Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Longish: An Algebra teacher's perspective.

With the funeral and everything, I didn't get a chance to put this on my blog, so I'm just getting to it now. DH wrote his thoughts on the NASSA Appendix A issue, which got much favorable feedback.

Here it is, for your enjoyment (or torment, depending on your position! Giggle, giggle!) in his words:

While Amy is the Shepherdess around here, and I merely the wonderful, supportive husband, mostly in the background where the sheep are concerned, I feel compelled to make a few observations from a little different perspective.

Sorry, this message is a little "longish." I guess it runs in the family!

I am a high school teacher of Math and Computer Science. The current debate around Appendix A reminds me of a common problem I see in Algebra students.

In the chapter where we solve inequalities, some students get tripped up on setting up certain word problems correctly. Students need to interpret words like "at least" to mean "greater than or equal to" and "at most" to mean "less than or equal to". Many students often reverse the way they interpret these, because they see the word "least" which is related to the word "less" (and so think "less than), and relate "most" to "more" (so they think "more than"). Understandably, this is especially a problem for students whose primary language is not English, but you'd be surprised how many primarily English-speaking students get tripped up by this as well.

Stay with me here.

When these students interpret these words incorrectly, their interpretation is not a matter of "opinion". There is a correct and an incorrect interpretation. Words mean what they mean. Misinterpreting them is not just another opinion, it's an error – an incorrect understanding.

Now, the word "longish", too, has to mean what it means, and not the opposite, just like "at least" or "at most". The "-ish" suffix is MEANT to add a vagueness, a LACK of specificity, to the meaning of the word in front of it. Many NASSA members have already correctly pointed out that if a maximum length were intended to be included, it would have been. I would like to go a step farther and point out that if the original writers of the breed standard chose to add "-ish" to the word "long", we don't even have to assume that they would probably have set a specific limit if that was their intent. They have used language that clearly indicates that specificity was not intended. Again, this is not my "opinion", this is simply what the suffix is intended to mean.

This leaves only the word "long" (what the "-ish" was added to) to still be addressed. The current board UNANIMOUSLY, as they LIKE to point out, agreed that an UPPER limit (i.e. a "LESS than or equal to" interpretation) needed to be "clarified" for us. This sounds a lot like confusing "at least" and "at most" in my Algebra students. The word "longish" clearly needs to be interpreted as "not too short", NOT as "not too LONG"! As I said, this is a surprisingly common misinterpretation, but I find it highly improbable (and I understand probabilities pretty well, too) that ALL of the current adult, English-speaking board members could simply have ACCIDENTALLY made this misinterpretation. Again, a misinterpretation is what this is – it's not an "opinion" issue. Words mean what they mean, and this Appendix A is trying to tell us that a word that means "not too short" should really mean "not too long." So please don't try the tired old line here that "just because someone has a different opinion than you, that doesn't make them wrong." The Appendix simply IS wrong. The probability of ALL voting board members simply interpreting it wrong by mistake is implausible. Now, I know a little about logic, too (think Geometry, remember proofs?). Logically, the only remaining conclusion I can come to is that the board is intentionally trying to change what the breed standard says, presumably (why else?) to suit their own preferences.

The thing is, it doesn't take an Algebra teacher, a logician, or a language expert to know that "longish" doesn't mean "shortish" (or, by the way, that "wavy" is not the same thing as "crimpy"). It doesn't take a sheep expert, either. Any honest, impartial, reasonably intelligent, English-speaking adult should be able to understand the difference. There's no mystery here about why the members of this organization are up in arms about a board that UNANIMOUSLY voted to REVERSE the meaning of such fundamental portions of the Breed Standard, without letting anyone know what they were doing until it was already done. It seems only logical to me that many are upset with what this board has done, and how they did it. Actions, too, mean what they mean. They reveal people's "true colors." And as we all know, they speak even louder than words.

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