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=Letter to RileyUhl et al.
Posted:
Dec 8, 1999 3:15 AM


Te following post appeared on the mathedu listserv on Tuesday:
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Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 15:26:40 0600 From: Jerry Uhl <juhl@ncsa.uiuc.edu> To: mathedu@warwick.ac.uk 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 202020498
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 you.)
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 preuniversity 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 preuniversity 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 "wellrespected mathematicians" should be invited to serve on committees which evaluate school mathematics curricula. The mathematics research community has potentially much to offer preuniversity 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 collegelevel 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 pencilandpaper algorithms for arithmetic is neither born out by research nor experience nor, we submit, is it or will it be plausible in the technologydominated 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 socalled "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 preuniversity 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.
Sincerely,
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 President Mathematics Education Resources Company
Jerry Uhl Professor of Mathematics University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign
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 juhl@ncsa.uiuc.edu Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign Member, Mathematical Sciences Education Board of National Research Council
Calculus&Mathematica, Vector Calculus&Mathematica, DiffEq&Mathematica, Matrices,Geometry&Mathematica, NetMath
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