The Math Forum

Search All of the Math Forum:

Views expressed in these public forums are not endorsed by NCTM or The Math Forum.

Math Forum » Discussions » Professional Associations » ncsm-members

Notice: We are no longer accepting new posts, but the forums will continue to be readable.

Topic: How to End the Math Wars
Replies: 3   Last Post: Nov 20, 2006 6:39 PM

Advanced Search

Back to Topic List Back to Topic List Jump to Tree View Jump to Tree View   Messages: [ Previous | Next ]
Linda Gojak

Posts: 13
Registered: 9/9/05
Re: How to End the Math Wars
Posted: Nov 20, 2006 6:39 PM
  Click to see the message monospaced in plain text Plain Text   Click to reply to this topic Reply

Depends on how you define "interesting"!


Linda Gojak
President, NCSM
An organization of Leaders in Mathematics Education

"To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the
people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor
and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people
hate ... When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did
it ourselves!'" Lao-Tsu

On Nov 20, 2006, at 5:36 PM, Michael Paul Goldenberg wrote:

> Okay, I'll bite: what, exactly, is interesting about it, Linda?
> To me, it's nonsense, non-reporting of a very deep and serious
> issue. The only decent part is the correctly bleak forecast if the
> back-to-basics folks are allowed to control math the same way the
> phonics phacists got control of reading.
> Other than that, the piece takes the usual idiotic "neutral"
> stance, as if each side here were equally wild and extreme, as if
> at least a sizable proportion of the anti-reform rhetoric were
> true, and as if this were a case where neither side has much idea
> of what it is doing, despite the research evidence that suggests
> strongly that back to basics is a sham and a failed disgrace,
> regardless of Jim Milgram.
> Personally, the Jim Milgrams of this country have nothing important
> to say about K12 mathematics teaching and learning. They don't
> understand the first thing about education, about kids, about what
> really goes on in elementary classrooms regarding math, nor do they
> really care. They are incapable of or unwilling to attempt to step
> outside their own lofty experience of mathematics in order to see
> where the rubber meets the road at every grade level from K to 12.
> Their goals are perverted by their own high level of mathematical
> achievement to such an extent that it is impossible for them to see
> what a child or young adolescent struggles to understand and why.
> Nor do they have a clue about how to teach anyone mathematics who
> is not cut from the same or very similar cloth as are they. Letting
> such people bully teachers and students into a narrow vision of
> what's possible and what's necessary in K-12 mathematics classrooms
> would be an enormous error, one we cannot allow to continue. I hope
> that NCSM and NCTM will speak out with courage against the bizarre
> twisting of the truth, including the distortion of the purpose and
> content of the Curricular Focal Points, and to force the media to
> start telling the truth about the Math Wars. This lame piece of
> fluff doesn't even begin to steer towards an exit strategy, though
> the catchy headline will no doubt get it read far more widely than
> it deserves.
> On Nov 20, 2006, at 3:59 PM, Linda Gojak wrote:

>> This comes to us courtesy of Jerry Becker. Interesting reading....
>> Linda
>> Linda Gojak
>> President, NCSM
>> Supporting Leadership in Mathematics Education
>> John Carroll University
>> 216 397 4574 (o)
>> The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the
>> person doing it.
>> ...Chinese Proverb
>> Begin forwarded message:

