Sadly, this is not satire. Fox news contributor Eric Bolling has warned the Republic of Derpistan that a worksheet from a "government school" teaches children about the distributive property as it applies to multiplication.
For those who need a refresher, the distributive law says that a(b+c)=ab+ac, and has nothing to do with secret Kenyan usurper redistributionerism. Ist. Ism.
This panic seems to come from an even stupider Neal Boortz column, which practically exults in its intentional ignorance of junior high school math.
From the column:
This is how our government schools – and the liberals who run them – effectively brainwash (though indoctrinate is a much more polite word) our children into accepting the liberal philosophy as basic truth. This particular worksheet is meant to help your government student “understand the distributive property.” Now I’m not a dreary slouch at math … but this is the first time in my life I’ve ever heard of the distributive property.Now before I go any further, I want to remind you that if you never heard of the distributive law (maybe you had chicken pox in 7th grade and missed a month of school) all you really have to do is spend TEN FREAKING SECONDS on Google. Ten freaking seconds. You don't even need to spell it right: search for the "dastrobutive property" and you get a search hint, and even if you ignore that hint, Google will show you the right page.
Now consider that these people are writing columns about it and going on national TV to yell about it. All without typing it into Google to see if it's a thing. Think about that: this is not poor fact-checking, or even a lack of fact checking. This is purposefully not looking something up, and then bragging, basking in your intentional misunderstanding.
I strongly suspect that pretty much any student can move through school to a very successful life as a productive adult without ever having heard those words. Really … look at this Bolshoi. “6 groups of (3+5) = 6 groups of 3 + 6 groups of 5” I challenge any government school teacher to call the show today and tell me why this is important. What’s important is that the student be able to figure out what 3+5 equals (8) and that 6x8 = 48.This is actually a pretty common and depressing refrain we hear about mathematics from all sorts of people from all walks of life: that some bit of mathematics isn't important to teach people and isn't necessary to know in real life. It's similar to the trope that "most math is done by calculators or computers," and therefore it's not really so fundamental to learn it anymore. This is similar to saying that "most writing is done by printers" or "most music is made by electronic speakers," and therefore it's not so important to teach people grammar or the arts---except that nobody ever says anything this patently stupid, unless they're saying it about mathematics.
The distributive property is, in fact, extremely important, and high school algebra relies upon it. The distributive property is what allows you to expand a product of expressions, for example (x+1)(x-1), and thus it is what allows you to represent a polynomial as a product of factors. If you don't have the distributive law, you can't do most of high school algebra.
The Boortz column then goes on to criticize the way the worksheet is presented, which appears to be the real grievance:
The headline at the top of the document reads “Distribute the Wealth.” And there you have the picture of the pretty little girl with the cute little pony tail. She’s holding a bag of money in one hand, and giving away some of that money with the other. Yes! She’s distributing her wealth! But if you study the picture you’ll see there’s an even more subtle message. She’s not handing money away from her wallet or her purse. No! That wouldn’t get the real message across! Why pretty much every little girl has a wallet or a purse. No .. this little sweetheart has a BAG of money! Not every little girl has BAGS of money … so this girl must be really RICH! And since she’s rich her money needs to be redistributed!Boortz actually has a point here that the title doesn't exactly make sense. It's just an irrelevant bit of wordplay on the word "distributive," and the worksheet is all abstract: there are no problems involving dollar amounts.
That being said, I doubt the picture is anything more than a piece of royalty free clip art, not something intentionally drawn by a liberal math teacher to send a message of communism though subtle visual cues.
If I may go off on a tangent, I think what disturbs me the most about this article is what I mentioned earlier: that the author takes such pride in not knowing, and even questioning the need to know, what he could have looked up in half a minute without leaving his seat. When we were in the full swing of jingoism after 9/11, a moderately conservative friend of mine told me that the problem in our political discourse wasn't stupid people or stupid pundits, but the growing trend of being intentionally stupid, as a display of loyalty to a dittohead ethic.
However, I was a mathematics grad student in a former life (ha ha, just kidding, it wasn't really a "life") and I know that when it comes to mathematics in particular, proudly declaring one's ignorance has never gone out of style. One of the most educational aspects of being a math major is finding out what people say when you tell them you are one. Mostly people reply that they are incapable of understanding that stuff, because they're "more creative."
It seems like people busted out that line for the sake of empowerment: you have a bad math experience in high school, and you explain it as something beyond your control, possibly turning it into some positive myth about being better and different from others. Nevertheless, I was pretty disturbed to see so many college students openly declaring that they are permanently, statically, unable to learn something they don't understand yet. Why enroll in more school if your brain froze at 18?
This phenomenon is probably unrelated to far-right dittohead logic, but it's more widespread. If you're a college student, you should probably check if you have similar beliefs---if you think you're just not wired for poetry, or you're too "visual" to do mathematics (no you're not)---and maybe try to challenge those barriers with a class or two before you have to go get a job and the opportunity is lost.
And as a final note, let me quote my favorite comment from the RawStory article:
So we should replace algebra class with more mandatory Pledge of Allegiance recitals and Christian prayers... because indoctrinating kids is bad.