Monthly Archives: February 2012

Math on my Mind

February 24, 2012

The Never Ending Math Problem

After hearing friends rave about a new TV series called “Touch”, I finally broke down and watched the pilot on VOD. The series is about a man who lost his wife in the World Trade Center attacks and is left to take care of his emotionally-challenged eleven-year old boy who has a gift with numbers. The young boy is a mathematics genius and is able to see the interconnectivity of life and people through numbers and can predict events. Watching this series made me think of my own personal relationship with the subject of mathematics. While I relished solving word problems in crossword puzzles or writing stories, It had a difficult relationship with mathematics. What is it with mathematics?

In a study released in 2008 by the American Mathematical Society, it was determined that the USA has fallen behind in math education of both girls and boys. Much of the disinterest in mathematics appears to be cultural. According to the study, it is not part of the American culture to value talent in mathematics and this cultural mindset discourages boys and girls from excelling in the field. In fact the study showed that the boys and girls, especially girls who seemed to excel in math competitions in US schools were children of families recently immigrated to the U.S. from countries such as Russia, Romania, China, S. Korea, where the teaching of mathematics and its importance is a key component of those countries’ educational curriculum.

In my family, education has been first and foremost. I had the privilege of attending private schools in Iran and England, and here in the US. But I always feared mathematics, it was the least favorite of my subjects. I envied those classmates who seemed to just get it. For them solving mathematical equations was as easy as 2+2. Yet, I struggled. I avoided a math course in college by majoring in Political Science. But when I set my sights to grad school for an MBA, the dreaded GMAT with its math component sent me running to my uncle, a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and a professor in mathematics, for intensive tutoring. Watching him solve the math problems on the GMAT test samples was like watching a master painter at work with his paintbrushes. It seemed so effortless and natural. He would chuckle at the problems and nod his head at their simplicity while I looked on enviously.

Why can’t we all benefit from the beauty of mathematics? Why can’t we all experience the same joy felt by those who get it? Is it cultural? Fearing to be labeled as nerds and ostracized at school, boys and girls almost intentionally avoid or dismiss math preventing any chance of excelling in the subject. Have we placed stigmas on math? We’ve all heard comments like “math is hard,” or “only boys are good at math,” and the best one of all “you’ll never use math in real life.”

In the TV series “Touch,” the little boy doesn’t speak, yet he communicates through numbers. Mathematics is a language and like any language we need to learn it at a very early age and we need to make it fun and interesting and relevant. Imagine how enriched our lives would be if we were able to see the interconnectivity of all life form, a gift that words alone do not accomplish, but with a little help from mathematics, we could see the world with a new perspective.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert

President & CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)

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February 16, 2012

Education Calculator on Notebook

Of course we all know that the crumbling Education System in America is but a microcosm, (if you choose to regard education in such a manner), of the general state of daily life for the 99%. The latest mind-numbing statistics on poverty, “One out of every two Americans are currently living either in poverty or near poverty,” just does not jibe with the American Dream. Check out this link: Tavis and Cornel’s Solution to Poverty. We must ask ourselves how we have allowed this level of extreme disparity to grow and blossom, unchecked and what that means for the future of education, and therefore the kind of societies we can expect to find ourselves living in. I often wonder what the ultra-wealthy 1% see when they think of the future of their children and grandchildren, living in a society surrounded by the majority of starving, uneducated desperate people. I imagine a scenario akin to a scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which Cate Blanchett’s evil, self-righteous character is dangling in mid-air, frantically clasping onto a vine in an effort to avoid being eaten alive by a swarm of ravenous giant fire ants….

The current thinking behind several of the educational/social reform initiatives on the table, such as the “Race to the Top Initiative,” frighteningly follow a “corporate” structure of success, and are engineered to ultimately create a powerless, non-union labor force, basically compliant worker bees. It is a bit sinister really, to think that the “best and the brightest” whom President Obama called in to help draft education reforms, are the very heads of corporations that rake in the money and actually benefit as the rest of the country sinks deeper into despair. The companies need workers and they have conveniently pointed the finger of blame away from themselves for the painful poverty levels across the country and at teachers unions and the teachers themselves for the lack of education, found in seriously impoverished schools. This initiative dangles the carrot of federal funds in the face of school districts, promising that money will be doled out to those districts whose students score well on tests. And those that don’t fare so well, risk a reduction in teacher pay, lost jobs, even school closures. That should really help…shut down overpopulated schools in poor, more often than not non-white neighborhoods. Hmmm, once again, forcing the race card and basically saying that imposing a competitive business model on educators will be the stimulant to bring about a quick turn around in the quality of education. BIG problem with that picture!

