Supreme Musical Artists of the Past Fifty Years

As I mentioned in my post of four days ago, my sophomores at Crimson Summer Academy (CSA) are currently studying models of voting. While I’m trying to move them away from cuteness as a criterion and toward serious consideration of candidates, my mission is more mathematical than political. So I want my students to learn about the mathematical methods involved in various answers to our Big Question for the summer: “What if nobody gets a majority?” We’re a democracy (more or less), which means that the majority should rule (more or less) except where minority rights are involved. So we study all sorts of real-life voting methods that soon-to-be voters will have to confront:

  • simple plurality, as in elections for Massachusetts governor
  • two-round runoff, used in much of the South and elsewhere
  • preliminary-and-final (very close to two-round runoff), used in elections for Mayor and City Council in Boston
  • Plan E Proportional Representation, used in elections for City Council in Cambridge
  • the Electoral College, used in elections for president of the United States

The problem is that even with the current heightened interest in Obama, teens still aren’t going to pay much attention to candidates for offices other than president. They don’t care about Cambridge and Boston city councillors. So, how do we grab their attention? What’s something in which they have a lot of interest and about which they have a lot of knowledge? Several years, ago one of my teaching assistants (“mentors” in CSA jargon), himself a Harvard undergraduate, made an excellent suggestion, which we’ve followed ever since: hold an election for three Supreme Musical Artists of the Past Fifty Years.

So that’s what we do. We collect nominations on the first day. Then, at various points throughout the course, we hold elections using the different methods listed above, always starting with the same nominees. Maybe the results will differ, depending on the method. Needless to say, the results among 15-year-olds bear no relation to the candidates for whom I would have voted. In fact, about a third of the nominees were individuals or groups that I hadn’t even heard of. Anyway, with no further ado, here were the winners from the two-round-runoff method, each listed with the number of votes in the second round (stay tune for the results of other methods later in the summer):

37 Tupac Shakur
32 Lil Wayne
31 Chris Brown

And the runners-up in the second round were…

23 Michael Jackson
15 The Beatles
15 Jonas Bros.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Math, Teaching & Learning