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 » Courses » ap-calculus

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

Topic: Sen. Byrd on New-new Math (long) (fwd)
Replies: 4   Last Post: Jun 19, 1997 9:06 PM

Advanced Search

Back to Topic List Back to Topic List Jump to Tree View Jump to Tree View   Messages: [ Previous | Next ]
dan hart

Posts: 119
Registered: 12/6/04
Sen. Byrd on New-new Math (long) (fwd)
Posted: Jun 17, 1997 9:26 PM
  Click to see the message monospaced in plain text Plain Text   Click to reply to this topic Reply

I think Senator Byrd puts it in a way few of us can.

I wonder if his non-PC speech will clear the censor.


---------- Forwarded message ----------

>[Page: S5393] Congressional Record
>Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, over the past decade, I have been continually
>puzzled by our Nation's failure to produce better students despite public
>concern and despite the billions of Federal dollars which annually are
>appropriated for various programs intended to aid and improve education. Not
>long ago, I asked a high ranking administration official during an
>Appropriations Committee hearing why, in his opinion, we were not doing a
>better job of educating our Nation's youth in light of the billions of
>dollars we have been spending over these past several years. The answer I got
>was not very illuminating.
>Mr. President, our children still rank behind those of many other nations of
>the world with which we will have to compete for the jobs of the future.
>Particularly in mathematics, where our kids will have to be especially
>skilled, the United States ranks 28th in average mathematics performance
>according to a study of 8th graders published in 1996. Japan ranked third.
>A closer look at the current approach to mathematics in our schools reveals
>something called the 'new-new math.' Apparently the concept behind this
>new-new approach to mathematics is to get kids to enjoy mathematics and hope
>that that 'enjoyment' will lead to a better understanding of basic math
>concepts. Nice thought, but nice thoughts do not always get the job done.
>Recently Marianne Jennings, a professor at Arizona State University found
>that her teenage daughter could not solve a mathematical equation. This was
>all the more puzzling because her daughter was getting an A in algebra.
>Curious about the disparity, Jennings took a look at her daughter's Algebra
>textbook, euphemistically titled, 'Secondary Math:
>An Integrated Approach: Focus on Algebra.' Here it is-quite a handsome cover
>on the book. After reviewing it, Jennings dubbed it 'Rain Forest Algebra.'
>I have recently obtained a copy of the same strange textbook-this is it, as I
>have already indicated-and I have to go a step further and call it whacko
>This textbook written by a conglomerate of authors lists 5 so-called 'algebra
>authors,' but it boasts 20 'other series authors' and 4 'multicultural
>reviewers.' We are talking about algebra now. Why we need multicultural
>review of an algebra textbook is a question which I would like to hear
>someone answer, and the fact that there are 4 times as many 'other series
>authors' as 'algebra authors' in this book made me suspect that this really
>was not an algebra textbook at all.
>A quick look at the page entitled, 'Getting Started' with the sub heading,
>'What Do You Think,' quickly confirmed my suspicions about the quirky
>fuzziness of this new-new approach to mathematics.
>Let me quote from that opening page.
>In the twenty-first century, computers will do a lot of the work that people
>used to do.
>Even in today's workplace, there is little need for someone to add up daily
>invoices or compute sales tax. Engineers and
>scientists already use computer programs to do calculations and solve
>What kind of a message is sent by that brilliant opening salvo?
>It hardly impresses upon the student the importance of mastering the basics
>of mathematics or encourages them to dig in and prepare for the difficult
>work it takes to be a first-rate student in math. Rather it seems to say,
>'Don't worry about all of this math stuff too much.
>Computers will do all that work for us in a few years anyway.' Can you
>imagine such a goofy passage in a Japanese math textbook? I ask what happens
>if the computer breaks down or if we forget and leave the pocket calculator
>at home? It appears that we may be on the verge of producing a generation of
>students who cannot do a simple mathematical equation in their heads, or with
>a pencil, or even balance a checkbook.
>The 'Getting Started' portion of the text goes on to extol the virtues of
>teamwork, to explain how to get to know other students and to ask how
>teamwork plays a role in conserving natural resources. What, I ask-what in
>heaven's name does this have to do with algebra? I took algebra instead of
>Latin when I was in high school. I never had this razzle-dazzle confusing
>Page 5 of this same wondrous tome begins with a heading written in Spanish,
>English, and Portuguese, a map of South America and an indication of which
>language is spoken where.
>Pythagorus would have been scratching his head by this time, and I confess,
>so was I.
>This odd amalgam of math, geography and language masquerading as an algebra
>textbook goes on to intersperse each chapter with helpful comments and photos
>of children named Taktuk, Esteban, and Minh. Although I don't know what
>happened to Dick and Jane, I do understand now why there are four
>multicultural reviewers for this book. However, I still don't quite grasp
>the necessity for political correctness in an algebra textbook. Nor do I
>understand the inclusion of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human
>Rights in three languages, a section on the language of Algebra which defines
>such mathematically significant phrases as, 'the lion's share,' the
>'boondocks,' and 'not worth his salt.'
>By the time we get around to defining an algebraic expression we are on page
>107. But it isn't long before we are off that boring topic to an illuminating
>testimony by Dave Sanfilippo, a driver with the United Parcel Service.
>Sanfilippo tells us that he 'didn't do well in high school mathematics * * *'
>but that he is doing well at his job now because he enters '* * * information
>on a pocket computer * * *'-hardly inspirational stuff for a kid struggling
>with algebra.

