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Topic: =Letter to Riley--Uhl et al.
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Carol Fry Bohlin

Posts: 89
Registered: 12/3/04
=Letter to Riley--Uhl et al.
Posted: Dec 8, 1999 3:15 AM
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Te following post appeared on the mathedu listserv on Tuesday:


Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 15:26:40 -0600
From: Jerry Uhl <>
Subject: [MATHEDU] Riley Letter

This letter to Secretary Riley went out today.

December 7, 1999

Hon. Richard Riley
Secretary of Education
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-0498

Dear Secretary Riley:

The undersigned are all current or past research mathematicians who have
been heavily involved in mathematics education for many years. We write to
comment on the letter you have recently received from almost 200 academics,
including many distinguished research mathematicians as well as
distinguished representatives of other disciplines.

We believe that their letter to you does a grave disservice to the cause of
improving mathematics education in American schools. We stress that our
purpose in writing is not to support the 10 "exemplary" and "promising"
programs excoriated in the letter to you. None of us is familiar with all
of them and, while we think there are some excellent aspects to those were
familiar with, there are also things to be criticized in them. (We would
note, however, that we suspect that most of us are much more familiar with
these programs than all but a handful of the signers of the Open Letter to

We note first that, distinguished in their disciplines though the signers
of that letter may be, virtually none of the signatories has any track
record whatsoever in pre-university mathematics education. Moreover, we
cannot help but note that, although there are some notable exceptions, the
track record of the research mathematics community generally in
pre-university or university mathematics education over the past three
decades has been neither "exemplary" nor even "promising".

We wish to comment specifically on two aspects of the letter to you:

1. We agree that "well-respected mathematicians" should be invited to
serve on committees which evaluate school mathematics curricula. The
mathematics research community has potentially much to offer pre-university
mathematics education in the US. But it would be folly to appoint research
mathematicians to such committees who do not also have significant
experience in mathematics education beyond their own teaching of
college-level courses.

2. We also agree that algebra is a gateway to further study of mathematics
at the secondary and university levels and that a firm grasp of arithmetic
is prerequisite to the study of algebra. However, the implication in the
letter - and in the expressed pronouncements of the leaders of the group
that wrote to you - that the only or even the best way to achieve
arithmetic competence is through the classical study of pencil-and-paper
algorithms for arithmetic is neither born out by research nor experience
nor, we submit, is it or will it be plausible in the technology-dominated
culture of 1999 and the 21st century. We would be happy to expand on this
belief at length should you so wish.

Some of the signatories of the other letter to you have been at the
forefront in fomenting the so-called "math wars" in California and
elsewhere. The result, whatever the merits of the arguments on either
side, has been bitter controversy in the mathematics and mathematics
education communities that has surely set back the cause of improving
American mathematics education. The university mathematics and mathematics
education communities and pre-university mathematics teachers need to work
together with other educational researchers and curriculum developers on
solving what would be, in the best of climates, a very difficult problem.
Any attempt by any of these communities, particularly when it is uninformed
about the others, to suggest that it has the received wisdom on this
subject can only be counterproductive. We hope that you will continue to
persevere to improve American mathematics education by receiving and
evaluating the opinions of those informed about the broad spectrum of
mathematics and mathematics education.


R. D. Anderson
Boyd Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
Louisiana State University

Morton Brown
Professor of Mathematics
University of Michigan

William J. Davis
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
Ohio State University

James A. Donaldson
Professor of Mathematics and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Howard University

Ed Dubinsky
Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
Georgia State University

Wally Feurzeig
Principal Scientist
BBN Technologies

Eugene Klotz
Professor of Mathematics
Swarthmore College

Anthony Ralston
Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Mathematics
State University of New York at Buffalo

Kenneth A. Ross
Professor of Mathematics
University of Oregon

Annie Selden
Professor of Mathematics
Tennessee Technological University
(Visiting Professor of Mathematics, Arizona State University)

John Selden
Mathematics Education Resources Company

Jerry Uhl
Professor of Mathematics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

P.S. We have not attempted to match the numbers in the Open Letter
although this could be done. Rather our purpose is to indicate to you that
there is an important body of opinion in the math research and math
education communities that takes strong issue with the Open Letter.

Jerry Uhl
Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Member, Mathematical Sciences Education Board of National Research Council

Calculus&Mathematica, Vector Calculus&Mathematica, DiffEq&Mathematica,
Matrices,Geometry&Mathematica, NetMath ,, and

"Is it life, I ask, is it even prudence,
To bore thyself and bore the students?"

. . . Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Carol Fry Bohlin
California State University, Fresno

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