quote: The Daily Press Ashland, Wisconsin Monday, November 28th, 2005 09:51:24 AM

By A.L. VAN DE BRUGGEN

For years I have berated our approach to math — and even had published in The Daily Press that condemnation. I may have found the reason for this "dumbing down" in an article in The Wall Street Journal (20 June 2005).

In an article written by Diane Ravitch, she supplies much of the answer when she wrote, "It seems our math educators no longer believe in the beauty and power of the principles of mathematics. They are continually in search of a fix that will make it easy, relevant, fun, and even politically relevant. In the early 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could easily be performed on a calculator. The council preferred real life problem solving, using everyday situations. Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride the 'new, new math' as 'rainforest algebra.'"

Amen, brother.

The article went on to say, "In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 'contemporary mathematics' textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter 'F' included 'factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions.' In the 1998 book, the index listed 'families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, Ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival.'"

How well has this new approach worked? Not very well.

In a 16 May 2005 article in "Newsweek," the United States ranked 28 of 40 countries in math and 29th in "problem solving," using 15-year-old students from all 40 countries, and I believe but am not positive that these rankings were one of those that included using our best students. I am certain that if it were not in this particular testing, it was another one held fairly close to this testing that did use our best students and we fared no better. In the test I am certain we used our best students in, we tied with Latvia — one of the poorest nations on earth.

To quote again from the cited article, "Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves 'critical theorists.' They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice."... "It seems terribly old-fashioned to point out that the countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action. They teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and Chicago. The students who learn this universal language well will be the builders and shapers of technology in the 21st century. The students in American classes who fall prey to the political designs of their teachers and professors will not."

Maybe this ideological shift explains "New Math" and its-doomed-to-failure follower, "Core Math." If our approach and titles for the type of math were producing results, I wouldn't care. But they are not producing results; they are producing disaster and the disaster is making me ashamed.

Tied with Latvia? My God.

As I have said before, I do not fault our teachers nor even our school administrators; I fault the "system" being foisted on them, traceable, no doubt, straight from our state up to our wonderful U.S. Department of Education, both departments loaded with over-educated idiots whose idea of common sense is but a distant memory. This ranks right up there with the idiocy of the No Child Left Behind Act (another gift from Bush) which only prompts teachers to "teach the test" and to hell with creativity and thought.

I believe our text book writing has been out-sourced to those same people that write instructions on how to assemble Korean bicycles. For example, has any parent tried to help his or her child on math? It takes many times longer to understand those very poorly written questions than it does to solve the problem once the question is understood. God save the Queen. Ain't nobody saving us.

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