> Jonathan Groves Posted: Oct 5, 2010 6:49 PM > > >Whatever all the problems are with adult innumeracy, > > >using the current widely available junk commercial > >textbooks and the teaching that is similar to the > junk > >in these books do not help solve the problem. Here > are > >some reasons why (this is not an exhaustive list): > > No need to go on. I agree most modern textbooks > oks are awful. But you simply must remember how we > got to this point. It was observed that mathy books > did not work well for many students. Precisely in > the attempt to reach more students, the mathiness was > gradually leached out of the texts and out of the > curriculum so that, today, there is very little math > in math education. > > Now, perhaps you think that struggling students > nts cannot learn math when no math is there. Not > only are you quite right about that, but even mathy > students will not learn much math when there is no > math. So this trend towards leaching the math out of > mathematics is a dead loss all around. Thank you, > Education Mafia. > > By all means, put the math back into the math > ath texts. Then, you will do a better job teaching > the better students. You will certainly fail, > through no fault of yours, to teach the students who > lack either the aptitude or the interest in > mathematics. And you will have come around full > circle.
Your post does remind me that I want to write better math books not only to help those struggling students to learn math, especially those who really do want to learn genuine math and not the fake stuff passed off as math they had seen for years, I do want to help those who really might have the ability to learn math but couldn't stomach the awful-tasting math they had tried to learn in school. For those students, I want to help them see that math does not have to be that way, that math might very well offer them something better than what school math has tried to offer them thus far. I hate the thought of students who have the ability to learn math and who could learn to enjoy or at least appreciate math and learn to use it meaningfully but could not learn it and learned to detest math simply because of bad teaching and bad textbooks. In short, I want to try to help students of any ability to give them a chance to reach their potential in mathematics.
> Perhaps you despair of being able to solve the > the problem of teaching math to adults. I think it > is out of your hands. Partly, the students come to > you far too late. And partly, it is a faux problem. > Many of these adult students do not learn math > h because they do not want to. Maybe we should just > leave them alone.
Who knows which of the struggling students, at least up front, want to try to learn math? Who knows in advance which of these students might take interest in math that teaches them the sense behind mathematics? I can't blame them for not taking interest in math that doesn't make sense to them, especially when the course begins to make no sense early on.
For some, maybe a good number of them, it might be too late to reach them. But I don't think anyone can always predict in advance which students are the kinds where all is lost and which ones can still be reached. Some signs do indicate this, but not all students give such signs up front whereas others give such signs but do not really mean it (for instance, some say they are excited about the course but then disappear suddenly after a week or so or their participation does not stop entirely but does drop considerably):
1. Those students who say that they don't really care if they learn anything or not just as long as they pass are almost certainly the kinds where all is lost.
2. Those students who say they want to learn and wish math made better sense to them, especially if they show some interest in trying to find out some more about what mathematicians do or how they think about math or why we like math, are probably the kinds of students we still have some hope of reaching, even if they are struggling students.
Of course, these signs are not hard-and-fast signs, but they can give us some idea up front.
I just wish to offer them some real math and to give them at least a reasonable chance to try to make sense of math and let them decide from there what they want to do with math. If the real math doesn't appeal to them and they don't want to learn, then they don't want to learn. At least then they have made the decision for themselves because they then have based their decision on what real math is and not on what some distorted view of math says about math.
As for that last point, I know I would feel quite cheated if many of my past teachers have given me a distorted view of Shakespeare's plays by instead having me read "plays by Shakespeare" that are not his plays and are bad ones and then later to discover that Shakespeare did not write those plays, that the plays he actually wrote are plays I would enjoy. In that kind of scenario, I know my decision not to like Shakespeare was not my own decision but someone else's: How could I make my own decision about Shakespeare if I have no idea what he wrote? That did not happen to me, of course, and I'm thankful it did not.
> Finally, you write, > > >Colleges and universities need an effective way to > >identify students with these difficulties and then > have > >them take appropriate coursework on reading skills > >before progressing to regular college or remedial > >coursework in other subjects. > > Are you sure that students who cannot read belong > ong in college? You may want to rethink that. > > Haim > We're buying shrimp, guys.
Those students who can't read don't belong in college, but if they are interested in going to college, they do deserve a chance to at least try to prepare themselves for college, to see if college is a good choice for them to make. But if a college is genuinely interested in helping such students and wants to try to offer classes that can help them, then that is the individual college's decision. But that decision of theirs is not a bad one as long as they don't cheat students out of their money by accepting crowds of these kinds of students but then the classes they offer are clearly not going to help more than just a handful of them. Kaplan is changing their policies to allow these kinds of students to try without having to pay tuition until they are fully admitted.
If instead they prefer that such students get help elsewhere before applying to college, then that is their decision, too.
By the way, these schools I teach for make student retention such a high priority that the administration is likely to discipline professors who advise students to drop their classes, or at least their talk about student retention strongly suggests that this is the case. However, I haven't heard of any professors getting in trouble for advising students to drop their classes, but I have heard of professors getting in trouble for neglecting deadlines or failing to follow other policies such as changing assignments or discussion questions.
I don't know what would happen if we either explictly say or even simply imply that a student doesn't belong in college because the student has poor study habits, cannot think, cannot read, etc.