June 26, 2005

"Teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible."

Because we teachers are compelled to patronize you students.

12 comments:

chuck_b said...

Interesting!

"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."

True, no doubt. Thinking out loud: in those countries outperforming us, are there racial minorities that oddly underperform the majority? Or are those countries fairly homogeneous?

Because this article seems to be talking about reaching minority students, such as exaplaining to Mexican-American students that "mathematics is in [their] blood", as one example.

It seems reasonable for educators to reach for new pedagogies to draw in underperforming students--in any subject. Aren't teachers supposed to find innovative ways to motivate lagging students?

It's interesting then that modern educators have employed a fundamentally political syntax in their efforts to do so. Is that surprising? What other syntax should they try?

Some people (individually, not racially) just aren't built for math. Or just not built for it at a particular time of life. I didn't much care for math until I made it to calculus, and then it fucking blew my mind. Math doesn't really come alive until then, I think.

On another point entirely, I don't recall ever taking an international math test. How do people make these international comparisons anyway?

Troy said...

I taught at a community college for 5 years and our feeder high schools were good to excellent. Those students were almost all in need of remediation in mathematics. And before some snob goes "Yeah but that's a community college." The stats are not much better (especially as they should be) in most state schools and mnay private ones I'd wqager. Besides that, many (I bet "most" but don't have data at my fingertips) universities do not require a "real" mathematics course to get out.

The state of math is abysmal in the U.S. Math transcends culture. There are many cultural and language barriers to learning and math suffers even more than other disciplines.

Kev said...

After reading that article, all I can say is....you've got to be kidding.

I must be in a little cocoon as a music educator, because I had no idea that things like that might be going on in "the other part of the building." All the really critical comments towards public schools in the thread from the other day are starting to make a little more sense now...

Sloanasaurus said...

This is an already discussed topic that requires rehashing. A favorite challenge is defining the term "social justice." I just love hearing liberals use the term. In case you didn't know, I will define it for you:

Social Justice = Socialism

After the failure of Socialism in the last century, Socialists needed a new slogan for the same thing. They found it in the term "Social Justice."

However, I would argue that Social Justice includes a type of cultural socialism that didn't exist before. The cultural aspect is important to bring good socialists back into the movement, i.e., George Soros.

mcg said...

...in those countries outperforming us, are there racial minorities that oddly underperform the majority? Or are those countries fairly homogeneous?

There is a third option, of course: that the country is not homogeneous, but its racial minorities are not underperforming. I would not be surprised if this is the case for eat least some outperforming countries. Heck, in our own country, there are racial minorities which outperform the majoirty.

Because this article seems to be talking about reaching minority students, such as exaplaining to Mexican-American students that "mathematics is in [their] blood", as one example.

That's not how I read it at all. First, there is the claim that mathematics is best learned in ways that relate to their ancestral culture. It would be one thing if they talked about appealing to different present day cultures, but they seem to be going a bit anthropoligical on us here. Secondly, there is attempt to introduce social justice issues in the mathematics classroom. That's a far more egregious error in my opinion. 2+2=4 whether or not they are 4 apples or 4 sweatshop workers.

It seems reasonable for educators to reach for new pedagogies to draw in underperforming students--in any subject. Aren't teachers supposed to find innovative ways to motivate lagging students?

You're putting lipstick on a pig here, methinks. We can certainly present the curriculum in appealing ways, but we shouldn't be altering it, particularly in an objective field such as mathematics, to suit the tastes of the student. Broad areas of basic mathematics just aren't being taught anymore!

It's interesting then that modern educators have employed a fundamentally political syntax in their efforts to do so. Is that surprising?

No.

What other syntax should they try?

A non-political syntax for a non-political subject sounds good to me. It worked quite well for me, and still does.

Some people (individually, not racially) just aren't built for math. Or just not built for it at a particular time of life.

Nonsense. All people who are not mentally handicapped are capable of learning arithmetic up to, but not necessarily including, algebra. And even if what you are saying is true, shouldn't we work against that? Or shall I argue that perhaps we're not all built for reading, either, so we should give up on the illiterate kids?

We all have to do things we I didn't much care for math until I made it to calculus, and then it fucking blew my mind. Math doesn't really come alive until then, I think.

