As a former victim of the old New Math -- I still remember my father the Oxford graduate looking over some incomprehensible homework and telling me, "You're on your own, dear" -- I'm a bit sensitive when it comes to math and arithmetic instruction, knowing full well the ramifications of a lousy, fuzzy job. It was the subject I spent the most time researching when we decided to homeschool Laura two years ago, because I knew I wanted a program that would give her, and then the boys, a solid foundation in the basics. After looking at Saxon Math, the choice of many homeschoolers but a tad heavy-handed for Laura at the time, I ended up choosing Singapore Math, with a bit of Math-U-See thrown in from time to time. Not for nothing that in my spare time I read books like Knowing and Teaching Elementary Math by Liping Ma or track down Canadian vendors of Developmental Math.
Which is why Joanne Jacobs's post, "Mathless in Seattle", about a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article last week, "Seattle's teaching of math adds up to much confusion: Where 2+2 gets sticky", got my attention.
Like many Seattle schools, [Rick Burke's] daughter's school was teaching "reform" math, a style that encourages students to discover math principles and derive formulas themselves. Burke, an engineer, worried that his daughter wasn't learning basic math skills.And, shades of the Alberta Program of Studies,
Reform math also emphasizes estimating and being able to analyze whether the answer derived is correct and reasonable. Students are urged to use calculators from an early age, "because as adults, that's how we do it -- we either do mental math or use a calculator," said Ruth Balf, who teaches fourth and fifth grade at Olympic View Elementary.Not so coincidentally, according to The Post-Intelligencer, "Colleges have been seeing a rise in the number of freshmen who have to take remedial math courses, feeding into the growing concern that the United States is losing its edge in math." And it's not just the United States, my friends. If you don't believe The Post-Intelligencer, believe erstwhile college math instructor, MoebiusStripper, who blogs at Tall, Dark and Mysterious. Read it, especially this and this, and weep. MS is particularly scathing on the subject of calculators in elementary and high school, to which I can say only, huzzah.
What saddens me is that educrats have gained precious little understanding, conceptual or otherwise, from the results of the first go-round of New Math, and even less since the 1989 release of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. These standards have concerned responsible, right-thinking mathematicians, math teachers, parents, and more than a few states for over 15 years, and yet "the math wars" continue. The good news? According to The Post-Intelligencer, "In Seattle, schools have a lot of autonomy in how they teach math. The district has adopted textbooks and provides guidelines and timelines for teachers to follow, but doesn't require them to do so. In fact, the district doesn't keep track of what style of math teachers are using." Some Washington State parents with a beef with Reform Math have banded together at Where's The Math?, and a particularly informative article on their website is "A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education" by David Klein. Great good luck to the families in Seattle, where textbook adoption has been postponed until next January. May the new year bring some not-so-New Math.
But let's not forget the possible bad news -- sitting around in nursing homes, waiting for our pension and Social Security checks administered by dolts who can't function without a calculator (here's hoping their computers never crash and their batteries never wear out), not to mention living at the mercy of doctors and nurses who didn't quite master the math. "Hmmm, how many cc's of morphine was that supposed to be?" Let's just hope they learned to read with phonics instead of whole language and can tell "Morphine" apart from "Motrin" on the label.
Additional reading: check the the Article Index for Where's the Math? and the Site Index for Mathematically Correct; Mathematically Correct's list of Web Links of Interest alone should keep one busy until that room at the nursing home is ready.