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Topic: Fwd: Traditionalists Mathematically Right?
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Jerry Uhl

Posts: 1,267
Registered: 12/3/04
Fwd: Traditionalists Mathematically Right?
Posted: Sep 21, 2004 11:27 AM
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>Date: Tue, 16 Mar 1999 11:21:15 -0600 (CST)
>Precedence: bulk
>From: Jerry Becker <jbecker@SIU.EDU>
>To: Multiple recipients of list <>
>Subject: Traditionalists Mathematically Right?
>X-md5sum: 5fe23264d77c253549d97bb179400790
>[Note: Just received from the West Coast ...]
>(You might recall the recent TPPF-sponsored math textbook review conducted
>by Mathematically Correct, available at
> )
>TPPF = Texas Public Policy Institute
>San Antonio Express News (Texas), Sunday, February 21, 1999
>By Rick Casey
>Are the traditionalists mathematically right?
>As if they weren't already busy enough trying to purify the state
>bureaucracy, privatize VIA's bus operations and revolutionize the Texas
>public school system through vouchers, our friends at the conservative
>Texas Public Policy Foundation have taken on another task.
>They want to teach your children math.
>Well, actually, they don't want to do the teaching themselves. They just
>want to tell your children's math teachers how to teach.
>TPPF has become, in effect, the Texas arm of a California-based movement
>called "Mathematically Correct." This organization wants to take America
>back to traditional ways of teaching math methods based on teaching kids
>the right formulas so they can get the right answers.
>The group accuses the "educational establishment," and particularly the
>National Science Foundation, of using soft-headed, feel-good methods that
>dumb down the curriculum.
>TPPF officials have gone before editorial boards, lobbied school boards
>over textbook selection and made the case for "classical" math education
>through their Web site.
>In a recent op-ed piece in this newspaper, Anne Newman, president of the
>San Antonio-based Texas Family Research Center, cited the TPPF Web page in
>arguing for traditional math. Well she should. Much of her piece was taken
>from the Web site.
>She criticized a training program in which teachers were tossed a beach
>ball printed as a globe and asked to remember where their right indexes
>were when they caught it. This was an example of an exercise in which
>students could learn probabilities--in this case, the probability of a
>meteorite crashing on land as opposed to water.
> Mathematically Correct named themselves, apparently with no sense of
>irony. They have several things in common with the left-wing politically
>Both include intelligent, well- intentioned people. Both are ideologically
>based. Both are intolerant of those who think differently.
>And while the politically correct have an idealized view of the future,
>Mathematically Correct has an idealized view of the past.
>If you're old enough to have been taught under traditional methods, as I
>am, just ask yourself this: Was math a subject in which your average
>classmate felt he or she could perform well? Or was math considered
>the sole domain of the brainiest?
>Mathematically Correct cites studies to show the superiority of
>traditional math teaching, but were the good old days really that good? And
>are present methods really that bad?
>Maybe California math went buggy, but it's not so clear that national
>performance has. One of the most ambitious measurements is the SAT, which
>most college-bound seniors take. A substantially higher percentage of
>seniors take the test today than in 1972. Because of that, you would expect
>scores to go down. The average verbal score has, from 530 in 1972 to 505 in
>But the average math score has gone up 3 points to 512. In Texas, the
>results are better. While Texas seniors held verbal skills even from 1988
>to 1998, their average math score jumped 11 points.
>We're still below the national average, but we're moving in the right
>Improvement among Texas fourth- and eighth-grade students on another
>standardized test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has
>been among the best in the nation since 1990.
>That's why I'd like Anne Newman to meet Melinda Rodriguez, who has taught
>math at elementary and middle schools and now teaches ninth-grade algebra
>at Lee High School.
>More importantly, I'd like the school boards that will be selecting
>textbooks (and thereby curricula) in the next few weeks to meet Rodriguez.
>(Later, in another column, I'd like you to meet Rodriguez.)
>I don't know if Rodriguez uses beach balls (though she took the workshop),
>but she uses such methods as having kids chart the number of jumping jacks
>they can do minute-by-minute for five minutes. She has them punch a hole
>in a cup of water and measure the rate of leakage, then go home and
>calculate how much such a leak would cost on their water bills.
>In other words, she teaches just the way Newman and Mathematically Correct
>find abhorrent. The latest results: 70 percent of her students passed the
>statewide end-of-course exam, including 60 percent of her special
>education students.
>By comparison, 39 percent (not including special ed) passed statewide in
>1998. But that figure is up from 28 percent in 1996.
>So before TPPF and their friends fix this problem, let's make sure it's broke.
>From the Web site:
>TPPF-"Providing the intellectual ammunition for a better Texas."
>Jerry P. Becker
>Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
>Southern Illinois University
>Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
>Fax: (618)453-4244
>Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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

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



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