Exactly. Nobody is arguing that everyone has to learn calculus. We're talking about elementary-level education here. Everyone can do it, and everyone should---at least they should try their damndest.

On another point entirely, I don't recall ever taking an international math test. How do people make these international comparisons anyway?

I don't know the answer to your last question, but there are indeed international mathematics competitions. I don't think they provide an accurate picture of the quality of mathematics education in the participating countries, though. You're talking the cream of the crop, with significant investment paid to simply prepare them for the competitions.

chuck_b said...

I said: What other syntax should they try?

mcg said: A non-political syntax for a non-political subject sounds good to me. It worked quite well for me, and still does.


(me still:) I say now: I'm glad it worked for you; it worked for me too. But there must be people for whom the traditional approach does not work. Otherwise, why are sufficient enough number of students underperforming that the standard approach fails?

I said: Some people (individually, not racially) just aren't built for math. Or just not built for it at a particular time of life.

mcg said: Nonsense. All people who are not mentally handicapped are capable of learning arithmetic up to, but not necessarily including, algebra.

I said: Yes, but this is specifically about Algebra. The article compares a 1973 algebra textbook to a 1998 "contemporary mathematics" books and that is where the author finds the social justice terms indexed where factoring and finite sets should be.

I say: We can disagree, but I maintain that some people are NOT ready for the traditional approach to algebra when it's presented to them in junior high or high school. So rather than put them in remdial math, the idea is "try a new approach."

mcg said: And even if what you are saying is true, shouldn't we work against that?

I say: Yes, absolutely! So what do you propose? Because the political language evidenced by the WSJ article poses some problems that you have pointed out.

Drethelin said...

the traditional approach doesn't work for everyone because it's not USED for everyone. I learned math from singaporean and japanese textbooks, and just because I was adding and multiplying durians in the first one doesn't mean I didn't learn math. One of the MOST important things to learn in algebra is to disassociate the numbers from what they are. Durians becomes D, their price becomes P, etc.

Japanese text books hardly even make a mention of anything in the real world at all, atleast in the 9th and 10th grade levels.

Pure math instruction is perfectly effective if taught well, but socialist math instruction both distracts from the real matter at and, and will be just as fucking pointless if it's taught by the same incompetent public school teachers.

amy said...

Yet another reason I plan to send my child to a private classics-based school.

I would like him to actually learn how to read, write, do math, learn some basic music and art and to think critically. Not be brainwashed into socialism.

gs said...

"So what do you propose?", asks leland burrill. Easy to ask and hard to answer, especially in a way that doesn't push political hot buttons. I gotta get to work, so I'll punt for the moment at least.

Imho drethelin is correct to mention the teachers. My colleague helps his kids with their math/science homework in a middle-class suburban high school, and he says the teachers barely understand the basic mathematical concepts they should be teaching. Physics, fuhgedaboudit.

Is 'critical theory' an educational establishment attempt to take the offensive rather than admit its deficiencies? I saw attributed to GB Shaw, "In order to advance, decadence must wear the mask of progress."

Finally, a thank you to the conscientious teachers who struggle to hold the line.

MarkT said...

I posted a link back in February to a Fox News story at http://www.foxnews.com/story/
0,2933,146684,00.html about adoption of 'anti-racist math' in some public schools. The only comment I had was someone asking if I liked my math racist. I didn't know then and still don't know how to respond because the whole concept of 'racist math' eludes me. I guess you could say it just doesn't add up - but I'd never say such a thing.

13 years ago, Teen Talk Barbie had no idea how right she was when she said math was hard.

rafinlay said...

In 8th grade, I had to teach my son factoring, because his algebra "teacher" DID NOT UNDERSTAND IT.

Once, the textbook answer was in error. Explaining the logic didn't work. Working through the problem in steps didn't work. The "teacher" could not explain why the textbook "answer" was right, but she insisted that that had to be the answer because it was in the text.

Call it "faith-based" algebra, I suppose.

Slac said...

I don't buy the notion that some people aren't "built" for math. If people have the ability to reason at all, they can learn anything in mathematics. Calculus, Topography, String Theory... anything.

You think I'm kidding.

We dumb our students down not just by this sort of socialist patronism, but by not letting them learn Calculus in the 4th grade.

I'm not kidding.