From there we hurry on to lectures on endangered species, a discussion of air
>pollution, facts about the Dogon people of West
>Africa, chili recipes and a discussion of varieties of hot peppers-no wonder
>our pages are having difficulty containing themselves. They are almost in
>stitches-what role zoos should play in today's society, and the dubious art
>of making shape images of animals on a bedroom wall, only reaching a
>discussion of the Pythagorean Theorem on page 502. By this time I was
>thoroughly dazed and unsure of whether I was looking at a science book, a
>language book, a sociology book or a geography book. In fact, of course, that
>is the crux of the problem. I was looking at all of the above.
>This textbook tries to be all things to all students in all subjects and the
>result is a mush of multiculturalism, environmental and political
>correctness, and various disjointed discussions on a multitude of topics
>which certainly is bound to confuse the students trying to learn and the
>teachers trying to teach from such unfocused nonsense. It is not just
>nonsense, it is unfocused nonsense, which is even worse.
>Mathematics is about rules, memorized procedures and methodical thinking. We
>do memorize the multiplication tables, don't we? Else how will one know that
>nine 8s are 72 and that eight 9s are 72. This new-new mush-mush math will
>never produce quality engineers or mathematicians who can compete for jobs in
>the global market place. In Palo Alto, CA, public school math students
>plummeted from the 86th percentile to the 56th in the first year of new-new
>math teaching. This awful textbook obviously fails to do in 812 pages what
>comparable Japanese textbooks do so well in 200. The average standardized
>math score in Japan is 80. In the United States it is 52.
>When my staff contacted Marianne Jennings to obtain a copy of this textbook,
>I did learn one good thing about it. She told my staff that because of public
>outcry the public schools in her area have discontinued its use and have gone
>back to traditional math textbooks.
>Another useful purpose has been served by my personal perusal of this
>textbook. I now have a partial answer to my question about why we don't
>produce better students despite all the money that Federal taxpayers shell
>The lesson here is for parents to follow Marianne Jennings' lead and take a
>close look at their children's textbooks to be sure that the new-new math and
>other similar nonsense has not crept into the local school system.
>All the Federal dollars we can channel for education cannot counteract the
>disastrous effect of textbooks like this one. They will produce dumb-dumb
>students and parents need to get heavily involved to reverse that trend now!
>Mr. President, I ask that an article from the May 26 edition of U.S. News and
>World Report on the same subject be printed in the Record at this point.
>The title of the article is, 'That so-called Pythagoras.'
>There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the
>Record, as follows:
>[Page: S5394]