>>> From: Jerry Becker <jbecker@SIU.EDU>
>>> Date: November 20, 2006 2:42:30 PM EST
>>> To:
>>> Subject: How to End the Math Wars
>>> Reply-To: Jerry Becker <jbecker@SIU.EDU>
>>> ***********************
>>> From, Sunday, November 19, 2006. See
>>> time/magazine/article/0,9171,1561144,00.html
>>> ***********************
>>> How to End the Math Wars
>>> We have a new formula for teaching kids. Don't let ideology ruin
>>> it this time
>>> By Claudia Wallis
>>> American education is every bit as polarized, red and blue, as
>>> American politics. On the crimson, conservative end of the
>>> spectrum are those who adhere to the back-to-basics credo: Kids,
>>> practice those spelling words and times tables, sit still and
>>> listen to the teacher; school isn't meant to be fun--hard work
>>> builds character. On the opposite, indigo extreme are the
>>> currently unfashionable "progressives," who believe that learning
>>> should be like breathing--natural and relaxed, that school should
>>> take its cues from a child's interests. As in politics, good
>>> sense lies toward the center, but the pendulum keeps sweeping
>>> sharply from right to left and back again. And the kids end up
>>> whiplashed.
>>> Since the Reading Wars of the '90s, the U.S. has largely gone
>>> red. Remember the Reading Wars? In the '80s, educators embraced
>>> "whole language" as the key to teaching kids to love reading.
>>> Instead of using "See Dick and Jane run" primers, grade-school
>>> teachers taught reading with authentic kid lit: storybooks by
>>> respected authors, like Eric Carle (Polar Bear, Polar Bear). They
>>> encouraged 5- and 6-year-olds to write with "inventive spelling."
>>> It was fun. Teachers felt creative. The founders of whole
>>> language never intended it to displace the teaching of phonics or
>>> proper spelling, but that's what happened in many places. The
>>> result was a generation of kids who couldn't spell, including a
>>> high percentage who had to be turned over to special-ed
>>> instructors to learn how to read. That eventually ushered in the
>>> current joyless back-to-phonics movement, with its endless hours
>>> of reading-skill drills. Welcome back, Dick and Jane.
>>> Now we're into the Math Wars. With American kids foundering on
>>> state math exams and getting clobbered on international tests by
>>> their peers in Singapore and Belgium, parents and policymakers
>>> have been searching for a culprit. They've found it in the math
>>> equivalent of whole language--so-called fuzzy math, an object of
>>> parental contempt from coast to coast. Fuzzy math, properly
>>> called reform math, is the bastard child of teaching standards
>>> introduced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
>>> (N.C.T.M) in 1989. Like whole language, it was a sensible
>>> approach that got distorted into a parody of itself. The reform
>>> standards, for instance, called for teaching the uses of a
>>> calculator and estimation, but some educators took that as a
>>> license to stop drilling the multiplication tables, skip past
>>> long division and give lots of partial credit for wrong answers.
>>> "Some of the textbooks and materials were absolutely hideous,"
>>> says R. James Milgram, a professor of mathematics at Stanford.
>>> Adding to the math morass was the fact that 49 states (all but
>>> Iowa) devised their own math standards, with up to 100 different
>>> goals for each grade level. Textbook publishers responded with
>>> textbooks that tried to incorporate every goal of every state.
>>> "There are some 700-page third-grade math books out there," says
>>> N.C.T.M.'s current president Francis (Skip) Fennell, professor of
>>> education at Maryland's McDaniel College.
>>> Now the N.C.T.M. itself has come riding to the rescue. In a
>>> notably slim document, it has identified just three essential
>>> goals, or "focal points," for each grade from pre-K to eighth,
>>> none of them fuzzy, all of them building blocks for higher math.
>>> In fourth grade, for instance, the group recommends focusing on
>>> the quick recall of multiplication facts, a deep understanding of
>>> decimals and the ability to measure and compute the area of
>>> rectangles, circles and other shapes. "Our objective," says
>>> Fennell, "is to get conversations going at the state level about
>>> what really is important." In recent weeks, that's begun to
>>> happen. Florida and Utah and half a dozen other states are
>>> talking about revising their math standards to match the pared-
>>> down approach. That pleases academic mathematicians like Milgram,
>>> who notes that this kind of instruction is what works in math-
>>> proficient nations like Singapore.
>>> So do we have a solution to the national math problem? We
>>> certainly have the correct formula. The question is, Can we apply
>>> it? Already the N.C.T.M.'s focal points are being called a back-
>>> to-basics movement, another swing of the ideological pendulum
>>> rather than a fresh look at what it would take to get more kids
>>> to calculus by 12th grade. If the script follows that of the
>>> Reading Wars, what comes next will be dreary times-tables
>>> recitals in unison, dull new books that fail to inspire
>>> understanding, and drill, drill, drill, much like the unhappy
>>> scenes in many of today's "Reading First" classrooms. And that
>>> would be just another kind of math fiasco--of the red variety.
>>> Kids will learn their times tables for sure, but they'll also
>>> learn to hate math.
>>> ***************************************
>>> --
>>> Jerry P. Becker
>>> Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
>>> Southern Illinois University
>>> 625 Wham Drive
>>> Mail Code 4610
>>> Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
>>> Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
>>> (618) 457-8903 [H]
>>> Fax: (618) 453-4244
>>> E-mail:

> =============================
> Michael Paul Goldenberg
> 6655 Jackson Rd. #136
> Ann Arbor, MI 48103
> 734 644-0975 (c)
> 734 786-8425 (h)
> University of Michigan-Flint
> French Hall 423
> Flint, MI 48502-1950
> 810 424-5218 (o)
> "He who rides the tiger finds it difficult to dismount." Rudyard
> Kipling

Point your RSS reader here for a feed of the latest messages in this topic.

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

© The Math Forum at NCTM 1994-2018. All Rights Reserved.