When I think back on my own education, I am fully aware of how fortunate I was. I was an extremely shy, math-challenged little girl with a cirque-d-soleil fantasy world going on in my head during most of my classes, and actually during most of my waking hours. I knew that I was a bit different than other kids in my class at a fairly early age, had difficulty making friends, and was pretty content to keep to myself for most of my early educational years. I could have easily fallen through the cracks. I was fortunate in that I went to school in the Beverly Hills public $chool $ystem where we had well-paid teachers, enough desks for everyone–– our classrooms were definitely not over-crowded. Our teachers knew our names, actually had time to engage with each of us on a regular basis, and had the possibility to sense and relate to those of us that thought “outside the box.” The faculty was given the ability and leeway to develop creative lesson plans which they felt would be the most engaging and stimulating in order to meet the educational requirements passed down by the Board of Education. We had a pretty wide ranging, and well-rounded curriculum, even in elementary school, which at the time ranged from 2nd-through 8th grade. It kept things interesting and stimulated different parts of our brains. In High School, we had the luxury of “elective” courses in subjects that were of interest to us: Advanced Art, Drama, Music and Language, etc. Sounds like education Nirvana, right?

But please don’t get me wrong, all of us were not model students, and all teachers were not engaged, creative educators, and not all principals were without their own peculiarities. And my minor bumps along the way are not comparable to the daily problems and pains faced by students and educators living and working in poverty. But I just try and imagine what it would have been like if those same heavy-handed consequences were imposed on my teachers and all of us that did not fare so well on standardized tests. I had an elementary school principal that ran around with a tape measure, measuring from the top of our white Nancy Sinatra-Beetle Boots to the bottom of our hem-lines, who sent me directly home from school when he determined that my skirt was “too short,” forcing me to miss an important test. I also had an angry, mean, frustrated ego-maniac of an art teacher that made me cry in front of the class, telling me that my work was horrible, and ultimately gave me a barely passing grade. In high school I had a math teacher that had anxiety attacks during class, mostly brought on by a particular group of unruly boys bent on tormenting him. This teacher had to stop talking, sit down at his desk located in the front of the class, remove an empty brown-paper lunch bag from his bottom drawer, breathe into it, then pour himself a thermos cup full of milk and eat a banana before resuming our lesson, while we all sat there in silent witness. No wonder I have a math block.

Quaint anecdotes, but can you imagine the circumstances that teachers face today, being held accountable for, and then rewarded or punished based on their classroom test scores? Tests, which occur at such alarmingly rising rates, that they squeeze out any time for creative and retentive teaching and learning, and teachers merit as educators being judged on the slightest variance in test scores. My poor anxiety-ridden math teacher would have been out on the street, trying to find a job at 59.

Teachers working in atmospheres of racial inequality and poverty, where many students come to school and stay hungry, too poor to have breakfast or lunch. Children who bring the emotional issues of their lives at home, forged by the daily struggle to survive: absent parents, violence, food insecurity and no emotional support systems. Classrooms where the teachers compete with clandestine cell phones streaming just about everything, and rampant text messaging. Oh yes, and drugs and alcohol, but those aren’t new. Whew. Despite all that, there are wonderful teachers handicapped by these injustices, who find engaged and creative ways to do their job. Gee, let’s come up with a system that punishes these circumstances rather than funnels funds their way to improve and support the teachers.

Well, sometimes enough is just enough. The cards are all on the table now; the agenda is not hidden. So when I think about the current state of affairs in education reform, I am left with only one conclusion. The best way to change all of this is to organize, and continue to create movements, taking the necessary risks to break the status quo in order to take back our lives and change the future of generations to come. We have to make parents aware that these problems did not happen overnight, they are the result of centuries of economic and racial inequality, and the gap is growing wider by the day. And the only way to affect change in corporate governments is to have the courage to follow the lead of some of those brave enough to unite in an effort to effect political change.

The strong and committed Wisconsin Teachers Unions did just that, by initiating and leading a protest against the “Budget Repair Bill” which asked for major cuts to social programs, and the removal of all collective bargaining rights for public sector workers statewide. Governor Scott Walker, who is currently facing possible impeachment, threatened to send in the National Guard to fill the gaps left by state workers who dared to protest. This grew into a fight for a democratic way of life, and has become a historically ground-breaking movement. For an enlightening look at the power in unity, view this trailer for the upcoming documentary film “We Are Wisconsin“.

Fight On!

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design / E:

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The Blame Game: It’s your fault! No, it’s your fault!

February 9, 2012

Streeter Seidell, Comedian

I am frustrated!

I have just been through the twilight zone and emerged confused and perplexed; confused as to why someone else’s failure to provide necessary information, in this case payment for service is somehow my fault, and perplexed as to why an individual would even go through the effort of blaming someone else for their own error or oversight. Before any of you jump to the defense of the individual in question who has rattled my nerves, let me assure you that this person hails from an English-speaking nation, so language is not the barrier between us. A series of email communiques is proof!

Allow me to pose a hypothetical scenario for you to help explain the cause for my frustration.

Let’s say you’re in a store and want to pay for a sweater you’ve picked out. It’s winter. It’s cold outside, and the sweater is just the perfect item of clothing you’ve been looking for to keep you warm and cozy. You’re at the counter with the sweater. You want to pay with your credit card and hand it to the cashier. The cashier runs your card but the transaction is declined because of insufficient funds. The cashier politely suggests other forms of payment. You ignore her and leave the store and the sweater only to return a month later and demand to have the sweater. Cashier is ready to comply and quotes you the price for the sweater. But you refuse to pay. You claim that you had the matter cleared with your bank and that the cashier should have ran your credit card when she had it that day you had visited the store. Cashier reminds you that your credit card had been declined that day, but you don’t acknowledge it and demand to have the sweater, for free. You hold the cashier and the store negligent. You blame the store for having deprived you of enjoying the warm and cozy sweater. Oh, and by the way, if you don’t get the sweater for free, you’re going to call your lawyer!

