Three Little Pieces
Reading, Writing, Arithmetic
A few topics that don’t need a full post.
Reading: Textual Provenance
From the recently mentioned draft on The Confessions of St. Augustine, which is now being scrapped for parts:
Analysis of a work must begin with the provenance of the medium. We use the translation published in 1838 and translated by Edward Bouverie Purcy. His work has been used by scholars for over 100 years and we trust it as utterly as we would a copy in the original Latin. The translation is in the public domain and available as entry 3296 on Project Gutenberg, we trust that Project Gutenberg has faithfully re-produced the work.
In the words of Eliezer Yudkowsky1: “What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?” What is the relationship between an English text you read, and what St. Augustine actually said in Latin, a language you cannot read unassisted? Is there a blockchain to demonstrate the provenance?
For questions of the analysis of the nature of the divine, these details are immensely important. For questions of the analysis of the historical record, these details are situationally important.
For questions of the analysis of the Church, these details are easily ignored. If the various scholars of the Church have relied on an English text for over 100 years, that text is the canon of the Church. Any medieval interpolations are now simply part of the work.
Unless you assume a demon living in my internet router, there is no possible cause for concern that my HTTP request to Project Gutenberg returned anything other than the authentic (in English, from 1838) text.
‘Riting: Modern American English
In book 7 of the Confessions, we find the word “dotard”. The word “dotard” is certainly English; it was quite commonly agreed to be a word after North Korea’s use of it in Propaganda2 in 2017.
English is a language where words never die. We mentioned this with the word "thrice" earlier.
Perhaps someday there will be a formally codified version of English, complete with gender-neutral pronouns, a limited vocabulary, and visible silent declension marks.
‘Rithmetic: SFUSD and Algebra Education
In the recent post on algebra education, we noted that the San Francisco school district (SFUSD) changed their curriculum on math to push “Algebra I” to 9th grade.
The second half of that story is that SFUSD claims these reforms decreased the algebra re-take rate from 40% to 7%. That claim seemed too good to believe, and without any published data to verify it I skipped over discussion of it. Now there is some data, and it shows that the claim is in fact too good to believe.
A report from a website called Families for San Francisco gives the critical context that the drop in re-take rate was caused primarily by the removal of the requirement to pass a curriculum exam. Quite simply, if “knowing algebra” is removed as a requirement to pass algebra, more people will pass algebra.
This type of shenanigans is why I despaired that state governments may be unable to ensure effective standardized tests are used to measure student performance. The incentives to use a test measuring something easier to accomplish are simply too strong.
In short: vote YES on the San Francisco School Board Recall.
Yudkowsky, sometimes called “Big Yud”, is a controversial figure among people who have heard of him. His work from roughly 2007-2011 is excellent, the quality and breadth of his work is comparable to any major philosopher’s work over a 4-year timeframe. For the decade after that, he has mostly written Fan Fiction, made absurd comments about Artificial Intelligence, and engaged in trolling on Twitter.