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Sen. Byrd on Newnew Math (long) (fwd)
Posted:
Jun 17, 1997 9:26 PM


I think Senator Byrd puts it in a way few of us can.
I wonder if his nonPC speech will clear the censor.
Hart
 Forwarded message 
>A FAILURE TO PRODUCE BETTER STUDENTS (Senate  June 09, 1997) >[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 'newnew math.' Apparently the concept behind this >newnew 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 isquite 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 textbookthis is it, as I >have already indicatedand I have to go a step further and call it whacko >algebra. >This textbook written by a conglomerate of authors lists 5 socalled '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 newnew approach to mathematics. >Let me quote from that opening page. >In the twentyfirst 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 >equations. >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 firstrate 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 askwhat 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 razzledazzle confusing >stuff. >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 peppersno wonder >our pages are having difficulty containing themselves. They are almost in >stitcheswhat 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 newnew mushmush 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 newnew >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 >out. >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 newnew 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 dumbdumb >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 socalled 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 >[FROM THE U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, MAY 26, 1997] >That SoCalled Pythagoras >(BY JOHN LEO) >'Deep Thoughts' started as Jack Handy's running joke on TV's Saturday Night >Livea series of mockinspirational messages about life that make no sense at >all. >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 'NewNew Math,' as it is sometimes >called, has a highminded goal: Get beyond traditional math drills by helping >students understand and enjoy mathematical concepts. But in practice, alas, >the NewNew 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 selfdiscoverers, gently guided >by teachers, who are colearners, 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 WholeLanguage >Witch is dying, the WholeMath Witch isn't even ill,' said Wayne Bishop, >professor of mathematics at California State UniversityLos Angeles. >Mathematically Correct, a San Diegobased 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 >secondgraders draw pictures of their lunch, then cut the pictures out and >put them in paper bags. >Worse, the NewNew >Math comes with the usual stew of edschool obsessions about feelings, >selfesteem, dumbing down, and an allaround 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 NewNew Math appears. In welloff Palo Alto, Calif., >publicschool math students dropped from the 86th percentile nationally to >the 58th in the first year of NewNew teaching, then went back up the next >year to the 77th percentile when the schools moderated their approach. >The NewNew 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 >classes. >NewNew 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 >socalled 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 >quorum. >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. > > > > > >



