Thursday, July 11, 2019

STEM, the Clarke, and a Bit of Cultural History

by Frank Boles 


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education has been a buzz phrase in education for at least a quarter century. Anchored in a concern that America’s edge in technological innovation was in danger of being lost because of a lack of technologically competent individuals, STEM seeks to reinvigorate teaching and learning about these four interrelated disciplinary fields at all levels of American education.

STEM advocates usually had little to say about the liberal arts, and those involved in teaching the liberal arts usually had little to say about STEM, except to more than occasionally lament why they couldn’t get some of the money being given to evolving STEM programs. Without entering into what has at times devolved into a bitter debate, in one important way STEM fundamentally depends on the arts – pedagogy.

For all the emphasis on involving students in STEM programs, there can be no question that unless the STEM disciplines are taught in a way that interest students and successfully educate them, the entire enterprise is for naught.

To accomplish this, the highest likelihood of success is to be achieved by thinking about how these subjects have been taught in the past, and how that body of historical information, a catalog of what worked, and what didn’t work, can inform and improve teaching in the present and future.

The opportunity to better understand this learning process is made possible by an extraordinary gift of over 250 mathematics textbooks by Dr. Robert G. Clason to the Clarke Historical Library’s textbook collection. Dr. Clason taught mathematics at CMU for over 30 years. In addition to teaching his own course, he became interested in how the subject was taught in the past, and began to assemble a collection of arithmetic textbooks printed from the eighteenth through the twentieth century.

First Lessons in Numbers in their Natural Order,
by John H. French, 1874.
A sampling of Dr. Clason’s collection gives a flavor of what is to be found. Many of the books are, of course, designed to introduce young children to the subject. John H. French’s First lessons in Numbers In their Natural Order, published in 1874 by Harper & Brothers, is typical of a genre of textbooks for children that poured out of publishing houses in the 19th century. Often published as a series, virtually all of them claimed, like French’s First Lessons, to be “unlike other works for the same grade of learners,” a claim begging to be examined today both in terms of its authenticity and, if true, in terms of which teaching method worked best.


Standard Service Arithmetics: Grade Five,
by Scott, Foresman, and Company, 1927.



Grade school books became a highly profitable, and often quite standardized product. Scott, Foresman, and Company’s 1927 Standard Service Arithmetics: Grade 5 seems a nice example of the development of grade school books in the first few decades of the twentieth century. The volume was part of the company’s “standard mathematical service,” edited by George Myers.

Other books in the collection show how teachers were taught to teach the subject. The growth of “normal schools” in the late nineteenth century, institutions of learning designed to educate teachers (of which Central Michigan was originally one), spawned a new market for more advanced books. The Normal Mental Arithmetic by Edward Brooks, published in 1869, was an early example of book designed to sell to this market, while An Arithmetic for High Schools and Normal Schools, published in 1902, moved into an already established market.
The Normal Mental Arithmetic,
by Edward Brooks, 1869. 

Books were also written to meet the needs of special communities. How to Become Quick at Figures; Comprising the Shortest, Quickest, and Best Methods of Business Calculations, tells the potential buyer everything one needs to know about the contents of the book.

Although the principal use of the collection is to discover how arithmetic has been taught over time, sometimes the books offer social insights that go well beyond that subject.

For example, Charles Davies Primary Arithmetic, published originally in 1855 and republished in 1883, included a bit of mathematical history. Lesson IV
noted that “the ten figures of Arithmetic were first used in Arabia.” The next sentence is both stereotypical and a historical, “The Arabs are a wandering people, live in tents, [and] have fine horses and camels.” Nevertheless, a child might wonder how these wandering people in their tents came upon the concept of Arabic numbers?

An Arithmetic for High Schools and Normal
Schools,
by Benj. Sanborn & Co., 1902.
That question was silently reinforced by Lesson V, printed on the adjoining page. It shows a “Roman father teaching his son to count” using Roman numerals. Seated in his chair with many scrolls at his side, the Roman father is the proverbial picture of an education rooted in a European cultural tradition harkening back millennia. Despite the weight of the imagery, the seven letters he is teaching to his son as a means of counting is not what Davies will be teaching, and Arabia, not Rome is, as lesson 4 notes, “the country from which we got our ten figures.”

Primary Arithmetic,
by Charles Davies, 1855. 
In an age when “scientific racism” was widely taught and believed, to inform children that something as fundamental as the way Europeans counted was rooted in a non-European culture was a subversive act. It could lead to more questions about what other ideas Europeans had learned from people who “live in tents [and] have fine horses and camels.” In a world where Europeans had declared themselves the biological and intellectual summit of natural evolution, such questions were not ones asked lightly.

Dr. Clason’s gift opens up both social questions and questions that apply directly to the success of today’s STEM programs. We are extraordinarily thankful to him for this gift.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The History of Faygo Pop

by Frank Boles


On Wednesday, June 12, Joe Grimm spoke in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium in the Park Library and shared his entertaining history of Faygo, published in his work, The Faygo Book (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2018). The company has been making soda pop, or as Detroiter’s simply call it, “pop”, since 1907. Perry Feigenson had arrived in Detroit two years earlier and opened a bakery. Business was okay, but Perry, who had been a baker since 1900, had come to an unhappy conclusion - the hours were terrible.