Now do you see why I’m so frustrated? How does one make sense of the nonsensical?

Lots of people play the blame game when it comes to money. In her 1/24/12 article “Money and the Blame Game” Mindy Crary (MBA, CFP® practitioner and financial coach at Creative Money) in Forbes, she writes “blaming someone else or yourself about any frustrations over money has to do with the basic thought that your survival is being compromised. The perception is that this other person has the power to make or break your financial life, depending on what they do. It’s very difficult to like, much less love, someone on whom you believe that your survival depends. So when you are engaged in the blame game, you may forget that you are every bit as responsible for the relationship dynamic as the other person.” Shifting out of a victim mentality, according to Ms. Crary, first starts with “owning your role and acknowledging how you have been an equal partner in creating the situation, with the power to affect alternate outcomes.”

In my situation, we’ve reached an impasse with our prospective applicant who’s refusing to pay for services. Same could be said about the store and the sweater scenario above. We cannot proceed with the evaluation and have directed the individual to seek the assistance of another company. There are times that no matter how hard each side tries to argue his/her point, words just collide, bounce away, and tumble to the floor into a jumbled heap. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the time and energy to play the blame game; we end up missing control of own sense of self and most importantly: peace of mind.

The Frustrated Evaluator

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Academic Documents: The Psychology of Fraud

February 2, 2012

Binded Document

In less than a week, two senior analysts in my company detected irregularities on documents we had received for evaluation and both were able to determine that the documents had been falsified. Though the due diligence exercised by our team of analysts in their scrupulous review and handling of these applications is to be applauded, I am left with an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of my stomach. The two individuals whose false documents were quickly detected are intending to pursue employment and further studies in fields directly related to the welfare of the public. We may have succeeded in protecting our institution and those directly related but not the larger network of institutions and the general public. These individuals’ fraudulent documents may easily slip through the cracks in the hands of a less-experienced credential evaluator, personnel administrator, or college admissions officer.

Several years ago, I served as an expert witness on a legal case where the plaintiff, a young woman, had been misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist and suffered extensively under this therapist’s care. My investigation of the psychiatrist’s degrees revealed a trail of altered documents and diplomas from non-existent institutions. In fact, one of the universities he claimed to have attended for his doctorate degree was a diploma mill. The plaintiff was able to go forward and press charges, and the therapist’s license for practice was revoked. (A definition of diploma mills is provided on the US Government’s Department of Education website.)

According to a 2003 report by UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, “Academic fraud appears to be on the increase across the world, in developing and developed countries alike. It is a costly threat to societies, to their efficient operation and to public trust in the reliability and security of their institutions.”

The question we need to ask is what is causing this steady increase in academic fraud? What is the motivation? Is it an act of desperation? Is it a reaction to a competitive marketplace? There’s the old adage that desperate times force people to take desperate measures. But falsifying documents, in particular academic documents, which in many instances are used as the benchmark to qualify for a job or professional training, endangers the lives of those who are directly affected by the actions and services of the very people who misrepresent themselves as technicians, engineers, doctors, and teachers. The increasing participation in formal education perpetuates competition; competition for access to higher education, for jobs, training, higher salaries, promotions, and professional recognition. A few months ago, a news report spoke of a university professor in The Netherlands who had falsified his doctoral dissertation and held a teaching post at a prominent university. It is not just the individual immigrating to a new country, desperate to find a job to support his family, who may, out of desperation falsify his/her academic documents. The psychology of fraud transcends borders, cultures, and socio-economic ranks.

As our societies and economic structure continue to develop and expand–demanding a highly educated and skilled workforce–the pressure to obtain academic documents which meet these skillsets increases. It is no longer sufficient to complete the minimum required levels of education when higher and more specialized degrees are becoming the norm. One’s success in school and university has great value. Successful performance in examinations helps open not only doors to higher education and professional training but ensure a better chance of securing a job or promotion in a pool of qualified and aspiring candidates.

Advances in electronic communication, sophisticated copy machines and computer printers, system-wide bribery, plagiarism, degree and paper mills, impersonations, are now contributing to an industry of academic document fraud. We sit and watch perpetrators of white-collar crimes receive little or no punishment for their actions. Instead, we reward them with book deals, TV shows, high-paying consulting and speaker’s fees! We must shift our global mindset to a culture where integrity and ethical behavior are fostered and applauded; not a culture that supports and encourages the motto of “success by any means” where unscrupulous actions are the norm.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)

Since founding ACEI in 1994, Jasmin and her team of analysts have dedicated
themselves to the advancement of international academic exchange and
understanding, through the dissemination of information on world educational
systems, and evaluation of international academic documents.

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