From the U.S. News & World Report, May 26, 1997
>That So-Called Pythagoras
>'Deep Thoughts' started as Jack Handy's running joke on TV's Saturday Night
>Live-a series of mock-inspirational messages about life that make no sense at
>Now 'Deep Thoughts' are available on greeting cards, including one that pokes
>fun at the fuzzy new math in the schools. The card says: 'Instead of having
>'answers' on a math test, they should just call them 'impressions,' and if
>you got a different 'impression,' so what, can't we all be brothers?'
>Pretty funny. But it's hard for satire to stay ahead of actual events these
>days, particularly in education. The 'New-New Math,' as it is sometimes
>called, has a high-minded goal: Get beyond traditional math drills by helping
>students understand and enjoy mathematical concepts. But in practice, alas,
>the New-New Math is yet another educational 'Deep Thought.'
>Basic skills are pushed to the margin by theory and the idea that students
>should not be passive receivers of rules but self-discoverers, gently guided
>by teachers, who are co-learners, not authority figures with lessons to
>impart. Correct answers aren't terribly important. Detractors call it 'whole
>math,' because students frequently end up guessing at answers, just as
>children exposed to the 'whole language' fad in English classes end up
>guessing at words they can't pronounce. 'Although the Wicked Whole-Language
>Witch is dying, the Whole-Math Witch isn't even ill,' said Wayne Bishop,
>professor of mathematics at California State University-Los Angeles.
>Mathematically Correct, a San Diego-based group which strongly opposes whole
>math, recently posted a list of commandments on its Web site, including
>'Honor the correct answer more than the guess,' 'Give good grades only for
>good work,' and 'Avoid vague objectives.'
>Bologna sandwich? Those vague objectives include meandering exercises that
>have little to do with math, such as illustrating data collection by having
>second-graders draw pictures of their lunch, then cut the pictures out and
>put them in paper bags.
>Worse, the New-New
>Math comes with the usual stew of ed-school obsessions about feelings,
>self-esteem, dumbing down, and an all-around politically correct agenda.
>Marianne Jennings, a professor at Arizona State University, found that her
>teenage daughter was getting an A in algebra but had no idea how to solve an
>equation. So Jennings acquired a copy of her daughter's textbook. The real
>title is Secondary Math: an 'Integrated Approach: Focus on Algebra,' but
>Jennings calls it 'Rain Forest Algebra.'
>It includes Maya Angelou's poetry, pictures of President Clinton and Mali
>wood carvings, lectures on what environmental sinners we all are and photos
>of students with names such as Tatuk and Esteban 'who offer my daughter
>thoughts on life.' It also contains praise for the wife of Pythagoras, father
>of the Pythagorean theorem, and asks students such mathematical brain teasers
>as 'What role should zoos play in our society?' However, equations don't show
>up until Page 165, and the first solution of a linear equation, which comes
>on Page 218, is reached by guessing and checking.
>Jennings points out that Focus on Algebra is 812 pages long, compared with
>200 for the average math textbook in Japan. 'This would explain why the
>average standardized score is 80 in Japan and 52 here,' she says. Marks do
>seem to head south when New-New Math appears. In well-off Palo Alto, Calif.,
>public-school math students dropped from the 86th percentile nationally to
>the 58th in the first year of New-New teaching, then went back up the next
>year to the 77th percentile when the schools moderated their approach.
>The New-New Math has become a carrier for the aggressive multiculturalism
>spreading inexorably through the schools. Literature from the National
>Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which is promoting whole math, is filled
>with suggestions on how to push multiculturalism in arithmetic and math
>New-New Math is also vaguely allied with an alleged new field of study called
>ethnomathematics. Most of us may think that math is an abstract and universal
>discipline that has little to do with ethnicity. But a lot of
>ethnomathematicians, who are busy holding conferences and writing books, say
>that all peoples have a natural culturebound mathematics. Western math, in
>this view, isn't universal but an expression of white male culture imposed on
>nonwhites. Much of this is the usual ranting about 'Eurocentrism.'
>Ethnomathematics, a book of collected essays, starts by reminding us that
>'Geographically, Europe does not exist, since it is only a peninsula on the
>vast Eurasian continent. . . .' Before long, there is a reference to 'the
>so-called Pythagorean theorem.'
>Much of the literature claims that nonliterate peoples indicated their grasp
>of math in many ways, from quilt patterns to an ancient African bone cut with
>marks that may have been used for counting.
>It's all rather stunning nonsense, but this is where multiculturalism is
>right now. Unless you are headed for an engineering school working with
>Yoruba calculators, or unless you wish to balance your checkbook the ancient
>Navajo way, it's probably safe to ignore the whole thing.
>Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a
>The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Enzi). The clerk will call the roll.
>The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

>Mr. ABRAHAM. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the
>quorum call be rescinded.
>The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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.