Looking for a new business with better hours, he persuaded his brother Ben to join him in Detroit. Ben had worked in a Cleveland soda pop firm, a brother-in-law of the owner. Knowing this, Perry planned to go into the pop business. Unfortunately, after Ben arrived in Detroit, Perry learned his brother knew how to bottle pop, but Ben’s brother-in-law had never shared the flavor formulas. Perry was unconcerned, assuming that it would be simple to adopt the frosting recipes he used as a baker to the purpose.

Oddly enough, this notion worked. Why it worked is anybody’s guess. Harry Lipsky was hired in 1958 as the company chemist. He simply didn’t believe that you could use frosting recipes to flavor pop. Co-founder Perry, who lived until 1964 finally decided one day he was getting too old to personally flavor the pop, and pulled the young chemist aside to demonstrate how to brew Rock & Rye, one of the firm’s signature flavors. After adding a few cups of this and several dashes of that, the old man waved a towel over the final mixture, while speaking an incantation.

Lipsky rolled his eyes at this performance but took careful notes about everything else. After several months work, he scientifically recreated the formula, without the mumbo-jumbo. What resulted looked the same and smelled the same, but it didn’t taste right. He tried again, with the same result. Finally, Lipsky reproduced the entire process as he had been shown it, complete with towel and incantation, and to his amazement the flavor was correct. Lipsky claimed that after that trial, he just gave up the science and made Rock & Rye the old man’s way. Although lacking evidence, Grimm likes to believe someone is still waving a towel and invoking the secret words over every fresh batch of the flavor.

Whether their flavors came about by magic or skill, there was always a lot of them. The Feigenson brothers’ business strategy was to market a wide variety of flavors. Unlike companies like Coke or Dr. Pepper, which put all their effort into a single flavor, Faygo marketed a “rainbow of flavors.” Over the years, the company has marketed over one hundred flavors, some becoming perennial favorites, some selling well for a time but then being retired as sales lagged, and few notable flops. The company even tried to market substitute adult beverages (minus the alcohol) such as Chateaux Faygeaux, and Faygo Brau, which Faygo claimed was only to be sold to those under 21, it lasted five months.

When Perry and Ben opened the Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works in 1907, they faced many problems; one of the more intractable ones was the length of their name. The glass bottles were small, holding only about 7 ounces of beverage. Printing “Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works” on each bottle resulted in some pretty small type. They struggled with a solution for years. Finally, in 1920, they found it. Their pop was renamed, “Faygo,” a nice, short, five letter logo.

Faygo also became memorable for its advertising. Television seemed like a golden opportunity for sales, and as Grimm noted, “no pun was too low, to sell Faygo.” Perhaps the best know commercial appeared in 1956 when the Faygo Kid rode onto the black and white television screen to save the day. When Black Bart held up the “Wells-Faygo Express,” he assured the distraught woman in the coach that all he wanted was the Faygo root beer. The Faygo Kid returned the stolen drink, and when the question is asked, “which way did he go?” Black Bart’s horse delivered the commercial’s tag line, “he went for Faygo!”

In another commercial, Herkimer Bottleneck, whose job was to blow bottles in a pop factory, becomes “too pooped to participate.” His unhappy foreman announces Herkimer will “blow or go," and gives him a bottle of Faygo Uptown. In no time at all, Herkimer is back on the job. Both commercials were made by one of the best animation firms of the day, the same firm which made cartoon classics such as the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo.

Jim Henson, who would later invent the Muppets, also created Faygo ads. In ten commercials, each a mere eight seconds long and planned to be used in station identification slots, a Kermit-like Muppet named Wilkins tried to get a grumpy Wontkins to drink some Faygo. Wontkins always says no, and invariably something awful happens to him. The goal was to eschew the hard sell for a laugh, and hopefully, get across the implied moral: never say no to Faygo!

Faygo also employed local celebrities in ads. Detroit Lion’s football player Alex Karras became a regular. Karras was a mountain of a man, who after retiring from football, got even bigger. In one commercial, he is seated in front of a table, facing an enormous pizza and a can of pop. The announcer asks, “Hey um Alex? I thought you were on a diet?” To which Karras replies, "I am on a diet, See? Faygo sugar-free Red Pop. Boy, nobody makes a diet pop as good as Faygo." The announcer takes his point but says, "Yeah, but Alex, what about the pizza." Karras pauses, and then deadpans, "Faygo doesn't make pizza."

Faygo also tried to market is adult-aimed beverages through creative advertising, When Frosh first appeared, an actor doing an impression of WC Fields intoned, "Frosh is made for grown-ups. Yes, indeed. … Any soft drink that's not made for small children can't be all bad." To get the commercial right, Faygo's advertising firm went through 140 potential Fields imitators. When they found the right one, Bill Oberlin, they discovered he couldn't read lines. It took nine hours of taping to get five minutes of commercials. But it was worth the effort.

Faygo today is still marketing a wide variety of pop. Its history was told in colorful detail by Joe Grimm.