.
So, P(2G,1B)= 3/8 and P(1G,2B)= 3/8.

This allows us to write the overall gender probability distribution for families of three children as follows:
1/8 will be three girls
3/8 will be two girls and one boy
3/8 will be one girl and two boys
1/8 will be three boys
Adding it all up, we have 1/8 + 3/8 + 3/8 + 1/8 = 1 (100%)

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I vaguely remember doing such problems in high school math class. Didn’t Mendel do this with peas?

Well, guess what? My wife’s mentee informed her that this problem can NOT be taught any longer. A problem which refers to gender might be offensive to some students.

What’s next? How will biology be taught?

As a footnote of sorts, my wife told me that her mentee also told her that in a Spanish class in the school she is at — according to a student teacher the mentee knows — querulous students are voicing objections when nouns are assigned a gender: e.g., el mano. la mesa.

Who, I ask you, is in charge? Whom can we entrust with the wisdom and sense to instruct students?

Who is listening? Not to the students, but to the few people, educators in this case — it sometimes seems that they have all taken to the hills — who still have what used to be called common sense.

— Roger W. Smith

    March 2021